PreventionBy Mayo Clinic staff
Follow these tips to avoid airplane ear:
- Yawn and swallow during ascent and descent. Yawning and swallowing activate the muscles that open your eustachian tubes. You can suck on candy or chew gum to help you swallow.
- Use the Valsalva maneuver during ascent and descent. Gently blow, as if blowing your nose, while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed. Repeat several times, especially during descent, to equalize the pressure between your ears and the airplane cabin.
- Don't sleep during take-offs and landings. If you're awake during ascents and descents, you can do the necessary self-care techniques when you feel pressure on your ears.
- Reconsider travel plans. If possible, don't fly when you have a cold, sinus infection, nasal congestion or ear infection. If you've recently had ear surgery, talk to your doctor about when it's safe to travel.
- Use an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray. If you have nasal congestion, use a nasal decongestant about 30 minutes to an hour before take-off and landing. Avoid overuse, however, because nasal decongestants taken over several days can increase congestion.
- Use oral decongestant pills cautiously. Oral decongestants may be helpful if taken 30 minutes to an hour before an airplane flight. However, if you have heart disease, a heart rhythm disorder or high blood pressure or if you've experienced possible medication interactions, avoid taking an oral decongestant unless your doctor approves. If you're a man over age 50, you may experience serious side effects after taking decongestants containing pseudoephedrine (Actifed, Sudafed), such as urinary retention, especially if you have an enlarged prostate. If you're pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking oral decongestants.
- Take allergy medication. If you have allergies, take your medication about an hour before your flight.
- Use filtered earplugs. These earplugs slowly equalize the pressure against your eardrum during ascents and descents. You can purchase these at drugstores, airport gift shops or your local hearing clinic.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Staying well hydrated will help avoid irritation of the nasal passages and throat and help ensure better function of the eustachian tubes.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Beverages with alcohol or caffeine can dehydrate you. They also constrict your blood vessels and may increase the risk of ruptured capillaries.
If you're prone to severe airplane ear and must fly often, your doctor may surgically place tubes in your eardrums to aid fluid drainage, ventilate your middle ear, and equalize the pressure between your outer ear and middle ear.
Helping children prevent airplane ear
These additional tips can help young children avoid airplane ear:
- Encourage swallowing. Give a baby or toddler a beverage during ascents and descents to encourage frequent swallowing. A pacifier also may help. Children older than age 4 can try chewing gum, drinking through a straw or blowing bubbles through a straw.
- Consider eardrops. Talk to your child's doctor about prescribing your child eardrops that contain a pain reliever and numbing agent for the flight.
- Avoid decongestants. Decongestants aren't recommended for young children.
- Vernick DM. Ear barotrauma. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed July 29, 2010.
- Ears and altitude. American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/earsAltitude.cfm. Accessed Aug. 19, 2010.
- Travel safety tips. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/travelsafetytips.cfm. Accessed Aug. 19, 2010.
- Bentz BG, et al. Barotrauma. American Hearing Research Foundation. http://www.american-hearing.org/disorders/barotrauma/. Accessed Aug. 19, 2010.