How to prepare your ears for air travel

Ear pain and discomfort experienced when flying, known as aeroplane ear, is a condition that’s all-too-familiar among travellers. Jetting off to your getaway by plane places a level of strain on your ears that can affect people to the point where flying becomes a stressful and unpleasant experience.

With two children that suffer from ear problems  – it is something we have had to research a lot over the past 8 years!

Here are some tips to help you prepare your ears as best you can, enabling you to relax and spend more time thinking about your exciting holiday than the pains of commuting.

It’s all about pressure

Aeroplane ear takes place at the beginning and end of a flight when an aircraft is either taking to the sky or coming down to land. During these times of the flight, the air pressures inside and outside the ear begin to conflict with each other. When you are on the ground, the pressure inside your middle ear is essentially equal to that of the pressure outside. This balance is disrupted when an aircraft is ascending or descending and the two pressure levels shift at such a rate that they become unbalanced.

It doesn’t take long after take-off for the air pressure inside your ears to surpass the outside pressure. This causes the eardrum to swell outward. Eardrums conversely get sucked inwards as a plane descends. This strenuous movement is what causes the dreaded pain and discomfort of aeroplane ear.

The manipulation of the middle ear in this way will often limit the eardrum’s ability to vibrate, resulting in muffled and impaired hearing. In severe cases the eardrum can perforate and lead to infection and injury, while those who suffer from tinnitus may experience heightened symptoms.


Ensuring a comfortable flight

The effects on the eardrum can be limited by encouraging the middle ear tube, known as the eustachian tube, to widen. This increases the airflow between your inner and outer ear, allowing the pressures between them to stabilise as quickly as possible. Eustachian tubes don’t typically open efficiently during sleep, so make sure you are awake before your plane starts to land. It’s worth noting that some planes begin their descent up to an hour before they reach the ground.

Drinking water, chewing gum, and sucking on a hard sweet can all help to open airflow in the eustachian tube, as can over-the-counter treatments such as nasal sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants. There are two pressure-equalising methods to consider should these tricks prove to be ineffective. Firstly, the Valsalva manoeuvre. This involves sealing your nose shut with your fingers, closing your mouth, and very gently forcing air into your middle-ear cavity by blowing until they ‘pop’. The Toynbee manoeuvre works in a similar way; simply close your mouth, seal your nose and swallow repeatedly until you feel the pressure in your ears level out.

Aeroplane ear needn’t disrupt your hard-earned holiday. If you experience difficulties when you fly and your symptoms are extremely painful, you should consult an ear specialist for tailored treatment and advice. This also goes for anyone either currently suffering with an ear infection or who has been particularly susceptible to them in the past. Flying with an infection can perforate your eardrum. Help is available from the experts at Leightons who provide personal treatments and advice for all aspects of ear and eye care. Get set for your holiday today by booking an appointment at your local branch.


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