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Airplane Ears

  1. Jun 19, 2009 #1


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    Hey PF,
    Last time I landed on an airplane my ears hurt unbearably, and it lasted hours. I had tried yawning, swallowing, drinking, chewing gums, and the valsalva maneuver. After I got on the ground I purchased a milky way bar, ate that, and then ate a hot dog, french fries, and a pepsi. My ears still hurt.

    I can't imagine this is good for my ears, which already have problems. Next time I will bring in decongestants an attempt to keep my eustachians clear. I tried the Toynbee and Valsalva maneuvers just now after reading all Wikipedia had on "ear clearing," and I can tell it is only working on my left eustachian tube. I fear what may happen tomorrow. Is there anything else I can do? I love traveling, I wouldn't want to give it up for fear of damaging my hearing.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2009 #2
    Google the Valsalva Effect. It's not your ears that hurt, its your sinus'.

    Edit: Damn you beat me to it in your post. I don't see why you would damage your hearing.
  4. Jun 19, 2009 #3


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    you better get used to it, that’s really a common thing, and stop chewing it won’t help just stay calm and after the first 15 min you won’t feel the pressure on your ears
  5. Jun 19, 2009 #4


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    Better get used to it? I've flown on at least fifty flights and never have had a problem. Maybe that is all the more reason for this to be a one time deal?

    As to Cyrus, generally I assume a lot of pain means something bad. It wasn't until I started reading about barotrauma that I started thinking this could actually be damaging, though.
  6. Jun 19, 2009 #5


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    Were you congested that day? Have any infections or cold/flu symptoms? It sounds like you should at least avoid flying when you are already congested, or have cold/flu symptoms.
  7. Jun 19, 2009 #6


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    I think you better go and see an ear, nose and throat specialist, you may have a serious problem
  8. Jun 20, 2009 #7
    Could it be dietary related. Just wondering.
  9. Jun 20, 2009 #8
    Once me and my wife were traveling in an American airlines domestic flight and she had severe ear pain after landing. I also felt some unusual ear uneasiness, but it was not that bad. We went to a doctor on the same day, and the doctor was very surprised that we were the second patient he was seeing on the same day, with the same symptom. We assumed it could be due to some faulty pressure control in the plane.
  10. Jun 20, 2009 #9


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    I agree with drizzle's advice to see a doctor about it. It may not be a *serious* problem, but since you mention already having problems with your ears, you may have something else going on that's blocking your eustachian tubes or ear canals that is preventing the pressure in your ears from re-equilibrating. Or, you might just have some other ear infection or such that has coincidentally appeared while you were traveling and the pressure changes irritated it enough to quickly become painful.

    If you haven't tried it already, try an antihistamine with decongestant (of the benedryl variety). It's going to make you sleepy, but if it started out as congestion and progressed to inflammation, the decongestant will control the congestion part, and the antihistamine the swelling associated with the inflammation. If that helps, you can take it whenever you're flying...and at least you'll know you sleep on the flight.

    But, to emphasize, ask your doctor first! Afterall, if the antihistamine/decongestant works, that still indicates there is some other condition underlying the inability to adjust to pressure changes, and you do want to be sure it's not going to hurt your hearing. A lot of things with the ear are incredibly easy and minor to treat if you catch it early, but if you wait can also easily lead to the sort of damage that will permanently affect your hearing.
  11. Jun 20, 2009 #10


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    Jobyts beat me to my answer. Of course the advice from others to seek medical advice is paramount, but I was thinking along the line of a defective pressurization system.
  12. Jun 20, 2009 #11
    Hi Mk,

    If you have not had these problems before and if the vasalva maneuvre did not work, you probably had a blocked Eustachian tube which can be caused by inflammation, common colds etc. And as suggested before, better see the doc about it. As an ultimate problem, http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec19/ch220/ch220b.html is possible, which might cure eventually but there is infection danger. So be sure to see a doc.

    Cabin pressure of airliners is supposed not to be less than the air pressure at 8000 feet altitude (750 mb or 10.9 psi) say 3/4 of an atmosphere. During the climb the inner ear releases the air with no problem but during the descend the increasing air pressure is not automatically entering the eustachian tube. And if the system is totally blocked, it can be a real problem. However this only may occur with a severe comon cold or similar infections or allergic reactions. Better not fly with a cold.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  13. Jun 20, 2009 #12
    Yawning, swalling, drinking, and chewing gum are all things that can trigger the release of pressure as a side effect but they are not reliable methods. The fact that you tried these things and got no relief is no surprise to me. It's also not something that you can fix afterward...you need to clear it as soon as it's happening, not hours afterward.

    I've learned to control the muscles in my Eustachian tubes so I can clear my ears at will...although the muscles aren't too strong, so if I'm deep underwater for example, I can't always do it. Anyway, the Vasalva maneuvre should always work...just do it as you feel it coming on next time, rather than afterwards.
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