Flying With An Ear Infection & Preventing Ear Problems On A Plane

If you suffer from an ear infection, it can be very annoying. When you’re planning a holiday and scheduling a plane trip, taking off is often a fun moment when your holiday really starts. But what if you have an ear infection? Is flying with an ear infection safe? What about little children? And can flying make an ear infection worse?

Read on to find out!

Flying With An Ear Infection And Preventing Ear Problems On A Plane

Is It Safe To Fly With An Ear Infection?

People have done this often and have lived to the tale, but it is certainly isn’t going to be fun.

A person with an ear infection, especially in the middle ear, will encounter a lot of pain during the flight. However, this is not really enough to prevent the patient from actually flying, as there are ways to help mitigate the problem.

The outside part of the ear that sticks out is the pinna. The ear hole going into your hear is called the external auditory canal. Yeah…we know, this a little high school biology revision. The point is to help wrap your head around what goes on when you have an ear infection. 

The eardrum itself seals the outside from the inside. After that, you have the middle ear, which leads down into the Eustachian tube. Off the eardrum, there are three little bones that lead up to the cochlea. 

Those who thrived on their biology in high school will remember that the Eustachian tube is a canal that connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx, which consists of the upper throat and the back of the nasal cavity.
All of those elements are connected and play a significant role in determining just how pleasant your plane journey is likely to be. 

When a plane takes off, the overall air pressure decreases, which causes less pressure in the ear canal. When your Eustachian tube is hampered by the ear infection, the pressure in your ear is unable to equalize. 

As a result, there will be relatively high pressure in the inner ear and pressure subsequently pushes against the eardrum, which causes a considerable amount of pain. Midway through the flight, your body is able to get the pressure in the ear to equalize and life becomes a little less painful. 

However, when the plane goes down again, the exact opposite happens. The pressure in your air canal increases dramatically and there will be lower pressure on the inside. This causes the pressure to push inwards into your ear and the pain starts all over again. 

There is an answer to this problem and that is to try and open up the Eustachian tube, to try and ease the pain. Well, that is the goal anyway.

That is when things like Afrin and Sudafed come in handy. But more on that later.

Can Flying Make An Ear Infection Worse?

The answer to that question is yes. You see, when you fly, there are significant fluctuations in pressure, that occur in the middle ear. Some doctors will warn again flying under these circumstances because they can cause a rupture of the ear drum, if you have fluid behind the ear or an ear infection.

It will also be extremely uncomfortable and painful – more painful than what would ordinarily be experienced when flying. 

Tips For Preventing Ear Problems On A Plane

The first port of call would be to apply some thought on what could possibly go wrong long before you arrive at the airport. That would go a long way to mitigating some of the ear difficulties that you have encountered. 

Naturally, the options available to you at an airport will be significantly limited and it might not even be wise to complete the trip that you had planned and paid for. 

Most ear difficulties on a flight are experienced during take-off and during landing. We advise that about 45 minutes to an hour before you arrive at an airport it might be prudent to take a decongestant. 

Something to take into account before taking a decongestant is the state of your general health. Decongestants are not safe for people who have blood pressure problems, among other things. 

People say this all the time and more often than not, it is taken for granted but it would be prudent for you to keep a close track of your medical history, especially if you are somebody who plans to fly frequently at some point in your life – whether that be for travel or business purposes. 

For those among you who do not have blood pressure issues, decongestants can work wonders during that flight that you initially dreaded. 

  • Sudafed is a popular option. The normal adult dose when using a product like it is about 60mg. While it depends on which country you are in, it is most likely that you will only be able to get the drug behind the counter and not over the counter. You won’t need a prescription but you will need to sign for it, in some states. 
  • Another popular option is the Afrin Nasal Spray. It is in your best interests to use Afrin at least 30 minutes before you hop on a plane, to help get decongested and get those Eustachian tubes opened up.
  • Earplanes (normally for children) and general ear plugs are normally available at airports and both products help relieve some of the air pressure you will negotiate during the flight. Significantly, they also reduce harsh noise during a flight, because they have a filter. In short, the Earplanes will likely be one of your better options at the airport and they will help tremendously, there is little doubt about it. 
  • There is also a product normally available at the airport called DayQuil. It is not as effective as some of the other options available but you can get it over the counter and it does have its uses if you expect to encounter some ear troubles on your flight. 
  • Chewing gum is an activity that is often frowned upon in society and possibly with good reason. However, if push comes to shove, it can be a useful option to have when dealing with ear troubles on the plane. Chewing uses the jaw muscles to massage the Eustachian tube. So, the old chomping away at boiled sweets and the like go a long way to easing your troubles. Gum will help “pop” your ears after you’ve landed, too!

Can A Baby or Young Child Fly With An Ear Infection?

Children with ear infection is a very common problem. It is a reality that you, as a parent, will have to come to terms with often and sometimes that will need to happen when you have a couple of expensive plane tickets that you can’t just discard. 

So, what do you do? You simply have to soldier on. Here are a couple of ways to help go about achieving that. What you need to understand is that eardrums are extremely sensitive to pressure changes. 

The only thing you can do for your child, under those circumstances, is to plug the ear airtight, so that the pressure from around the cabin does not want to expand the ear drum. 

Silicon ear plugs, which are normally used for swimming are soft and malleable, which means they are highly likely to conform to the shape of the child’s ear. 

As a parent, you can gently put just enough of that earplug in to fill up the child’s ear canal. More often than not, it would also be prudent to do the other ear too. 

It would probably also be wise to leave the earplugs in for the whole flight. You just need to make sure that your child is not picking at it. 

Another common technique for children is to get them to fly with and chew on a pacifier, which will help mitigate the impact of the ear infection. It will help open up the Eustachian tube and equalize the pressure in the child’s ear. 

The big factor for parents to consider is always the pain factor and some doctors will suggest that lukewarm olive oil will go a long way to easing that pain. 

A child’s Eustachian tube is not well formed and that is partly because a baby’s face is a normally a little rounder than that of an adult. Therefore the Eustachian tube will be more horizontal than vertical. 

As a child gets older, that face will start to elongate and the Eustachian tube will be more vertical. So, for children, the Eustachian tube is a slightly less efficient drain. 

Can I get on a plane with an ear infection?

It’s important to avoid flying when you or your kids have a sinus infection or an ear infection. These conditions can cause the Eustachian tubes to block, which can then rupture. If your ears are getting blocked or are experiencing ear pain, it is important that you avoid flying. It can also cause ear infections if you have an ear infection.

What happens when you fly with an ear infection?

Getting an ear infection can make it hard for you to evenly pressure your ears using the cabin pressure. This can cause severe ear pain. Complications are very uncommon when it comes to airplane ear. However, severe pressure can cause a perforated ear, which usually goes away quickly.

What happens if your eardrum bursts?

A ruptured eardrum can also cause issues with your hearing. It can also make it hard to hear infections. Your goal is to move the muscles in your mouth to open the airway. Doing so by swallowing and yawning is the first thing to try.

What do you do if your ear won’t pop after a flight?

Nasal spray can help relieve Eustachian tube pressure. Use filtered earplugs to evenly distribute the pressure against your ear. Before you climb or descent, use nasal spray or oral decongestant pills to help relieve congestion and open the eustachians.

How long does it take to clear up an ear infection?

Middle ear infections can go away on their own within 2 to 3 days. They can also last for up to 6 weeks after antibiotic treatment. Pseudoephedrine is a drug used to relieve nasal or sinus pain caused by colds, sinusitis, and other respiratory allergies.

Does altitude affect ear infections?

Air pressure changes at higher altitudes can cause ear barotrauma. The eustachian tube helps to keep the pressure within your ear. Ideally, you should be sleeping on your side to get the most relaxing effect.

Will airplane ear go away on its own?

Even if an airplane ear gets injured, it usually doesn’t require surgery. In most cases, the ear can heal on its own. If your ears are plugged, swallow or rub sugar-free gum to open them. Then, try taking a deep breath and closing both nostrils. If this doesn’t do the trick, try blowing out of your nose.