Ear pain during flying could indicate several different conditions, some more serious than others. If you are a frequent flyer, you have probably experienced some type of ear pain, discomfort, or fullness during your travels. Sometimes, these sensations are harmless and are the result of a cold or sinus infection. However, in other cases, they could indicate middle ear dysfunction or underlying inner ear disorders. Keep reading for detailed synopses of what your symptoms could mean.
Sinus Infection Symptoms
- Nasal congestion
- Reduced sense of smell
- Facial pressure or pain
- Thick nasal discharge that is yellow or green
- Elevated temperature
Flying with a sinus infection can cause more pressure and pain within the middle ear and facial bones that make up the sinuses. This is exacerbated during ascent and descent, during which the change in altitude is extremely rapid.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Symptoms
- A feeling of fullness or stuffiness
- Muffled sounds
- Popping, clicking, or itching sensation
- Pain in one or both ears
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Trouble keeping balance (vertigo)
Usually, ETD ear pain comes and goes. However, flying can be painful and cause heightened lingering symptoms for a few days post-flight. The eustachian tubes can become even more clogged or shut due to the lack of equalized air pressure, and it can be painful to repressurize with swallowing and yawning.
Barotrauma (Airplane Ear) Symptoms
- Moderate to severe discomfort or pain in the ear(s)
- A feeling of fullness or stuffiness
- Muffled hearing or slight to moderate hearing loss
- Severe ear pressure
- Ringing (tinnitus)
- Spinning sensation (vertigo)
- Vomiting from vertigo
- Bleeding from the ear
Airplane ear is very similar to ETD but presents with more serious symptoms. Eustachian tube issues left untreated can lead to barotrauma, placing you at heightened risk for developing chronic tinnitus and hearing loss.
Tonsillolith (Tonsil Stones) Symptoms
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Sore throat
- Tonsil swelling
- White debris in the back of the throat (not always visible without scans)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
Tonsil stones can develop anywhere in the tonsil. However, due to shared nerve pathways, they may cause pain in the ear. There are several treatments for tonsilloliths, including antibiotics, saltwater gargles, and at-home removal. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent future episodes of stones and infection, doctors may recommend total surgical removal of the tonsils.
Middle Ear Infection Symptoms
- Severe ear pain
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Reduced hearing
- Difficulty sleeping
Narrowed eustachian tubes can result in blockages in the middle ear, leading to a buildup of viral or bacterial pathogens. Ear infections are very common after the common cold, flu, allergies, or respiratory infections. Some ear infections can be treated with antibiotics, whereas others may time to let them pass. If you experience recurring infections, your doctor may recommend ear tubes or eustachian tube balloon dilation.
Tips For Ear Pain During Flying
- Swallowing – When you swallow, the pop you hear is air moving back into the middle ear through the eustachian tube. This ensures proper equalization of pressure between the inside of the ear and the outside environment.
- Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy – This can stimulate frequent swallowing to help equalize air pressure.
- Valsalva maneuver – With a mouthful of air, close your mouth and pinch your nose shut. Gently force air out of your nose, keeping everything plugged, until your ears pop. If you are sick, this technique is not recommended.
- Toynbee maneuver – Close your mouth, plug your nose, and swallow a few times.
If you are experiencing ear pain regularly or during flying, schedule a consultation with Vitale; make an appointment online or call us today at (813) 336-2862!