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.