Ear pain and flying

A change in altitude can have a great effect on your ears. Ear pressure, ear popping and ear pain are common problems that many travellers have to deal with on a regular basis. In extreme cases, ear pressure can lead to severe pain and temporary hearing loss, but there are ways to prevent this by taking precautions before, during and after your flight.

The key to not feeling the effects of air pressure in a plane is by introducing as much air as possible to the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube is part of the middle ear.  For most people it opens and shuts regularly to keep the air pressure in the middle ear the same as the air pressure outside so the ear drum can move freely.

When you have a rapid change in altitude, the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure outside the ear don’t have time to equalise. When your flight takes off, the air pressure inside the ear is greater than the pressure outside. On the way back down the opposite happens ­- the air pressure in the middle ear become less than the air pressure outside of the ear.  This can feel uncomfortable because the eardrum is being pushed in or out by the greater-than-usual pressure difference.

If the eardrum can’t move freely this temporarily causes a slight hearing problem.  If the air pressure in the middle ear is reduced for a long time, fluid may build up behind the eardrum causing further hearing difficulties.  Both these problems usually resolve by themselves after the flight has landed, but if you have concerns, consult your GP.

When you are on your next trip, try these three hints to help minimise the pain on your flight:

– Swallow your saliva

Swallowing your salvia can ensure that the air in your middle ear is continuously being replenished. When you swallow this opens the Eustachian tube and lets air into or out of your middle ear.

– Chew gum or suck on hard lollies or sweets

When you chew gum, suck on hard lollies or sweets it stimulates frequent swallowing. This is a great idea if you are travelling with children, as the pain they experience can be worse than that experienced by an adult. This is due to the fact that Eustachian tubes are much smaller and lie flatter in children than those in an adult.

For babies, feeding or sucking on a pacifier (dummy) can also assist.

– Pop your ears (Valsalva manoeuvre)

The Valsalva manoeuvre is another method to try and reduce pain or pressure during flying. It is performed by closing your mouth and pinching your nose shut with a closed mouth full of air. Gently force the air out until your ears pop.

If need any more advice, feel free to contact Hearing Help by phoning 1800 740 301.

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