August 16, 2019
Acute Otitis Media (AOM)
Do you experience problems with your ears when flying?
Do they pop as the plane climbs or descends?
To understand what is happening to you you need to know about how the ears work. Let us explain.
At the bottom of the ear hole (the ear canal) is the ear drum. Behind the ear drums is an air space (called the middle ear cleft) which has a narrow tube (called the Eustachian tube) that goes to the back of your nose. The narrow tube allows air from the nose to get behind the ear drum so the air pressure on each side of the ear drum is the same. If the pressure is not equal the ear drum can bulge in or out which is very painful, and if the pressure difference is too big, the ear drum can burst. A burst ear drum is incredibly painful and will damage your hearing.
Humans were not designed to fly. When the aircraft climbs the air pressure in the cabin reduces so the air pressure in the ear canal is lower than in the air space behind the ear drum. Most people are able to allow air out of the air space behind the ear drum through the Eustachian tube at the back of the nose without noticing. The opposite problem occurs when the aircraft comes into land. The air pressure in the aircraft cabin gets higher than it was in mid-flight so the air pressure in the ear canal is higher than in the air space behind the ear drum. Again most people are able to allow air out of the air space behind the ear drum thorough the Eustachian tube at the back of the nose without noticing. Sometimes, for a range of reasons, air may become trapped within your inner ear causing pressure on your ear drums and causing them to push outwards. This causes the uncomfortable feeling and fuzzy hearing that you get before your ears ‘pop’.
As we can see the Eustachian tube at the back of the nose is very important, but unfortunately it can be blocked by things such as a cold, allergy attack or sinusitis. To avoid this problem it is best not to fly with a heavy cold, but if you have to fly then you can try the following:-
Take a nasal decongestant, such as Sudafed, the day before the flight and a day after the flight if you experienced any problems in the past. Spray into your nose before the flight a nasal decongestant spray such as Otrivine. Should your ears “bung-up” as your plane climbs then hold your nose and swallow as this helps suck out excess air out of the air space behind the ear drum.
About a hour before you are due to land use the nasal spray again, chew gum to get you swallowing and if your ears “bung-up” again breathe in, hold your nose, close your mouth and try to make your ears “pop”.
If you are experiencing regular discomfort in your ears with no obvious cause, Harley Street Ear Nose and Throat Doctor are available to help. Contact us to book specialist ENT consultation and treatment in central London.