Have you ever felt like your ears just won’t pop after a flight? That clogged, muffled feeling is extremely common and is known as airplane ear or ear barotrauma. It can be annoying and even painful, so you probably want to know – how long does airplane ear last?
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: For most people, airplane ear goes away on its own within a few hours as the pressure equalizes. However, it can last up to a week or more if the eustachian tubes remain blocked.
What Causes Airplane Ear?
Airplane ear, also known as barotrauma or ear barotrauma, is a common condition that occurs when there is a difference in air pressure between the middle ear and the outside environment. This pressure imbalance can cause discomfort, pain, and even temporary hearing loss.
But what exactly causes airplane ear?
The Main Culprit: Pressure Changes
The primary cause of airplane ear is the rapid change in air pressure that occurs during takeoff and landing. As an airplane ascends or descends, the cabin pressure changes, and this can affect the air pressure in the middle ear.
Normally, the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the throat, help equalize the pressure. However, when these pressure changes happen quickly, the Eustachian tubes may not have enough time to adjust, leading to discomfort.
Eustachian Tubes Get Blocked
Another contributing factor to airplane ear is the blockage of the Eustachian tubes. The Eustachian tubes can become blocked due to factors such as congestion, allergies, or sinus infections. When these tubes are blocked, the pressure in the middle ear cannot equalize properly, resulting in the symptoms of airplane ear.
To alleviate the discomfort of airplane ear, there are several techniques you can try. These include swallowing, yawning, chewing gum, or using special earplugs designed to equalize pressure. If the symptoms persist or worsen, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.
For more information on airplane ear and how to prevent or treat it, you can visit Mayo Clinic’s website.
Factors That Increase Your Risk
While most people will experience some degree of discomfort during air travel, certain factors can increase your risk of developing airplane ear. Understanding these factors can help you take the necessary precautions to minimize your discomfort and prevent further complications.
Flying with a Cold or Allergies
If you have a cold or allergies, your risk of experiencing airplane ear is significantly higher. The congestion and swelling in your nasal passages and Eustachian tubes can make it difficult for the air pressure to equalize properly during takeoff and landing.
This can lead to a feeling of fullness or pain in your ears.
According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, individuals with allergies are more likely to experience airplane ear symptoms compared to those without allergies. It is recommended to avoid air travel if you have a severe cold or sinus infection to prevent further complications.
Young children are more susceptible to developing airplane ear due to their smaller Eustachian tubes. These tubes are responsible for equalizing the pressure between the middle ear and the outside environment.
In children, the Eustachian tubes are narrower and shorter, making it more difficult for the pressure to equalize.
A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children under 2 years old are at the highest risk of developing airplane ear. It is important to take necessary precautions such as feeding or giving them a pacifier during takeoff and landing to help equalize the pressure in their ears.
As we age, our Eustachian tubes can become less efficient in equalizing pressure. This can increase the risk of developing airplane ear in older adults. Additionally, age-related hearing loss can make it more difficult to detect early symptoms of airplane ear, leading to delayed treatment.
According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults may experience more severe symptoms of airplane ear and take longer to recover compared to younger individuals. It is important for older adults to be aware of their risk and take appropriate measures, such as using earplugs or yawning, to equalize the pressure in their ears during air travel.
How Long Does It Last?
Airplane ear, also known as barotrauma or ear barotrauma, can be an uncomfortable condition experienced by many airline passengers during takeoff or landing. The duration of airplane ear can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the symptoms.
For Most People, Hours to 1-2 Days
For the majority of individuals, the symptoms of airplane ear typically last for a few hours to a maximum of 1-2 days. This includes sensations of fullness in the ears, muffled hearing, and sometimes even mild pain or discomfort.
During this time, it is important to avoid any activities that may further aggravate the condition, such as flying or scuba diving.
To alleviate the discomfort and speed up the recovery process, there are several self-care techniques that can be tried. These include swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum to equalize the pressure in the ears.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also help manage any pain or discomfort.
In some cases, the symptoms may persist for a longer duration, especially if proper care is not taken or if the individual has an underlying ear or sinus condition. If the symptoms last beyond the expected timeframe, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and appropriate treatment.
Up To a Week in Severe Cases
In more severe cases of airplane ear, the symptoms can last for up to a week or even longer. This may occur if the pressure changes during the flight are particularly extreme or if the individual has a pre-existing condition that makes them more susceptible to barotrauma.
For individuals experiencing prolonged symptoms, it is essential to seek medical attention to rule out any complications or infections. A healthcare professional may recommend specialized treatments such as decongestants, nasal sprays, or in extreme cases, a minor surgical procedure to relieve the pressure in the ears.
It is important to note that while airplane ear can be uncomfortable, it is usually a temporary condition that resolves on its own. Taking appropriate precautions, such as using specialized earplugs designed for air travel or avoiding air travel altogether when experiencing severe congestion or sinusitis, can help prevent or minimize the occurrence of airplane ear.
Tips to Prevent and Relieve Airplane Ear
One of the key tips to prevent and relieve airplane ear is to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water before and during the flight can help keep your Eustachian tubes moist and prevent them from becoming blocked.
Dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of airplane ear, so make sure to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated throughout your journey.
Use Nasal Sprays and Decongestants
Nasal sprays and decongestants can be effective in relieving the symptoms of airplane ear. These products help to reduce inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages, allowing for better airflow and equalization of pressure in the ears.
It is important to follow the instructions on the packaging and consult with a healthcare professional before using these products.
Chew Gum or Suck on Candy
Chewing gum or sucking on candy can help relieve the discomfort of airplane ear by promoting swallowing and opening up the Eustachian tubes. The act of chewing or sucking stimulates the muscles in your throat, which can help equalize the pressure in your ears.
Plus, it’s a tasty way to pass the time during your flight!
Try the Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver is a technique that can be used to equalize the pressure in the ears. To perform this maneuver, pinch your nose closed and gently blow air out through your nostrils. This creates pressure in the nasal passages, which can help open up the Eustachian tubes and relieve the discomfort of airplane ear.
It is important to do this maneuver gently and not forcefully, as excessive pressure can cause damage to the ears.
Wearing earplugs during takeoff and landing can help reduce the pressure changes in the ears and minimize the discomfort of airplane ear. Earplugs create a barrier between the external environment and the inner ear, helping to equalize the pressure more gradually.
There are various types of earplugs available, so you can choose the ones that are most comfortable for you.
Remember, these tips can help prevent and relieve the symptoms of airplane ear, but if you continue to experience discomfort or if the symptoms persist even after trying these methods, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.
When to See a Doctor
Experiencing discomfort in the ears after a flight is a common occurrence, known as airplane ear. In most cases, it resolves on its own within a few hours to a couple of days. However, there are certain situations when it is advisable to seek medical attention.
Here are some indications of when to see a doctor:
Ear Pain Lasts More Than a Week
If the pain in your ears persists for more than a week after flying, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional. Prolonged ear pain could be a sign of an underlying issue, such as a middle ear infection or a blocked Eustachian tube.
A doctor will be able to assess your condition and provide appropriate treatment to alleviate your symptoms.
Hearing Loss or Ringing in Ears
If you experience a sudden loss of hearing or persistent ringing in your ears after a flight, it is crucial to seek medical attention. These symptoms could indicate a more severe condition, such as barotrauma or damage to the inner ear.
A doctor will be able to conduct a thorough examination and determine the cause of your symptoms.
Dizziness or Vertigo
Feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo during or after a flight can be concerning. While mild dizziness is relatively common and usually resolves on its own, persistent or severe dizziness may require medical evaluation. It could be a sign of an inner ear issue or a vestibular disorder.
Consulting a doctor will help identify the cause and provide appropriate treatment.
Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. If you are unsure about your symptoms or they persist longer than expected, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional.
To wrap up, airplane ear is a common, temporary condition caused by pressure changes during flights. For most people it goes away on its own within hours to a couple days as the eustachian tubes reopen.
Staying hydrated, using decongestants, and trying pressure equalization techniques can help speed recovery. See a doctor if ear pain, hearing issues, or dizziness lasts more than a week to rule out complications.