Ear pain that occurs during air travel or barotrauma typically occurs once the pressure within one eardrum is different than the other. The Eustachian tube is the canal within the ear that allows air to flow into the middle ear to equalize the pressure. The rapid descent and ascent that occurs while travelling by air can cause the air pressure to change at a faster pace than what the ear can handle.
Signs and symptoms
The ear pain during an airplane ride can be experienced in one or both ears. The usual indications of barotrauma include minimal hearing loss, discomfort in the ear as well as stuffiness inside the ear or mild to moderate pain.
Some of the advanced symptoms include severe hearing loss as well as bleeding from the ear, pressure as if underwater and severe pain. Other symptoms that can occur include vertigo, constant sense of spinning and a ringing sensation in the ear.
What are the possible causes?
Once the ear attempts to equalize the pressure, the eardrum might stretch without vibrating. This is why there is muffled hearing or minimal hearing loss. In some circumstances, there is pressure or sensation of pain in the area when the eardrum stretches out.
With the continuous pressure that is unbalanced, the fluid in the middle air starts to move in an attempt to equalize the pressure. Individuals who have common cold or sinus problems are more likely to experience this since they have surplus fluid present in the middle ear. Take note that children tend to experience more pain than adults due to the small size of the Eustachian tube.
If an individual experiences sinus or nasal issues, it is recommended to provide an antihistamine, decongestant spray or oral decongestant. This is also advised for those who experience recurrent ear pain during air travel.
When managing this condition without using any medications, you can utilize the Valsalva maneuver to expel the air from the ear. The individual should hold his/her nose close while pushing air via the nose as if he/she is blowing it.
Severe or persistent pressure within the ear can cause the inner ear or eardrum to rupture. It is important to note that permanent hearing loss is considered as a rare complication. This most often occurs among individuals who regularly end up with severe ear pain during air travel as well as those who travel by plane on a regular basis. Another rare complication that can occur is tinnitus or continuous ear ringing.
Ear plane during an airplane ride can be prevented by yawning or swallowing deeply during ascending or descending in a flight. As for infants, you can prevent crying by putting a pacifier or bottle.
Chewing gum or drinking water can help young children. If possible, avoid sleeping when the plane is taking off or landing. Take note that sleeping will allow the pressure to build-up within the ear. In addition, using ear plugs and filtering them during flight can also help relieve the pressure.