It is common when flying to experience pressure in the ears, especially upon descent. In some cases, the pressure persists, causing a clogged sensation and hearing loss. In rare cases, there is severe pain in addition to the hearing loss.
Ear discomfort when flying is called barotrauma. It is caused by dysfunction of the eustachian tube, a structure that equalizes pressure between the middle ear and back of the nose. There is increased risk of barotrauma in the presence of nasal congestion, upper respiratory infection, or allergy.
There are several measures that can be used to avoid ear pain or pressure when flying:
1. During descent yawn or talk, which open and closes the eustachian tube.
2. Chew gum or suck on a candy. The swallowing activates muscles around the eustachian tube.
3. Use Afrin nasal spray and/or sudafed to reduce congestion.
4. Use special earplugs called EarPlanes, which are available for sale in most airport terminal concessions or at your local drugstore.
If your ear discomfort has not resolved by the following day, schedule an appointment with Dr. Werber or Haunss at Great Neck ENT.