The People's Perspective on Medicine

Ear Pain on an Airplane

Q. I suffer terribly from ear pain when flying. I take the decongestant pseudoephedrine, chew gum and blow my nose but none of these strategies is working any more to relieve the pressure. Do you have any recommendations?

A. Over the holidays millions will fly to visit family and friends all over the country. Many will fly to get to their destinations. For some unfortunate passengers ear pain can be excruciating on descent. We recently received this recommendation from someone with experience:

“I have been a flight attendant for over 17 years and I have seen and heard it all when it comes to ear pain on descent. I’ve had passengers screaming and crying. One passenger’s eardrum exploded, shooting blood on the white shirt of the passenger next to him.

“This is a serious problem, and the medications people take for it don’t always work. I was lucky to have been given an Ear Ease years ago as a baby shower gift. After my son was born and I went back to work, I took the Ear Ease with me every time I flew. I’ve helped so many people, both kids and adults, in terrible pain.

“We used to use foam cups with hot paper towels in them, but our company told us not to use them anymore. There was a worry that someone could be burned if the towel dripped. Many people ask me where to get the Ear Ease device. I tell them check the Internet. It is a lifesaver if you are flying with head or ear congestion.”

Ear Ease resembles a headphone ear cup. Hot tap water in the base heats the air around the ear and helps equalize the pressure in the Eustachian tube that runs between the inside of the ear and the throat. That can often alleviate the pain.

Rate this article
3.8- 10 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 13 comments
Add your comment

Now, I know that there are other people who have the same problem that I have when flying. That is one of the reasons why I do not like to go places that I have to fly. I take an antihistamine before flying and also drammamine for airsickness and it helps me but when descending, it just feels like someone is putting pins and needles in my ears. I have had that problem ever since, I flew for my first time back in 1976. It sounds like there is some hope for all.
Thanks for your information.

I finally found something to stop the severe headache and ear pain, especially when descending, on an airplane. Here is what to do: start taking deep breaths, as deep as you can, and exhale very slowly. Do it over and over until the pain goes away. Sometimes you have to do it for ten to twenty minutes. It is like a slow hyperventilation. You will not have the pain while you are doing it. I used to have cluster headaches and used this technique to ward them off. Of course, it took an hour sometimes to ward off a cluster headache. That is what gave me the idea for the pain on airplanes. It works.

I too suffered from extreme ear pain when flying – as the plane was descending. I tried everything. Years ago, my Dr. recommended taking a dose of pseudoephedrine (sudafed) tablets when I boarded the plane and 30-45 minutes before landing use Afrin nasal spray in each nostril. That is usually the time the plane begins its descent. I also chew gum. The combination works and I have enjoyed many trips since. (Just don’t use the nasal spray on a continual basis as it can be addicting.)

When I first flew on a plane (over 30 years ago), my ears filled up and I couldn’t barely hear. Fortunately there was no pain. It took two whole days for my ears to “pop” and I could hear again.
I have seen the Ear Planes at most pharmacies, and have read about the other remedies. Is there any problem with a passenger instigating his own foam cup remedy?
Pressure is a problem on the ground with hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment. My first treatment caused a bulging, red, painful ear ache. After ear tubes, I could undergo treatment.

Sorry for Leslie not being able to use earplanes more than once a trip. I wash mine after a trip and have reused them for several years.

Ear Planes absolutely work for me. I’ve been using them for years. Having been in the travel business, I traveled frequently. I really hated flying because of the pressure pain and tried everything: took decongestants which made me loopy and nauseated, blew and held my nose, gum, etc. The very first time I used them, the Ear Planes worked. I use them for even short trips of about an hour or less, inserting them before takeoff and removing them after landing. Follow the directions for longer flights and reinsert them one hour prior to landing. I have very small ear canals, apparently, and I use the child’s version. You can get them online, at any pharmacy, and some airports are selling them now.

Thank you so very much on the info for ear problems when flying. I too have this horrible problem and almost do not fly because of this. I get so sick I too throw up and are so sick.
Any more info will be greatly appreciated.

Try “Ear Planes”. They’re specially designed ear plugs that relieve ear pressure when you fly. I used them on my last flight in December from Dallas to Denver to San Diego to San Jose (!) and they worked like a charm. I got mine near the pharmacy counter at Walmart for about $5/pair and each pair is good for one round-trip. After that they don’t fit as well, so re-using them is really not an option unfortunately.

How sad that flight attendants have been told not to help passengers. Many years ago my husband was helped with the foam cup and hot water method and I have always felt confident the this fix would be available should any of the family need it.
I guess I will get some Ear Ease or Ear Planes to have on hand. I keep Olbas oil in my carry-on to clear nasal passages. I haven’t had an earache in years, but it’s not a pain easily forgotten.

After having my “ear drum ruptured by a plane decending fast at Reagan Airport in a March ice storm and yes it was so painful I cried out. Nothing I could do to stop it. Wound up in Ear Drs office after I got home and treated it but it left scars on my ear drum resulting in loss of hearing.
I too got Ear Planes, it helps but I will try Ear Ease to try and save the other ear, which has loss also. In other words, my friends, please take precautions as it will save your hearing. It’s a horror trip to lose one’s hearing.
Good Luck all and hoping you find these hints helpful. Smart too late. W.

Thank you so much for this – I am one of those who suffer terribly and have tried everything I could find. I ordered my EarEase products already, and already feel better about the next time I fly. Their website gives additional information about why we have this problem, which I appreciated learning. CH

In the past, I have used something caled “Ear Planes” for the pressure on planes. Ear Ease sounds like a good fix also. The pain can be excruciating! And people who don’t suffer this simply can’t understand this.

My ENT doctor told me to use Afrin spray (or generic form) in my nose before taking off on plane. It works! I also use rubber EarPlanes which fit into the ear easily.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^