Ears in the air! We all know that air travel is stressful enough, but have you ever considered the strain flying puts on your hearing health?
Ear pain from extended pressure (airplane ear) can happen to anyone, whether you have hearing loss or not. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Airplane ear is the stress exerted on your eardrum and other middle ear tissues when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure in the environment are out of balance. You may experience airplane ear at the beginning of a flight when the airplane is climbing or at the end of a flight when the airplane is descending.” Symptoms include moderate to severe pain, a “feeling of fullness or stuffiness,” and possible temporary hearing loss.
Also known as ear barotrauma, airplane ear will probably go away on its own. Depending on risk factors, though, a medical provider might prescribe nasal steroids or “antibiotics, if an infection develops.” Prevention tips include chewing gum and swallowing more than usual during takeoff and landing. EarPlanes™ filter products can also assist with any associated pain. These filters — made of “soft, cleanable, hypoallergenic silicone” — are inserted directly into the ear canal to help slow the shift in ear pressure.
If you have a middle ear infection, or otitis media, it might be prudent — if possible — to delay your trip. Fluid in your ear canal can make airplane ear more severe, and worst-case scenario, your eardrums could even burst. With an ear infection, your Eustachian tube has trouble equalizing, or “popping.”
Effects of airplane ear on those with hearing loss are similar, though it’s possible the pressure could make your hearing difficulty worse, if only for a short time. If you’re worried, talk to your audiologist, who will be more than happy to address any of your concerns.