The annoyances associated with flying can be many but there is one that can be quite painful!
(Courtesy of morgueFile) (Purchased from Dreamstime)
There are those of us for whom the images above pose no concern whatsoever. Many people are required to fly as part of their career and have become accustomed to it. For others an airline flight is a pleasant option compared to several hours or more in the car. However a large percentage of the population has a completely different opinion of air travel, namely, it’s a real pain.
Whatever one’s personal assessment of air travel, there is one facet of the experience that can be extremely unpleasant and that is the tendency for many to be forced to endure pain levels that range from mildly irritating to excruciating. One of the unfortunate realities of air travel is the rapid changes in air pressure associated with take-offs and landings. While some travelers experience little or no discomfort at all, many others struggle with middle ear pressure and pain during these times.
The middle ear and ear drum are two of the most sensitive and fragile parts of the human body. The ear drum is a very thin membrane and the tiny bones of the middle ear are the smallest we have. Rapid air pressure changes can affect both. Combined with allergies and other conditions that affect nasal passages the problem becomes acute. These problems commonly occur when the Eustachian tube fails to effectively regulate air pressure. These pressure changes can cause sensations of popping, clicking, ear fullness, and occasionally moderate to severe pain. Such intense pain is most frequently experienced during sudden air pressure changes during airplane travel, particularly during take-off and landing. Young children may describe the popping sensation as a “tickle” in my ear, while others scream in pain and cannot be consoled.
Flying is not the only time that these sudden changes in air pressure can happen. People who like to go on roller coasters and other rides have complained of the same problems. Anytime one is in a situation where steep climbs and rapid descents are present one can expect to experience some degree of air pressure variance. This is true for scuba diving, mountain climbing, riding up elevators of a tall building, and driving in the mountains as well. High air pressure needs to be equalized in the Eustachian tubes and if it isn’t the higher pressure will press against the ear drum producing pain.
Fortunately there are many ways to help alleviate discomfort during air pressure change. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy helps the Eustachian tubes remain open as does yawning or swallowing. Drinking a lot of water when flying is a big help in that it not only promotes swallowing, but it also mitigates the arid conditions prevalent on aircraft which thicken nasal mucus making it more likely that the Eustachian tubes may become blocked. Doctors often recommend the use of a decongestant if flying with a cold or respiratory infection of some kind. It is also said that taking an acetaminophen or ibuprofen tablet about a half hour before take-offs or landings help deal with the pain. Of course before taking any over-the-counter medication, you should check with your doctor for any contraindications.
Another good solution is the use of EarPlanes®, specially designed ear plugs that help neutralize the effects of air pressure changes. Susan L Fenrich says: “I will not fly without my Ear Planes. I generally hate flying because of the excruciating pain I experience, especially during landing. Sometimes my ears take a week or two to get back to normal. Ear Planes have really kept the discomfort to a minimum if any discomfort at all. I have tried Walgreen’s brand but they were not near as comfortable as the EarPlanes® . For those of you who have the problem with ear pain while flying, I highly recommend Ear Planes. And don’t forget to plan ahead—I have yet to see them for sale in the airport stores”.