Riding an airplane, the great outdoors, and swimming. What do these 3 things have in common?  They all can affect your ears, more specifically your eustachian tube.

The eustachian tube runs from the back of your nose uphill to your middle ear and is supposed to be air filled. Changes in elevation, or atmospheric pressure, such as from ascent or descent in an airplane, or with scuba diving, can cause discomfort to the ears. Most often, ears will “pop” or become plugged. Allergies, ear infections, or colds can also cause the Eustachian tube to close, also resulting in popping or plugging which can result in hearing difficulties.

So what can you do? The simplest solution is to obtain an antihistamine over the counter as well as a nasal steroid spray, such as Flonase, and begin taking daily. Nasal steroid sprays can take a month or more to obtain its full benefit, especially when it comes to the ears, so it will need to be taken daily for several weeks. If ear plugging or popping continues to be an issue, there is potential for a pressure equalizing ear tube to be placed. Testing for allergies is also a consideration, as allergens can cause eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD).

To avoid middle ear problems associated with flying you should not fly if you have an acute upper respiratory problem such as a common cold, allergy attack or sinus infection. Should you have such a problem and must fly, or should you have a chronic eustachian tube problem, you may help to avoid ear difficulty by observing the following recommendations:

  1. Obtain from your druggist (a prescription is not necessary) Sudafed tablets and Afrin nasal spray.

2.       Following the container instructions, begin taking Sudafed tablets the day before your air flight. Continue the medication for 24 hours after the flight if you experienced any ear difficulty.

3.       Following the container instructions, use the nasal spray shortly before boarding the aircraft. Should your ears “plug up” upon ascent, hold your nose and swallow. This will help such excess air pressure out of the middle ear.

4.       45 minutes before the aircraft is due to land, again use the nasal spray every five minutes for 15 minutes. Chew gum to stimulate swallowing. Should your ears “plug up” despite this, hold your nose and blow forcibly to try to blow air up the eustachian tube into the middle ear (Valsalva maneuver).

5.       Remember that it is unwise to fly if you have an acute upper respiratory infection. Should flying be necessary under these circumstances, do not perform the Valsalva maneuver mentioned above.

Continued issues or concerns can be addressed with your ENT physician. An audiogram would also be helpful prior to the ENT visit to determine the movement of the ear drum and properly diagnose ETD. These visits can often be scheduled during the same days visit. If you are concerned that you have eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) give our office a call to schedule a consult (616) 994-2770.