The ear-popping sensation many individuals experience during air travel is usually a mild, momentary discomfort for healthy infants and adults. This occurs once the Eustachian tube that connect the rear part of the nose to the middle ear attempts to equalize with the cabin pressure by opening up to allow air into the middle ear.
When an individual has common cold, the inflammation and mucous from the head congestion can block these tubes. Since the tubes are narrower in size than the adults, infants are more likely to end up with these types of blockages that can cause complications such as ear damage and severe pain.
Close look on head congestion
Since air travel can cause discomfort and even painful, infants at risk for head congestion would require a visit to a doctor before any trip. A consultation with a doctor is vital before a trip to determine if postponing the flight is recommended. If the trip is required, the doctor might recommend medications for the infant so that the flight is a more comfortable travel.
Does my child have head congestion?
Infants with head congestion usually exhibit a clear, runny nose and might find it difficult to breathe or refuse to eat due to the congestion. During a flight, the congested infant might cry and shortly become fussy before landing since the blocked Eustachian tubes will not allow the air pressure to equalize. The air that is trapped will push on the eardrums, thus stretching them and causing pain.
Considerations to bear in mind
Older children and adults can be given over-the-counter decongestants to reduce the ear pain during air travel. On the other hand, this is not suitable for infants. Children below 2 years old should not be given any type of over-the-counter cold and cough medications.
If travelling with the infant is required, there are measures that must be taken to make the experience less painful. Since swallowing activates the muscles that open up the Eustachian tube, breastfeeding the infant during take-off and landing or allow him/her to drink in a bottle or suck on a pacifier.
Make sure that the infant is fed regularly during the flight since liquids help thin out the mucous secretions. This makes them less likely to clog up the Eustachian tubes. Make sure that the infant is awake before the descent. Take note that the air pressure often increases in the cabin at this point, thus increasing the risk for ear pain and pressure.
When an infant with head congestion travels by air, it can possibly lead to a torn tympanic membrane or eardrum. Take note that this problem can cause intense pain and entails medical care. Even though the eardrum typically heals on its own within 1-2 months, severe cases would require surgery to repair the torn eardrum.