Ear Discomfort When Flying: Why It Occurs And What To Do About It

Posted on: 23 November 2016


If you experience earaches or ear pressure when flying on an airplane, you might want to consult your ENT for advice and treatment. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "airplane ear" and is actually quite common when flying on an airplane or helicopter. You may experience the discomfort most as the plane takes off (ascends) or lands (descends). In some cases, your ear, nose and throat specialist may prescribe oral medications to take before flying. In addition, there are are other methods you can take to prevent discomfort during an airplane flight. 

Why Do Your Ears Hurt When Flying?

To put in simply, the ear pressure and discomfort you experience while flying is due to the altitude change in flight. The proper medical term for this sensation is known as eustachian tube dysfunction. It occurs when the eustachian tubes become clogged due to pressure, which can be caused by a sudden change in altitude. When these tubes become blocked, air flow is restricted, causing a buildup of pressure.

What Are the Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

When you are affected by clogged eustachian tubes during an airplane fight, your ears may ache, or you may experience ear pain. You may also feel a popping sensation or have difficulty hearing. Some individuals also experience dizziness or pressure.

What Can You Do to Treat or Prevent Ear Discomfort While Flying?

If you only experience symptoms during airplane traveling, there are measures to take that may prevent an occurrence. Your ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) may prescribe oral decongestants to be taken before a flight. This will help drain congestion and help prevent your ears from becoming clogged. It should be noted, however, that individuals with high blood pressure or heart-related issues should use extreme caution while using decongestants or avoid them altogether. Your doctor can advise you on this.

Alternatively, you might try an over-the-counter nasal decongestant before your flight. Your doctor might also advise you not to fall asleep during your flight, as clogged inner ears are most likely to occur while you sleep. Using earplugs may also be helpful, and chewing gum during your flight might help prevent ear pressure as well.

If pain persists, you might want to consult an ENT as a precautionary measure. Never ignore severe symptoms such as bleeding from the ear or extreme headache with ear pain. An examination may pinpoint any medical issues that require further treatment. For more information, contact an ENT doctor at a location such as Mid America Ear, Nose, & Throat Clinic PC.