Have you ever experienced ear barotrauma (airplane ear)? This is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful popping ear condition that occurs due to air pressure in the inner ear during air travel. Usually this happens when the plane is ascending or descending, and can also occur when a person is submerged in water. Luckily, there are a few tips you can try to keep your ears from popping, and also help kids and babies stay comfortable.
Part 1 of 3: Preventing Ears Popping
Step 1. Find out the symptoms
When the air pressure around you changes, for example when you travel in an airplane, climb or descend a high place, or dive in water, the pressure in the ear cavity should change accordingly. However, when pressure changes occur suddenly, the pressure in the ear does not always adjust immediately. The difference in pressure that occurs between the ear cavity and the outside environment, which is called barotrauma, causes symptoms that are uncomfortable and even painful. These symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort in the ear
- Ears feel full or compressed
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Hearing changes, as if you are underwater and sounds are muffled
- If the case is severe, hearing becomes impaired, the ear bleeds and vomits
Step 2. Perform yawning and swallowing movements
To prevent the ear from popping causing pain and discomfort, you must stop the pressure difference from occurring. This can be done by yawning and swallowing. This action will open the Eustachian tube in the ear, so that the pressure in the ear will be synchronized with the pressure in the surrounding environment.
To help yourself swallow, try chewing gum, sucking on candy, or sipping a drink. All of this will keep you going
Step 3. Apply back pressure
This can be done by performing a simple exercise: close your mouth, then pinch your nose, and gently exhale. The air you're blowing isn't going anywhere, so it compresses the Eustachian tube, which reduces the pressure.
- Don't blow too hard when you try this exercise. If you blow too hard, this movement can be painful and damage the eardrum. Blow with just enough force to gently pop the ear.
- Repeat this movement several times, especially when the plane is taking off or about to land.
Step 4. Use earplugs that have filters
These earplugs are specially designed to balance the pressure when your plane is taking off or about to land, so that no pressure builds up in your ears.
Earplugs equipped with filters can be found at drugstores and kiosks at airports. Although its effectiveness is not guaranteed, this tool can help minimize the occurrence of popping ears when you are traveling
Step 5. Treat a stuffy nose before you board the plane
Barotrauma often occurs when you have a cold, sinus infection or other condition that makes your nose runny. This happens because the Eustachian tube does not open properly when the tube becomes inflamed due to allergies or the flu. If you have a stuffy nose before you get on a plane or dive, use a nasal decongestant or antihistamine just in case.
- Take a decongestant, such as Sudafed, every six hours and continue taking it within 24 hours of landing to shrink the membranes in your sinuses and ears. Follow the directions given on the medicine package.
- You can use nasal spray for children, according to the instructions given on the packaging. This strength-adjusted formula for children can help open the Eustachian tube without making you take a stronger dose of the drug than needed.
- Do not take decongestants before or while you dive. Your body digests decongestants differently when you're in water, so taking this medication before diving is risky.
- If your congested nose is severe enough, you should reconsider your travel plans or diving activities. Redesign your trip until you are in good shape, especially if you have experienced severe barotrauma in the past.
Part 2 of 3: Helping Children Stay Comfortable
Step 1. Keep the kids awake
While you may want to put your child to bed before the plane takes off or lands, help your child avoid barotrauma by keeping him awake.
- Keep your child busy so that he doesn't fall asleep just as the pressure changes in the airplane cabin. Invite your child to pay attention to the people around you, or read a book together.
- Make sure you've prepared your little one for the loud noises and the heaving of takeoffs and landings so they don't get scared. While you can't warn your baby, you can try other ways to make him feel comfortable. For example, by smiling and saying comforting words to let him know that everything is okay.
Step 2. Encourage your child to swallow
Give your toddler, baby, or child something to suck on to make him swallow. Ask your child to swallow when the plane takes off or lands, or if he seems uncomfortable because he feels his ears are irritated.
- Breastfeeding is a very good way for babies. If you're not breastfeeding your baby, try a pacifier or bottle.
- Older children can drink using a suction cup or straw, or suck on a lollipop. The key is to keep your child actively sucking and swallowing. So when your child is old enough, teach them how to do it consciously beforehand so you can instruct your child to do it when the time comes.
Step 3. Fake a yawn so that your child yawns too
While no one knows why this happens, yawning can be contagious to other people, so if he sees you yawning, in response your child may actually yawn.
Yawning will open the Eustachian tube in the child's ear, so that the pressure that collects in the ear will be balanced with the pressure in the aircraft cabin
Step 4. Consider rescheduling the trip if your child is sick
This is highly recommended if your child has had severe barotrauma in the past.
- Young children usually shouldn't be given decongestants, so if your child has a stuffy nose or sinus infection, it's a good idea to reschedule your flight so your child doesn't experience severe barotrauma. In addition, you can also prevent the transmission of disease to other passengers.
- If your child has been on a plane before and doesn't show extreme discomfort, you don't need to reschedule your flight.
Step 5. Go to the doctor for ear drops
Ear drops prescribed by a doctor can numb the area so that children will not experience pain and discomfort when this happens.
Although this is a somewhat extreme assessment, it can be a good solution if your child is very sensitive to popping ears
Part 3 of 3: Treating Ear Barotrauma
Step 1. Wait for your balance to recover
If your ears pop when you're on an airplane or while diving, the problem usually goes away on its own when you land again or get out of the water.
- Although the pressure can't be rebalanced right away, your ears should be back to normal within an hour or two. Meanwhile, you may feel better quickly if you keep yawning and swallowing.
- Some people take a few days to balance the pressure in their ears. During the recovery process, their hearing may be muffled, although this is rare.
Step 2. Watch for severe symptoms
Seek medical help if the discomfort is severe, or does not go away in more than a day. Severe barotrauma is rare, but can cause permanent damage to the ear and cause hearing loss. In very severe cases, barotrauma can rupture the inner ear. These injuries will usually heal on their own, but you should see a doctor just in case there are other problems that accompany the injury. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms that could indicate a ruptured inner ear.
- Pain or discomfort that persists for several hours
- Severe pain
- Ears are bleeding
- Hearing loss that doesn't go away
Step 3. Take treatment if the barotrauma does not go away
Although rare, surgery may be needed to restore balance in the ear. The eardrum will be made an incision to drain the pressure and fluid. If you experience severe pain that persists, go to the doctor to determine whether you need surgery or not.
For the time being, don't get on planes, dive, or do other activities that require you to get on or off at very high altitudes. If your ear pops again, this could make your injury worse
- When yawning, you don't need to make a loud yawning sound, but yawn fully open and rock your jaw from side to side once or twice. Repeat as needed.
- Begin using preventive techniques the first time you feel pressure and continue as needed until your plane lands.
- Some of the tips in this article don't work when you're submerged in water.
- You can also play music or plug your ears while on an airplane.
- You can be seriously injured if you take a decongestant while diving.
- Driving to/from high altitudes when you have allergies or a respiratory infection can be dangerous.
- If you hear an odd rattling and popping sound, you may have had wax or hair in your eardrums that should be removed by a doctor. It is also a sign of a serious condition that requires medical treatment.
- If you know that you are at high risk of suffering from the flu or another condition that makes your nose runny, the safest solution is don't get on the plane until the symptoms disappear. The part of the body that suffers from air pressure is not only the ear. Clogged sinus passages can cause severe pain when you experience extreme pressure changes such as those you experience when a plane is about to land.