The Best Way to Treat Airplane Ear—Ear Barotrauma

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Going on vacation can do wonders for your mindset but flying can do a number on your health. The dry air of the cabin can dry out your skin and hair and long flights can lead to muscle cramps. Another danger from air flight is a condition called airplane ear—medically called ear barotrauma.

What is Airplane Ear—Ear Barotrauma?

You can get airplane ears when there's an imbalance between the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure around you in an airplane—or when you scuba dive or drive up and down mountain roads. This imbalance in pressure changes rapidly with the altitude during the start and end of an airline flight and causes your ears to feel full or clogged.

Sometimes this condition can last well past the end of your flight. It can become painful and could lead to permanent loss of hearing. You need the pressure in your middle ear to equal the pressure outside of the ear for your hearing to work.

Symptoms of ongoing ear barotrauma can also include dizziness and nosebleeds. In severe cases, the eardrum can bruise or bleed.

Stuffy Nose as a Cause

Yawning, swallowing or chewing gum can usually fix airplane ears by letting air flow through the eustachian tubes—the narrow passages between the middle ear and the back of the nose—equalizing the pressure. But a cold or sinus infection complicates things because congestion can block the tubes. Result: painful pressure and hearing problems.

Clearing Airplane Ear

To clear the clog, you need an over-the-counter decongestant to encourage nasal drainage. A nasal spray may also help calm any swelling that's adding to the problem. Also, try taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat related pain. If your congestion is due to allergies, go with an antihistamine.

Once you've given the medicine some time to work, close your mouth, pinch your nose shut, and very gently push air into the back of your nose as if you were blowing it These actions may help nudge the tubes open.

When To See a Doctor

These tactics, combined with a little patience, should do the trick. However, if the issue persists or the pain gets worse, you'll need to see your doctor. An untreated ear clog can turn into a bacterial ear infection, for which you'll need antibiotics.

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  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Ear barotrauma.

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