Airplane Ear: Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Airplane ear occurs when pressure is exerted on your eardrum and other structures and tissues in the middle ear when air pressure in the environment and the air pressure in the middle ear are not balanced. Airplane ear is common at the beginning of the flight when the plane if taking off or when the airplane is landing or descending. This rapid change in height results in a net air pressure causing airplane ear.Airplane Ear

Another name for airplane ear is barotitis media, ear barotrauma or aerotitis media.

You can relieve symptoms of airplane ear with simple methods such as chewing gum, swallowing or yawning as these may be able to rectify the pressure difference and reduce stress in the eardrum and middle ear tissues. However, severe cases of airplane ear require medical attention.

Important Disclaimer: this page on airplane ear and associated signs, symptoms, causes and treatment is for information purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage severe emergencies associated with the ear and head register for workplace approved first aid and CPR classes.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of airplane ear may affect one or both ears. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Moderate pain or discomfort in the ear
  • Stuffiness in your ear
  • Muffled hearing or mild hearing loss

In severe cases, airplane ear may last for more than a few hours or cause symptoms such as:

  • Severe pain
  • Pressure in the ear – similar to being underwater
  • Ringing in the ear – tinnitus
  • Moderate to severe loss of hearing
  • Spinning sensation or vertigo
  • Vomiting due to vertigo
  • Bleeding from the ear

When to seek medical attention

Mild symptoms can be easily treated on your own. If you experience symptoms such as pain, stuffiness of the ear or hearing loss for more than a few hours or if you experience any severe symptoms, call your health care provider.

Treatment

In most cases, symptoms of air plane ear disappear with time. However, if symptoms are persistent, you may need to treatment to correct pressure and improve symptoms.

Medication

Your doctor will either advise taking over-the-counter medication or prescribe medication to control the conditions. Examples of such drugs may include:

  • Oral decongestants
  • Decongestant nasal sprays
  • Oral antihistamines

You may have to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain and discomfort.

Self-care

Along with the medications prescribed or advised, your doctor may direct you to perform a self-treatment method called the Valsalva maneuver. To perform the valsalva maneuver, you will have to pinch your nostrils using your fingers to shut them, keep your mouth closed and force air gently to the back of your nose – simply try to blow your nose while following the mentioned instructions. Once medication has improved symptoms and function of the Eustachian tube, you may administer the Valsalva maneuver to open the tubes.

Surgery

Surgery is rarely considered for airplane ear. However, in severe cases, your doctor may make a small incision in your ear to balance the air pressure and drain the fluids.

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