Valsalva Maneuver: Prevent Ear Pain While Flying

February 10, 2017 |

sinus pain

Spring Break is right around the corner. While most of us are excited for a little more Vitamin D, many people dread the flight to their destination. That’s right, ear pain during a flight is much more common than you think. Here is a brief description of common causes and treatments you might want to try, including the Valsalva maneuver:

Individuals with a eustachian tube problem may experience difficulty equalizing middle ear pressure when flying. When an aircraft ascends atmospheric pressure decreases, resulting in a relative increase in the middle ear air pressure. When the aircraft descends, just the opposite occurs; atmospheric pressure increases and there is a relative decrease in the middle ear pressure. Either situation may result in discomfort in the ear due to abnormal middle ear pressure if the eustachian tube is not functioning properly. Usually this discomfort is experienced upon aircraft descent.

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 local drugstore (a prescription is not necessary) the following items:

-Sudafed tablets

-Afrin nasal spray

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.


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