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The condition of airplane ear, medically known as ear barotrauma, occurs when the pressure inside of one eardrum is different than the other. The Eustachian tube is a canal in the ear that allows air to flow into the middle ear to balance pressure. The fast descending and ascending that takes place in air travel causes air pressure to change at a pace more rapid than the ear can handle.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Airplane ear can be felt in one or both ears. According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of airplane ear include a slight hearing loss, a feeling of stuffiness in the ear, discomfort in the ear or mild to moderate pain. Some advanced symptoms can include bleeding from the ear, severe hearing loss, pressure as if you were underwater and severe pain. Some people experience additional symptoms, such as a continual sense of spinning, vertigo and a ringing sensation in the air.
When the ear attempts to balance pressure, the eardrum may stretch without vibrating. This causes muffled hearing or a slight loss of hearing. In some cases, there's a pressure or feeling of pain in the area when the eardrum stretches. With the continuous unbalanced pressure, fluids in the middle air begin to move in an attempt to balance out the pressure. Those who have sinus problems or a cold are more prone to experience this, as they have extra fluid in the middle ear. Children experience more pain than adults because their Eustachian tube is smaller.
According to MamasHealth.com, someone who's experiencing sinus or nasal problems may be advised by her doctor to take an antihistamine, oral decongestant or decongestant spray. This is also recommended for those who frequently experience airplane ear. To treat the condition without medication, you can use a maneuver called valsalva to force the air from the ear. Hold your nose shut while forcing air through the nose as though you were blowing it.
Severe or continuous pressure inside the ear may cause the inner ear or eardrum to rupture. A rare complication is permanent hearing loss. This is found most often in people who regularly experience severe airplane ear and those who fly regularly. Tinnitus, a continuous ringing in the ear, is another rare complication.
According to Health Scout, prevention of airplane ear can be attained by yawning or taking deep swallows during the descent of ascent of a flight. To prevent a baby from crying, give him a pacifier or a bottle. Drinking water or chewing gum helps younger children. Avoid sleeping when a plane is taking off or landing; sleeping allows pressure to build in the ear. Wearing ear plugs and filtering them during the flight helps relieve pressure.
- ear image by Connfetti from Fotolia.com