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Airplane ear (barotrauma or barotitis media)
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Airplane ear  (barotrauma or barotitis media)


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Follow these tips to avoid airplane ear:

  • Don't fly with a cold or upper respiratory congestion or infection unless necessary.

  • Try using a decongestant such as oxymetazoline nasal spray (Afrin, Dristan) or one containing pseudoephedrine (Actifed, Sudafed) an hour before takeoff and an hour before landing. This can help prevent blockage of your eustachian tube.

  • If you have allergies, take your medication before the flight.

  • Suck candy or chew gum during flight to encourage swallowing. Yawning also activates the muscles that open your eustachian tube.

  • Clear your ears regularly upon takeoff and landing by gently blowing while pinching your nostrils with your mouth closed (Valsalva maneuver). Repeat several times during descent to equalize the pressure between your ears and your environment.

  • Avoid sleeping during descent to make sure you're swallowing enough to keep your ears clear.

  •  Have infants and young children drink fluids during ascent and descent to encourage swallowing. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) 30 minutes before takeoff to help control any discomfort that may occur. Decongestants in young children generally aren't recommended.

  • If you've recently had ear surgery, consult your doctor before you fly.

  • Try filtered earplugs (EarPlanes), which slowly equalize the pressure against your eardrum during takeoff and landing. These may be purchased at drugstores, airport gift shops or your local hearing clinic.

  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, because they constrict your blood vessels.


If your ears become plugged during flight, try clearing them by following these steps (Valsalva maneuver):

  • Step 1. Pinch your nostrils shut.

  • Step 2. Take a mouthful of air.

  • Step 3. Using your cheek and throat muscles, gently force the air into the back of your nose as if you were trying to blow your thumb and fingers off your nostrils.

When you hear a loud pop in your ears, you've succeeded. If your ears are still blocked after a few hours, see your doctor.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/14/08 06:46 PM