Ear Problems and Air Travel – Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute


When you’re on a plane, your Eustachian
tubes are going to open and close in response to the pressure changes in the airplane. You probably won’t notice this much when
going up, or at least most people don’t, it’s mostly on descent. When you’re descending you have to add more
air to that space behind your eardrum or things are going to get squeezed down and blocked. If you’re ever snoozing on the plane and
the pilot get’s on and says “We’re going to landing in,” they’re actually waking
you up so you do start having your ears do something to equilibrate. The best thing you can do to do that is to
swallow. Your Eustachian tubes open when you swallow so that’s the most normal activity.
The whole gum chewing thing is actually to make you swallow more. I tell my patients, who have troubles when
they’re landing, to make sure you have something to drink and just to keep sipping, sipping
and sipping. That’s usually going to take care of it for most people. If that doesn’t do it, you can yawn. That’s
another big stretch to the Eustachian tube. Some people will pop their ears and that’s
where you plug your nose, take a breath of air in and gently blow. That forces some air
up into your Eustachian tubes. Babies, of course, aren’t going to be able
to do this maneuver but it’s important to wake them up. They aren’t going to swallow
or swallow very often if they’re asleep. You want to wake them up and give them something
to drink. So, on descent, make sure they’re drinking something and it’s usually better
if they’re upright rather than lying down. Sucking on a pacifier may be enough but having
them drink from their bottle or Sippy cup is going to help the most. If you have chronic troubles and every time
you get on a plane you know you’re going to have problems, we have those people pre-treat
themselves with a decongestant, an hour before they fly. A nasal spray, called oxymetazoline,
they can use an hour or two before they fly. Those are the most common things and help
most people. I do have some patients that say, I just won’t
fly. I will drive 10 hours instead of flying. Particularly if they need to fly often, we
actually put tubes in adult’s ears just for that purpose and it works very well. Sometimes
it comes down to, it’s time for ear tubes if you have that much trouble.

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