What is the treatment for aeroplane ear?
Whilst in the plane, the treatment is the same as all the measures described in the prevention section. So, try one or more of the following:
- Suck on a boiled sweet.
- Have a drink, ideally through a straw or sports bottle.
- Yawn or open your mouth widely as if you were yawning.
- Pinch your nose closed with your fingers and blow through your nose until you feel your ears 'pop'.
- For babies, give a dummy to suck, or a drink from a bottle.
If the measures above fail to help, although the pain may be severe, it normally goes quickly. If it does not settle, take painkillers such as paracetamol until it does go. Fluid or mucus sometimes accumulates in the middle ear for a few days after the flight, which may make hearing rather dull for a while. This happens if the Eustachian tube is still blocked, and is more likely if you had a cold before flying. To clear it, you could try one of the measures in the section above. For example, the Valsalva manoeuvre, a decongestant or the balloon which you blow up through your nose (Otovent®). On a flight full of people, blowing up a balloon through your nose might be embarrassing but if your ears are still blocked afterwards you should be able to use it in a less public place!
You should see a doctor if the pain or dulled hearing does not clear within a few days.
Are there any complications?
Complications are extremely unusual, or millions of people wouldn't be flying on a regular basis. Very occasionally, the eardrum can be put under so much pressure that it bursts (perforates), leaving a hole in the eardrum. If this does happen, the pain usually goes away immediately. Perforated eardrums usually heal well without any treatment.
Can I fly with an ear infection?
Ideally it is advisable NOT to fly if you have an ear infection, such as otitis media or otitis externa. However, if you (or your child) do have to fly, there is no evidence that you are likely to come to any serious harm. The pain you have in your ear may be worse and it may take longer to settle. You may be more likely to have a perforated eardrum. If you do have to fly with an ear infection, decongestant medicines may help prevent problems. (These are not suitable for children under the age of 6 years, and only with the advice of a pharmacist for children aged 6-12 years.) It may also be worth taking regular painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen during the flight.
Did you find this information useful?
- Eustachian Tube Dysfunction; Baylor College of Medicine
- Ear pain during travel; BMJ Best Practice, 2016
- Cabin air pressure; International travel and health, World Health Organization (WHO)
- Air travel and children's health issues; Paediatr Child Health. 2007 Jan 12(1):45-59.
- Your patient and air travel - A guide for physicians; British Airways (BA) Health Services
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.