Severe ear pain. During and after airliner flight

Posted , 10 users are following.

Forgive me if the writing does not seem like a personal request, I have been copy/pasting this across forums and other health care websites trying to receive help. 


Excruciating pain in ears during airplane descent, and throughout the whole night after landing. I'm not talking about airplane discomfort, I'm talking about having knives being twisted deep into your ears. I'm talking about having your jaw in a vice, tightened to the point just before your bones snap. I've broken bones before... my leg, fingers, toes, and wrist... that pain was nothing compared to this. Help! 


Two nights ago I returned from my 10 days in California (Lompoc, if you're familiar), visiting family. The flight there was a straight flight from STL Missouri to LA California. The flight there went smoothly, with my normal ear discomfort, and I was able to pop and relieve my ears multiple times throughout the flight. The flight went just as all of my flights have, just fine with no problems (I've been flying on airlines since I was 6 years old. I flew twice a year until I was 16, and then I only flew 4 times between the ages of 17-19... and now at twenty years old this was my latest flight). 

I had fun in California, but a few days before I left I started to get a runny nose. I had a runny nose for the last 3 days before I left. The flight leaving Cali went to las vegas, that flight was fine. During the second flight to STL, I had above average discomfort in my right ear once we reached 10k ft+. The pain was annoying, but bearable. Once we started descending, the pain immediately surpassed any pain i've ever felt before. I've broken bones before... I've broken my leg, fingers, toes, and my wrist... that pain was nothing compared to this. Nothing I did soothed the pain, I downed 800MG ibuprofen, it had no effect. I chewed gum, I massaged my neck/jaw, my girlfriend massaged my neck/back did everything she knew soothed me, I tried to eat food, nothing worked. For some reason, even thinking about that pain is increasing the level of pain i'm still feeling right now (i'll get to that later). The pain was enough to where I tried to bite my tongue to avert my mind from the pain in my ears and jaw. When we landed, I burst into tears because I had hoped and hoped that it would stop... and it didn't. The pain persisted for the rest of that night until I took some pharmaceuticals and drugged myself to sleep. 

When I woke up, the pain was the normal discomfort I feel on an airplane. It has now been more than 35 hours since I landed, and the discomfort is still here. If I burp a certain way, or yawn to hard the pain intensifies to what it was during descent. I have no idea what to do or how to prevent this from ever happening again. 

But, this has happened before. Last summer, I went to New Mexico to work at Philmont high adventure base as a trail guide (Ranger). Towards the end of my stay there, I became sick with a runny nose and sore throat. Because I was sick, I was forced to stay in base and not trek up into the mountains. After 2 -3 days of being sick in base... I was woken up in the middle of the night by the same type of pain described above (the pain during descent). But it was not as severe as the pain on the plane. I went to the ER in New Mexico, and they looked in my ear and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The pain was intense enough I could not sit still let alone sleep, so they prescribed 800MG ibuprofen (all they had at the time). The pain was rough, but it did not put me into tears like on the plane. The next day, the ER contacted the closest hospital and they sent over a decongestant nasal spray and prescribed it to me to take before every meal and once before and after sleep. 

The spray did nothing, and I was forced to simply deal with the "normal airplane discomfort" that followed the days afterwards. Because of the late night incident, the doctor advised me to not go into the mountains (elevation change)... I waited 5 days religiously following my prescription, and I could wait no longer. I went with a friend into the mountains and once I reached an elevation change of 2000 feet my ears popped and the pressure, the ringing, the pain.... everything was gone.. Everything was fine after that. But now, I'm in Missouri.... there are no mountains for me climb. What do I do? 

****The symptoms I'm currently feeling****

Sudden pain in the ears, it intensifies and then dulls without warning. 

A constant loud ringing, I am currently hard of hearing. 

Sometimes, I can feel the fluid behind my ear drums move when I tilt my head at an angle. I currently cannot do that, but it was happening yesterday (off the plane).

Severe short bursts of pain when I burp a certain way, or finish a yawn. 

Pressure in my ears (the pressure changes and switches location throughout the day. The pressure can be anywhere from a grape in my ear canal up to what feels like an orange, lol)

***Things I've tried***

A heat bag, so far this is the only thing that "helps". I use quotes on helps, because I can't tell if it lessons the pain or simply makes me comfortable enough to push out the pain and think of other things. 

Decongestants (They help my nose, but not my ears)

large doses of ibuprofen (does nothing) 

Tylenol (does nothing)

Percoset (Helped me ignore the pain and sleep)

A hot steamy shower (did nothing but cleanse my pores) 

Trying to pop my ears by gently blowing against a held nose (did nothing) 

Yawning (did nothing) 

Chewing gum (nothing) 

I had my ears examined, and again they look fine. 


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8 Replies

  • Posted

    Hi Goat, I use Vapor rub on a Q-tip inside my ear. You might also try Sweet Oil. A couple drops in each ear.
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  • Posted

    Hi. I have had that all my life, finally found out how to stop it, all you need to do is take a sudafed tablet about an hour or two before take off and an hour before landing, assuming its over four hour flight. It is the ONLY thing that works
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  • Posted

    I know the feeling you're describing. It was bad enough that I was biting my tongue / banging my head on the wall of the plane, and almost caused the attendant to panic. It happened to me Twice in a row.

    Then I had to make a transatlantic flight and the thought of it scared the living bujesus out of me. My doctor recommended taking time release allergy +decongestant pills(the good kind with ephedrine) for an entire week before the flight. It worked great for me. Now just normal ear "popping."

    I really hope this helps. The pain made me think "I may die, or at least go deaf." And now I've made three flights trouble free since adopting this method.

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  • Posted

    It happend to my son evern after 2 hours of landing and I could see that he was in pain. My mother aked him to eat apple and then keep pulling his jaws apart by hand. It relieved him in 15 minutes.
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  • Posted

    I had that problem when I was 15 I was on the plane i started getting sharp pains in my right ear I cried a lot. I described the pain to my dad as a knife stabbing me in the ear, I was chewing gum that wasn't working. When we landed I couldn't really hear from my right ear and no one was able to hear me cause  apparently I was talking really low. I felt like I wasn't when I talked it felt like I had to scream cause no one was able to hear me I still was in a lot of pain I a stronest pain  reliever that Mexico over the counter had. (Sorry I don't remember the name of it) them the pain when alway 30 minutes later. When we where going to go back home in plane I when to a swimmers store and bought ear plugs. I went on the the plane fine. That never happened to me again I always use the ear plugs and put headphones with music and i'm fine 

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  • Posted

    An old post I know but I have had this issue also- only when I have had a cold though- an ear plug called 'ear planes' sort of numbed the pain (although it was still there upon descent) by about 20% which is a lot considering any form of relief is needed at that point of pain. I found it helped to put headphones on top of them (the noise cancelling type ones that just go over the entire ear) it helped to further block but also the music distracted me from the pain even though it was muffled sound. I heard sudafed is the way to go but it is very hard to come by in Europe! If only I packed some from Australia before I left!

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  • Posted

    I realized that this post was old but

    still, I have the exact pain you described right now and I’ve tried a bunch of tips other people have recommended but nothing works for me. I’ve also tried airplane ear things but they don’t work for me either. The only thing that makes the pain more bearable for me is to tilt my head upside down but it only helped for a few seconds. 

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