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SamIAm's avatar

What are some other contributing factors that make a change in pressure hurt your ears so badly?

Asked by SamIAm (8703points) March 13th, 2011

I had a really hard time wording that question… hopefully it makes sense

I’ll never forget a flight I took from NY to CA a little over a year ago… when we started to descend, the pressure change caused such massive pain in my head and ears that I was hysterically crying. I know this happens to little kids but as an adult, I was very confused.

On a flight earlier today, I began to feel sharp pains again (but haven’t on any other recent flights) and they stopped. I know chewing gum and yawning help relieve the pain but sometimes it just doesn’t work. I have also noticed that driving in the mountains messes with me for some reason. What gives?

So I want to know, why is it that this happens? Is there a reason why it’s worse sometimes for certain people, and young kids? I was wondering if my allergies and resulting congestion contributed to the pain being so bad. What kind of preventative actions can be taken in advance?


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14 Answers

filmfann's avatar

This will happen when you have a cold, or allergies. You have a build-up of water behind the ear drum. It expands with the increase in air pressure.

SamIAm's avatar

@filmfann: that makes sense! Today, it felt like I had water in my ears… I’m pretty much always riddled with allergies but I’m going to try to take allergy meds before my next flight. Thanks!

filmfann's avatar

Make sure you take decongestants.
Airlines actually suggest that you not fly with a cold. You can damage your hearing.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@filmfann I don’t mean to be picky, but any fluids would expand with a decrease in air pressure.

@SamIAm Also make sure you are well hydrated. You need your Eustachian tubes to be as pliable as possible for air pressure to equalise.

JLeslie's avatar

Descending is usually the worst time for pressure to bother your ears. I recommend either taking an antihistamine, or using Afrin nose spray. You can combine the two also. The simplist in my opinion is the Afrin. You can spray it while in flight, it works very quickly, an hour or more before the flight is to start heading for a landing. Probably you need to try a few different things and you will come up with a solution that helps you most.

I think decongestant will only help if you are congested, while the antihistimine should shrink swollen tissues.

everephebe's avatar

Yeah, chewing gum helps. I also plug my nose with my (2nd) knuckles and blow, this pops my ears. How often do you fly? I feel like it’s something you get use too, as well.

What @filmfann @FireMadeFlesh & @JLeslie said seem pretty spot on, and helpful too.

JLeslie's avatar

Chewing gum helps pop ears open, but I have not found it helps with the pain endured when congested or possible inflammation. Just my experience. Gum can’t hurt though. And chewing gum in general can help your eustacian tubes if you like the habit anyway. Also, try to take non-stop flights even if they cost more. Once in pain, a second flight immediately after can be really bad.

The pain matters. Depending on what exactly is going on, you can pop an eardrum. I actually had ear pain on descent for about 5 years. That was 20 years ago. Now I only have trouble if I have a cold when flying, which is rare, and I wouldnot fly during a full blown bout of congestion on day three of super annoying uncomfortable cold.

Did you recently have a bad sinus infection? Cold? Strep? Those can give you inflammation and pain for months, even when it seems like you are all better. The little parts of the ear an eustacian tubes are very sensitive.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

You may have Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. I was diagnosed with it many years ago, and it appears to be fairly common. One specialist explained that it can be caused by the narrowing of Eustachian tubes narrowing due to scar tissue from childhood ear infections.

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SamIAm's avatar

@everephebe: Be careful with the plugging your nose thing. You can pop your eardrums. Totally not supposed to do that!!!

everephebe's avatar

@SamIAm Really? Well, I’ll be careful then, I did just mean gently blow, but if it can rupture your ears I’ll avoid it. There’s always opening and closing your jaw.

SamIAm's avatar

@everephebe: Ya I used to do that and it’s not worth the risk! I just do the fake yawn thing, which will usually trigger real yawns… :)

gameeboya's avatar

When your sick as a dog and the snot snaps over and over again and it feels like your brain has fire crackers in it that happens to me a lot it sucks :/

Poser's avatar

Congestion is probably the cause, as others have said. It is really only a concern on the descent. This is when, after the pressure in your sinus cavities have equalized with the lower cabin pressure experienced at altitude (usually around 8000 ft cabin pressure, at least in the a/c I fly in), you can really run into problems. As you descend, the pressure in your sinuses is less that that of your surrounding environment. The mucus membrane surrounding the cavity behind your eardrum can actually come loose, or you can rupture an eardrum. The best way to avoid this, if yawning and chewing doesn’t work is by performing a Valsalva maneuver. There is some risk associated with the Valsalva, but it certainly beats an eardrum rupture. I used to hate it, but have found that doing it slowly and steadily (as opposed to a quick strong “blast” of air) seems to provide immense relief.

Hope this helps.

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