Good To Nose Baraka Blog

Earaches and Flying

Written By: Sue
April 18, 2012

Flying with Congestion

Recently I flew with a cold that I hadn’t given much thought to until take off. Suddenly it became a flight I’d never forget! My ears started to crackle and my head felt as if it were in a vice grip. For a moment, I thought I was going to rupture an ear drum. Medically this sensation is known as sinus barotrauma or aerosinusitis. I call it ‘pain beyond belief!’ Aerosinusitis is your body’s inability to regulate to the cabin pressure because your Eustachian tubes are blocked. The Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the nose. When they are inflamed and retain fluid due to a cold, allergies or an inner ear infection, your body is unable to adjust to changes in pressure.

Below are some suggestions of what you can do to avoid a painful flying experience:

  • Chew gum or drink liquid. These methods cause you to swallow frequently, which will relieve the pressure.
  • Valsalva Maneuver – Pinch your nose closed, hold your mouth shut and gently blow air into your nose. You might hear a popping noise as it equalizes the pressure.
  • Decongestants – I don’t often advocate decongestants, but there are occasions when it’s absolutely necessary. I recommend nasal sprays vs. oral decongestants which are dehydrating. Familiarize yourself with flying and dehydration with this previous blog. In addition, a nasal spray can be used at the last minute if the first two suggestions don’t work.
  • Ear Plugs – I’ve also been told there are special earplugs used to equalize the pressure. I don’t have any recommendations, but they’re all over the internet.
  • DO NOT FLY WITH AN EAR INFECTION WITHOUT THE ADVICE OF YOUR HEALTH PROFESSIONAL! An ear infection is very different than simply having your Eustachian tubes blocked from a cold or allergies.

While adults can use the techniques above, infants deserve special attention with or without a cold. In a previous blog, I discussed the reasons why children have a hard time with the change in cabin pressure during a flight.

Below are suggestions to help your child have a pleasant flying experience:

  • Breastfeed or use a bottle/pacifier. Like an adult, the constant swallowing equalizes the pressure. Make sure your child is upright while drinking.
  • Nose Sprays – There are some nose spray made especially for children.
  • Ultimately if you are caught unprepared on a flight or your child is unwilling to do the first two suggestions, you might try cupping both ears with two Styrofoam cups. Please see the blog I mentioned above.

If you are planning to fly and you or your child has congestion, don’t ignore it. The pain is not worth it and in most cases can be avoided with a little preparation.

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