an airplane flying above the clouds

Q. My son is unwilling to fly because whenever the plane starts coming down for a landing his ears hurt. We are planning a family trip to visit grandparents but he doesn’t want to go. I hate to have him suffer but can’t leave him behind. Is there any way to prevent this ear pain?

A. First, we would encourage you to have a pediatrician or ear, nose and throat specialist make sure there is nothing seriously wrong. If not, a decongestant nasal spray can keep sinuses open and make it easier for the pressure to equalize within the ear.
We have also heard that a product called Ear Ease can help. These plastic units are filled with hot water and placed over the ears during descent. They cost about $14 per pair through Amazon.com. If you click on that link you can get an idea of what they look like.
Another reader, Marianne, suggested the following approach, which is similar but less expensive. “Ask the flight attendant to bring you two Styrofoam coffee cups stuffed with very hot wet paper towels. You put the cups over your ears before descent begins. You can’t carry on a conversation and you feel kind of dumb but it works.”
We haven’t seen research showing how effective this approach is, but anyone who tries it should use just one paper towel stuffed into the bottom of each cup so that there is no danger of burns from hot water. Make sure that the paper towels have soaked every last drop so that no hot water can drip on a child’s ears.
Another reader offered the following:

“I read your column about the woman whose son hates to fly because it makes his ears hurt. I had the same problem and tried everything. I went to several doctors, but to no avail.
“Then a doctor friend suggested that I blow balloons on ascending and descending. Bravo! No more plugged ears. You do have to keep blowing the balloons to keep your ears open.”

A. Thanks for the fascinating tip. We have accumulated all sorts of home remedies for “airplane ears.” Many people complain that during descent their ears really ache. That’s because the pressure inside the ear differs from the outside air pressure.
Ear nose and throat specialists have recommended gentle nose blowing to help equalize the pressure. We suspect blowing on a balloon may have a similar effect.

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  1. Sam
    England, UK
    Reply

    I am so happy (not in a sadistic way) that others have the same problem! no body I knows understands quite how I feel when I explain, they always offer the same solutions ‘suck sweets’ ‘yawn’ etc etc… obviously I have tried these things dozens of times and there is no stopping the pain! the whole time the plane is landing im in agony, my ears don’t pop they rip, the pain shoots through my whole jaw and skull. I cant hear anyone of anything for days, its like being under water and when the DO clear (bit by bit) its every bit as painful as the plane. People also think I exaggerate and I must be feeling the same as they feel. NO. its not normal I know that. I am flying on an 18 hour flight at the end of the month and im so anxious, I will definitely be trying nasal decongestant the 2 days previous and will take it with me.

    • Brook
      USA
      Reply

      I have the same problem. Decongestants don’t work for me. Nothing did until I tried pressure reducing earplugs. Purchase a pair of those for your next flight. They work better than anything I’ve tried. There are three kinds that I know of and depending on where in the world you live you should be able to buy them over the Internet. Here are the three brands. Earplanes, FlightMates, Flyfit. Follow the directions on the box. Put them in before takeoff. Take them out once you reach your cruising altititude. Put them back in BEFORE the plane starts to descend! Good luck!

  2. Fabrizio A.
    Rome, Italy
    Reply

    Hello to all the people that have shared their own experiences. I am from Italy, and I do not know anyone, besides me, that have suffered so much while landing. Also, I have this same ear problem in the train going inside tunnels or while going up and down in a car on mountain roads.

    This is a sum of all the things I have read:

    – Ask for help if needed but do not expect people to understand what you are going through if they did not experience the same pain before. I am terrified to fly (not for the height but for the pain). My friends believe I am too sensitive and exaggerating after all.
    – Prepare yourself to be in perfect shape before the flight or trip. For example I rinse out my nasal passages before the flight.
    – If you have a cold or something is obstructing your nose try a decongestant (pills or sprays).
    – Things that might help during the flight: Pseudoephedrine chloridrate, oximetazoline, blowing, yawn, chew, candies, ear flight protector.
    – Of course It could help to see a specialist even though it did not help me to see some of them at all.
    Good luck to us all.

  3. Albert
    Scotland
    Reply

    Answer to the problem is sudafed decongestion, the pain is caused my sinus problem, I know I have been to hell and back when coming in to land on a plane, doctor told me to take sudafed decongestant 2 days before flying, I have never had that pain ever again, I thought my skull was going to crack, ears in pain and I would go so deaf I could not hear the person sitting next to me my eyes would water, and at one point I thought my skull actually cracked cause it felt like it and sounded like it, but anyways to the person that gets in that much pain when coming into land on a plan use sudafed decongestant and start enjoying flights instead of worrying about them like I used to.

  4. Linda
    NJ
    Reply

    I also have excruciating pain when landing. As soon as the plane starts losing altitude in descent I can feel the pain start coming on and it gets progressively worse to the point that I am in tears and cannot hear at all. Thankfully, I have found a solution. I put ear plugs in my ears about 20 minutes before landing and remove them after they open the cabin doors. It works prefectly, no pain!

  5. Kat
    Atlanta
    Reply

    I also have excruciating pain during flights. I just flew to Boston and tried the cheapest trick to ease the pain. … sucking a cough drop. It actually worked! I popped one as soon as we started boarding and another a little after mid flight.

    • Fran
      Staten Island, NY
      Reply

      I get such severe pain when traveling that it frightens me that I may go deaf- The pain is so severe – I have tried the plugs but I have to hold them in the right spot for almost 1 her as soon as the plane starts dropping – it is the most annoying thing ever – We are Traveling on May 11th – I will try the Sudafed 2 days before – here’s hoping but I will need to have a back up just in case since the pain is so severe.

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