When to Watch Out for Airplane Ear

Posted in: Hearing News  |  May 25, 2012 
When to Watch Out for Airplane Ear

Anyone who’s been on a plane – and fought against the pressure that hits the ears upon ascent and descent – knows the discomfort that can accompany “airplane ear.” The condition, also called barotrauma, is usually easily treatable with simple, self-care remedies. However, some rare cases require medical attention.

Airplane ear is a common sensation that results from air-pressure changes during quick shifts in altitude. When the middle ear and the immediate environment have different levels of air pressure, ear stress can occur.

Simple steps like these usually alleviate the problem:

  • Yawning
  • Chewing gum
  • Swallowing

Most sensations of airplane ear cause minor discomfort or muffled hearing and only last during the altitude changes or for a short period after. However, in some severe cases, clear fluid can fill the middle ear as it attempts to rectify the pressure difference, or the eardrum can rupture. These instances are rare but require a doctor’s help.

Signs of severe airplane ear include:

  • Intense ear pain
  • Hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Blood or fluid coming from the ear

Children are more likely than adults to experience airplane ear, due to the size of their Eustachian tubes. The Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the outside, help air bubbles move into the middle ear to regulate pressure. Children have narrower Eustachian tubes, meaning that blockages and airplane ear are more common. In addition, children and adults are both more likely to develop airplane ear when traveling with an ear infection, a cold or an allergy flare-up.

If traveling is necessary when you or your child are ill, it’s important to take precautions to minimize airplane ear and its risks. For allergies, take a decongestant an hour before travel. Make sure you stay awake for ascent and descent; a flight attendant will wake you, upon your request, if you worry that you’ll fall asleep. And give children a bottle or pacifier during pressure changes to help keep the Eustachian tubes open.

Should you experience problems with airplane ear, despite any regular precautions, consult with a doctor to assess the issue. Call our office anytime to see what’s best for you.