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Dealing With Kid’s Ear Pain While Flying

5 min read

A long, fun-filled family holiday to a far off destination is one thing that everyone looks forward to every year. Brightly colored memories are made that lasts lifelong. As a Parent, during an upcoming air travel, there are so many things to juggle with kids around and ear ache is one among them. Regardless of which airlines you travel by or which seat you occupy one thing that many travelers face is the problem of discomfort in the ear and it tends to be little more prominent in case of kids. Are you up for an air travel with your family anytime soon? Is ear discomfort and ache a reason of your quandary? Read on to know how to tackle this problem and make the best of the journey for your kids.
ear pain flying

What Causes Ear Pain In Kids When Flying?

The condition of discomfort in the ear or ear ache during travel, in medical terms is known as Ear Barotrauma. In simple words, it is the difference in the air pressure in the inside of the inner ear and outside that causes the discomfort in the ear.
Ideally, the pressure in the inside of inner ear and outside is more or less same when we are at the same altitude. When we travel by air, as the plane takes off there is a sudden change in the pressure of air instead of a gradual change like when we go for treks to places at higher altitude. The gradual change in pressure while climbing up or down the hill does not cause us much of a discomfort.
However, the sudden change in pressure during takeoff and landing of a plane causes a lot of discomfort and ear pain. The pressure inside of the ear and outside do not equalize rapidly in such cases.
When the flight takes off and plane ascends, the pressure of the inner ear surpasses that of the outside. This causes the eardrum or the tympanic membrane to swell outwards. Conversely, if the pressure inside the inner ear is less than the outside, the eardrum tends to be sucked inward. The stretching of the eardrum because of pressure difference is what causes the discomfort or pain in the ear.

Symptoms Of Ear Pain In Kids While Flying

Common symptoms of discomfort that your child may often complain of while landing or take-off are:

  • Slight hearing loss that is temporary
  • Your child may have a feeling of stuffiness in the ear or mild to moderate pain
  • Some kids also experience additional symptoms like a sense of spinning, continuous ringing sensation in the ear and vertigo. This is more likely to be experienced by kids who have a problem of sinus, they have extra fluid in the middle ear
  • Children tend to feel the pain during air travel because their Eustachian tube is smaller than the adult. The Eustachian tube connects the throat to the middle ear. The purpose of the tube is to provide fresh air to the middle ear, drain the fluid and balance the air pressure between nose and the ear at a steady level
10 Tips For Easing Ear Pain While Flying

Kids are sensitive by nature. A new environment itself can be a dampener to their mood if not dealt with well. Travelling by airplane restricts their movement a lot which makes them fidgety. Earache during the travel will only lower their spirits because of which they may not look forward to air travel in the future. It’s better to prepare them for the travel beforehand.

    1. Prepare your child beforehand: Let the child know that he/she may experience a little discomfort in the ear during the takeoff and landing of the airplane. It may be painful but will eventually subside. They may experience a popping sound in the ear and it’s natural and nothing to be worried about. Communicating to the child beforehand will prepare him/her mentally to accept what is to come and will not be a shock to them
    2. Check with the doctor: If your child is prone to cold or issues caused by sinus, it is better to visit the doctor before your travel. If the doctor feels the Eustachian tube is severely congested, then he may recommend postponing the journey. If you feel you cannot delay the journey then carry enough fluid and age-appropriate medicines suggested by doctor to make your child feel comfortable
    3. Give ibuprofen to your child before the flight: If he/she tends to have a bad earache, it is advisable to give him/her a dose of ibuprofen to help relieve the pain. Please ensure that the dosage of ibuprofen is to be given considering the child’s age and after consulting your doctor only
    4. Increase water intake: Make your child have lots of water before and during the flight. Intake of large amount of fluids helps to loosen the nasal mucus, which is one of the reasons for clogged and painful ear tubes
    5. Carry your child’s favorite game or toy: This is to distract your kid and keep him/her from crying much. Ensure the toy doesn’t make noise so that the neighbor is not disturbed during the journey
    6. Feed your child: Bottle feed / Breastfeed your baby or give him a pacifier during take-off or landing. This stimulates frequent swallowing, which helps the Eustachian tube to equalize the air pressure. The idea is to get the Eustachian tube to work overtime in order to balance the pressure. For infants, try to give them a bottle and make sure he is in an upright position. In case of older children, you can make them suck candies or lollipops during the descent or take off

feeding in flight

    1. Keep your child awake: Try and avoid putting your child to sleep during the ascent and descent of the flight. We don’t swallow much when we are sleeping. If we are awake, we tend to swallow more. This would help to manage the difference in the air pressure in the inside ear and outside
    2. Try yawning: Yawning helps in balancing the pressure between the inner ear and outer environment
    3. Ear drops for flying: Ear drops help your child during the air travel. Ensure you use the drops suggested by the doctor and do not opt for any random recommendations by your friends
    4. Give him a chewing gum: In case of an older child you may give him/her a chewing gum to chew on during the takeoff. However, monitor your child during that period as he/she may tend to choke if the seat is in a reclined position

Also read: Helpful And Practical Tips For Flying With Babies

Can My Child Fly With An Ear Infection?

If the infection is acute, then the pressure in your child’s ears during landing and take-off can make him very uncomfortable. In rare cases, a severe ear infection can even cause the eardrums to burst.
Check with your doctor and if required postpone your flight if your baby develops an ear infection and you have a flight scheduled in few hours. Usually, it takes a couple of days for the ear infection to subside. You child will be spared of unnecessary ear pain.
If you have a flight coming up in a couple of days and your child develops an ear infection, then check for any signs of discomfort in 24 to 48 hours after an ear infection starts. If your child does not experience any pain and is not having a fever then he is ready to fly. Do check with your doctor and get a go ahead signal from him too.
With patience and simple precautions, you can make the journey for you and your child less stressful and more comfortable. Hope the article was of help to you. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments box below.

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