With so many people flying in to Puerto Vallarta right now, the increase of requests for “plugged ears” has jumped substantially! I am re-running an article I did several years ago on this, as we interviewed Dr. Javier Diaz-Núñez, our ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) physician.
Is there anything that one can do prior to boarding a plane for a flight, to “protect” their ears?
Dr. Diaz: If you have a history of ear problems with pressure changes, you should definitely do something preventative. The first thing is to make sure your nose is not “stuffed up.” If this is the case you may use a decongestant, such as Afrin, 1 day prior to the flight and then use it twice daily but not for more than three days. Be sure and read the instructions to make sure you have no contradictions. If the stuffy nose is caused from allergies, prescription antihistamines such as Zyrtec or Allegra are recommended to begin using at least 5 days prior to the flight along with a nasal spray of saline solution, which may be purchased over-the-counter.
What is actually happening when a person feels their ears become “plugged” during a flight?
Dr. Diaz: This is called barotrauma or pressure trauma. There is a communication between your inner ear and the posterior part of your nose called the Eustachian tube that equalizes the pressure between the inner ear and the outside. If your nose is blocked, this equalization is not possible and your ear will be subject to that increased pressure and believe me – it will hurt! There are more mild symptoms like ear popping or a sharp pain, which are usually transitory.
What can a person do during the flight to prevent this?
Dr. Diaz: Usually chewing gum during the flight and the Valsalva maneuver, (plugging your nose and trying to blow out your ear), sometimes helps but definitely pre-flight prevention is best. In case you land and 24 hours later your ears are still plugged, it is recommended to see an ENT, especially if there is intense pain. It is important to receive proper treatment, avoid improper treatment and self-medication. You do not want to have a ruined vacation!
Is it dangerous for a person to fly if they have an ear infection, or already plugged ears?
Dr. Diaz: If there has been ear pain, it would be recommended to see your personal physician a couple of days before your flight.
The Facebook pages and groups, though providing a lot of good information, continually surprise me with a lot of misinformation or incomplete information. Just because you heard someone at a cocktail party talk about their neighbor’s friend’s boyfriend’s mothers’ husbands’ experience, should you really take that as 100% true? Do your homework! Go to a reliable source. Hunt down the details. Then decide! (I am referring to the myriad of medical posts).
I need some topics! Please send me some ideas!
Here’s to a resplendent week!