Flying and Ear Pain – How to ease the discomfort: AK Mom’s Story


One of the more unpleasant treasures I brought back from my trip last week was a head cold, which truly wasn’t too bad until I boarded the flight home. Booked on the infamous Alaska Airlines “Milk Run,” traveling between Ketchikan and Anchorage via Sitka and Juneau (I was lucky this time; often the run includes Wrangell and Petersburg, too), my evening was destined to be full of ascents and descents to and from 35,000 feet.

After the first landing in Sitka, both ears were protesting; by the second, in Juneau, I couldn’t clear my left. Cabin noise and conversation was a muffled befuddling mix of roaring and ringing, causing me to try every trick in the air travel book in an ultimately futile attempt to clear things up and out before we began descending into Anchorage.

I now understand why babies wail while flying, because I wanted to, myself.

That was Saturday night.


Tuesday morning, after stumbling around my house inserting ear drops, applying warm compresses, and swallowing decongestants, I finally visited my physician, who took one look inside my ears and exclaimed “Holy beeswax, what IS all that?”  The proper term is “barotrauma”  and I had it, along with a collection of stuff residing inside my lovely little hearing vessels.

I’ll spare you the rest of the story, but rest assured I can hear, now. Here’s how you can reap the benefits from my three days of investigative and ultimately lifesaving (not really, but it sounds good) work to keep my head and ears clear on future flights.

1. If you or your kids must fly with a cold, take a decongestant an hour or so before flying to keep those Eustacian tubes cleared out and happy. I was sent to purchase Sudafed, the real thing, with ID required. Further clear nasal/sinus passages with a spray of Afrin (recommended by a number of people who fly a lot) before climbing aboard.


2. Try pressure-equalizing ear plugs sold under the brand name “Ear Planes,” a product I have not tried before but shall next Friday when I fly to Portland. Pray for me. Found at most drugstores, and sold with a generic version as well, Ear Planes are designed to allow pressure to gradually flow in and out of the ear, not all at once. People swear by them, and since I don’t want a repeat of my previous flight, I’ll give them a go. A kid size is also available. The key is to use the plugs during ascent and descent, and not remove them until the cabin door has been opened. So I’ve been told.


3. Stay hydrated. Water, of course, is best, but any NON-CAFFEINATED drink will do. Why? I have no idea, but since I’m likely to be cranky anyway, I’ll bite. Just watch out when the door opens, because I’m headed to the nearest coffee shop. If you have little ones, offer a bottle, or nurse as you ascend or descend.

Sleep here, not during take-off or landing!

4. Stay awake during take-off and landing. Keep that head up, that jaw working/chewing on gum or candy, and motivate those tubes to remain open. Tough for some of us, but the flight attendants I spoke with say it works if applied in a preventative manner.

Nine days and counting – let’s hope all this information works!

Do you have any suggestions for me? I’m ready to hear just about anything.

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