The pressure in your middle ear and the pressure in the air around you can sometimes become unbalanced. When this happens, the result is a condition called airplane ear. Doctors may also call it barotrauma, aerotitis media or barotitis media.
Airplane ear isn't usually severe, but it can be. If you or your family are planning to travel soon, learn more about airplane ear, including how to prevent it.
How do you know if you have airplane ear?
For both kids and adults, airplane ear usually causes mild discomfort in the ear. There may be some pain, along with a feeling of stuffiness and slight hearing loss. It usually happens when a plane is taking off or landing. Most of the time, it only lasts for a short period. But it can last for several days and even months in severe cases.
Most people who get airplane ear don't need to see a doctor. But if you have any of the following symptoms, it's best to get them checked out as soon as possible:
- Severe hearing loss
- Ringing in your ears
- Bleeding from your ear
- Increased pressure even after you're off the plane
These can be symptoms of conditions that cause permanent hearing loss.
Who's at risk?
Anyone who flies in an airplane can get airplane ear. Kids and babies have a higher risk for getting airplane ear. That's because they have smaller eustachian tubes, or passages that lead to the middle ear.
Anyone having trouble with their sinuses or ears before getting on the plane is also at a greater risk. If you or your children currently have a sinus infection, cold or allergies, your doctor may recommend postponing your trip. Sleeping during takeoff and landing puts you at a greater risk too.
How can adults prevent airplane ear?
Luckily, preventing airplane ear is simple. Yawning, chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help keep it at bay. You may also try holding your nose and mouth closed while blowing your nose. This can help your ears pop.
Some people find relief with over-the-counter nasal drops, filtered ear plugs, decongestants or allergy medicines. Because airplanes are dry, it's important to stay hydrated before and during your flight. This can prevent mucus from building up in your sinuses and ears.
How can kids prevent airplane ear?
While it's not usually harmful, the feeling of airplane ear can be frightening for little ones. If you're traveling with a baby or toddler, consider breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or bringing a pacifier along. The sucking motion during takeoff and landing can help keep the baby's ear passageways clear.
Older children and teenagers can use the same relief methods that adults do. However, you should always talk to your child's doctor before giving them any type of medication.
Want to learn more about airplane ear or healthy travel in general? One of our doctors can help. Make an appointment with a Bon Secours primary care physician or specialist today.