Airplane ear is caused by the pressure difference between the middle ear and surrounding air.
Functions of the eustachian tube
Air pressure within the ear is regulated by the eustachian tube, a narrow tube that connects the middle ear with the throat.
Under normal conditions, the eustachian tube replenishes the air within the middle ear and keeps the pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum.
When there is a pressure difference, as in the ascending or descending of a plane, the air trapped within the middle ear drops to a lower pressure.
This may cause the eardrum to be stretched inside, preventing it from vibrating normally. The inward pulling of eardrum causes pain while the abnormal vibration results in muffled hearing.
Additional causes of barotrauma
Scuba diving, explosions at close range, and oxygen chambers may also result in barotrauma. Sinus infections, nasal allergies, and stuffy nose also lead to blockage of the eustachian tube.
Swallowing and yawning helps to activate the muscles of eustachian tube that will trigger replenishment of air within the middle ear. This resolves the symptoms of airplane ear.
4 Making a Diagnosis
Making a diagnosis of Airplane Ear is done by Physical examination of the ears using an otoscope, which helps to identify the changes in the eardrum.
Bulging of the eardrum causes pain and partial hearing loss and can also be checked using an otoscope.
In severe cases of airplane ear, the eardrum tears and accumulation of blood behind the ear can occur.
Vertigo is caused by damage to the inner ear. Audiometry is suggested to detect hearing problems.
The sources of issues in the inner ear can be identified by this method.
Treatment of Airplane ear is done by several methods, which include:
Medications and self-help control the symptoms of this condition. Nasal decongestants and oral antihistamines prevent blocks in eustachian tube that aggravate symptoms of airplane ear. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help to reduce pain and discomfort.
A gentle blowing maneuver helps to unclog the ear. This is done by shutting the nostrils and inhaling through the mouth. The inhaled air is then forced back gently into the nose. It causes a slight ‘pop’ which unclogs the ear. This is usually repeated several times during descent of the plane.
Small silicone earplugs with special filters that help to equalize the pressure in the ear are useful to improve the symptoms of airplane ear. These plugs are particularly useful during colds for nasal congestion.
Chewing a gum, yawning, and swallowing activates the muscles that open the eustachian tube. Opening the tube allows the air to pass from the nose to the throat, equalizing the pressure within the middle ear.
In most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own once the pressure is equalized.
Surgery is recommended only if fluid drainage is required.
Some easy ways to prevent the discomfort of Airplane ear during travel are:
Yawning and swallowing
Gentle blowing maneuver
Avoiding travel while having sinus infections or a cold
Using decongestant nasal spray
Using allergy medications
Using earplug with filters
Avoiding sleeping during descent of the plane
7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies
Belladona is a homeopathic remedy recommended for controlling airplane ear. The dose is repeated when pain and discomfort persist.
Kali sulph is also suggested to cure the problems in the eustachian tube that cause airplane ear.
Merc-I-F prevents sharp shooting pain in one of the ears during descent.
8 Lifestyle and Coping
Keeping decongestants, earplugs, gum, and allergy medications during travel helps one to cope with Airplane ear on a plane ride.
9 Risks and Complications
Self-care is the best way to treat airplane ear and it very rarely causes any complications.
If the symptoms are serious, it may lead to middle and inner ear damage.
In some rare cases, airplane ear may lead to hearing loss and a chronic ringing in the ears.
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