Oral Care and Health Daily

How to Stop Ear Pain on A Plane

Just in time for Spring Break ... learn how to fly the ear-friendly skies!

My family and I flew to Orlando last month to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios -- my 9-year-old is obsessed with the book series. The long weekend was spectacular on all fronts except one: My husband, who had a cold, came down with severe ear pain about halfway through the flight. By the time we landed, he could barely hear anything, and it took almost 12 hours for his full hearing to return!

The whole experience freaked me out, so when we got back, I called Gordan J. Seigel, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Chicago, to ask him if what happened to my hubby was normal -- or whether I should drag him into the doctor’s office. “It’s common for people who have a cold or allergies to experience ear pain during a flight because the Eustachian Tubes (which help equalize pressure changes) are inflamed,” he told me. “Even when, well, children under 6 are also particularly vulnerable because their Eustachian Tubes may have not fully developed yet.”

Indeed, I remember seeing some babies and toddlers start to cry during the end of the flight.

“Is there anything a person with a cold or allergies could do to avoid the pain?” I followed up. “You may been able to ward off the problem -- or at least reduce the severity -- by taking a decongestant before the flight,” said Dr. Siegel. “But I only recommend this for people who don’t have high blood pressure.”

Dr. Siegel also pointed out another option: special travel ear plugs (one brand is EarPlanes) that help protect your hearing from changes in air pressure. Children and adults can pop them in their ears before takeoff, remove them when the plane reaches maximum altitude, and then put back in an hour before landing. Dr. Siegel also noted, of course, that if a cold is severe you just might want to postpone your trip.

Since my conversation with Dr. Siegel, I picked up the EarPlanes at my local drugstore; they were only $10 for a three-pack. I tucked them into my luggage carry-on, where I stash my trip essentials like travel-size toothpaste and instant stain remover (because my daughter always spills when we’re days away from doing laundry). Now we’re one step closer to being ready for summer vacation!

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