PDA

View Full Version : Flying once you've broken an eardrum


cathee
03-30-2004, 12:29 AM
Once an adult has broken their eardrum while flying, does it mean they have sensitive eardrums?

From my understanding eardrums heal themselves over time. Is this true? How long does it take roughly?

Would the person be able to fly again after time has passed?

Thanks in advance...

Broomstick
03-30-2004, 05:05 AM
First of all, WHY did the eardrum rupture? That's not normal. You need to consult with a doctor, preferably an ear-nose-throat specialist. If there's an underlying problem it needs to be treated before further damage occurs.

Second, sometimes they heal on their own, other times you need surgery. Do you value your hearing? Then you need to consult with a doctor, perferably an ear-nose-throat specialist.

Once you have completely healed you should be able to fly again. I have a buddy who is a commerical pilot and flies for a living who ruptured an eardrum. He required surgery and quite some time to recuperate, but he's now back at work. But I emphasize that he went to a doctor to get the problem fixed.

Una Persson
03-30-2004, 07:42 AM
I've had each eardrum burst, and fly hundreds of times. I've noticed no additional sensitivity.

I have a friend who has never had an eardrum burst who says he cannot fly, because the pain is so great it feels like a rat eating his brain. It's because his eustachian (sp?) tubes seem to be perpetually blocked up.

I think it more depends on your ability to equalize pressure than past injury, but it likely varies on a case-by-case basis.

Philster
03-30-2004, 07:56 AM
I don't what to hijack this, but I travel often for my company, and the pain associated with my ears at landing is so bad that I almost cry.

I have always had a high threshold for pain. I've played hockey for years, and I've had teeth knocked out and know what an exposed nerve is all about, my face has been cut open and stitched without novacaine, and I've shattered my thumb.

The pain in my ears is beyond description. I'd rather have a dozen sutures without novacaine, or have a dentist drill me. On the plane, I look around and no one else seems moved by the ear popping. Ice picks seem to be stuck in my brain. The pain shoots down and around.

For two days after travelling, my hearing is muffled.

Help!

chorpler
03-30-2004, 08:06 AM
Question: shouldn't a broken/ruptured eardrum mean that flying will no longer be troublesome (aside from the problems of having a broken eardrum, of course, but those would be there whether you're flying or not, right?) because the pressure on both sides of the eardrum will always be equal? I was under the impression that ear pain when flying was caused by the pressure differential between the two sides of the eardrum.

Richard Pearse
03-30-2004, 08:26 AM
Yes, but your eardrum actual heals very quickly initially. You don't end up with nice little holes in your eardrums that let the air in and out.

Philster, you really shouldn't be flying.

Pork Rind
03-30-2004, 11:51 AM
I don't what to hijack this, but I travel often for my company, and the pain associated with my ears at landing is so bad that I almost cry...

...The pain in my ears is beyond description. I'd rather have a dozen sutures without novacaine, or have a dentist drill me. On the plane, I look around and no one else seems moved by the ear popping. Ice picks seem to be stuck in my brain. The pain shoots down and around.



Yeah, what he said. Well, in my case, this happens maybe once out of every dozen flights. But at least half the time, I experience significant discomfort. And of course, I know that the responsible answer is "see your doctor", except I did that, twice, and haven't really gotten any relief. So I don't know if it's worth pursuing. Maybe my head is just wrong.

Philster
03-30-2004, 12:23 PM
I'd say my description of the pain is accurate for about half the flights I take.

About half are significant discomfort, and half are excruciating pain as I described.

Fear the Turtle
03-30-2004, 12:27 PM
I don't what to hijack this, but I travel often for my company, and the pain associated with my ears at landing is so bad that I almost cry.

I have always had a high threshold for pain. I've played hockey for years, and I've had teeth knocked out and know what an exposed nerve is all about, my face has been cut open and stitched without novacaine, and I've shattered my thumb.

The pain in my ears is beyond description. I'd rather have a dozen sutures without novacaine, or have a dentist drill me. On the plane, I look around and no one else seems moved by the ear popping. Ice picks seem to be stuck in my brain. The pain shoots down and around.

For two days after travelling, my hearing is muffled.

Help!

Philster - I used to have the same problem. Then I had to take an altitude training course at work and learned why this happens and how to get my ears to pop. It is called the Valsalva maneuver and flying has been a breeze since.

Try Googling it. I couldn't find any real good sites. Basically you hold your nose and mouth closed and forceably exhale (amount of force depends on how blocked your eustachian tubes are). Try stretching your neck from side to side at the same time.

FtT

Philster
03-30-2004, 12:44 PM
I do the valsalva thing. Not in conjunction with the neck thing. I find that it helps a little bit, usually in one ear.

Fear the Turtle
03-30-2004, 01:48 PM
I do the valsalva thing. Not in conjunction with the neck thing. I find that it helps a little bit, usually in one ear.

Same here. I can get one ear to pop easily, the other I have to work at. I find by craning my neck in the direction of the popped ear, you pinch that eustachian tube and stretch out the other. Seems to help a little.

Also - you have to keep doing it on the way down. And don't wait til the pressure builds up - that makes it harder. Pop 'em before they "need" to be popped.

Av8trix
03-30-2004, 04:58 PM
Hi. light plane pilot checking in here.

Last year, at just about this time, I got sick like I never knew a person could get sick. The short story of it is, that due to severe head congestion, both of my eardrums ruptured while on the ground. The pain up to that point was so severe that the rupture was actualy a relief. Of course, weighing heavily on my mind was what this was going to do to my flying.

I had a signifigant hearling loss for about a month, which has gradually lessened to the point where, I hear normally as far as I can tell.
Pain lasted about a month, with twinges for a few months after that. I refrained from flying on my Dr's advice for about 2 months, when I did return to the air, My ears seemed more sensative to altitude changes, and I had to keep my climbs and descents pretty tame. Some of this sensativity has lingered, but is greatly lessened, one year later. I did go see an ear/nose/throat guy, and I can't urge you strongly enough to do the same, if nothing else, for the peace of mind.

Broomstick
03-30-2004, 06:50 PM
Why your ears hurt when flying
It's a pressure differential. When the air pressure changes dramatically on one side of the eardrum and not the other the eardrum stretches. This muffles your hearing, and eventually causing excruciating pain.

As has been pointed out, if the eardrum ruptures you frequently get relief. This is because the act of rupture allows the pressure to equalize on both sides. If there is infection, it may also allow pus and sundry to drain out of the ear, likewise relieving pressure. It also can mess with your hearing.

What you should do about painful ears while flying
Well there are are several options here.

Everybody has problems sometimes - usually in connection with cold, head congestion, allergy or the like. If it's a transitory problem - i.e. you're sick or have seasonal allergies - either don't fly while suffering from the condition, or ask for some high-power decongestants/painkillers. The valsalva manuver has its uses, but can also precipitate a rupture if you're in dire straits.

If you frequently have problems see a doctor - you may have a chronic infection of some sort, or unusually small eustachian tubes, or something else going on. There are medications for many of these conditions and if you aren't a pilot I'd encourage you to use them.

If you always have problems see an ear-nose-throat guy and be very explicit about the problem, the pain level, and your need to fly. In some extreme cases, steroids to reduce inflammation or even surgery may be indicated, but the less extreme methods will be tried first.

If your eardrums rupture
See a doctor. It's an indication Something Is Wrong. It may be a temporary thing requiring no intervention, just time, but if it's not you'll want to take care of it so you don't wind up with chronic problems. I work with a gal who let things go a bit too long - now, she just about screams riding an elevator up and down more than about 5 floors. And she lives and works in downtown Chicago, where we have buildings up to 110 stories tall. This is not pretty.

chorpler
03-30-2004, 06:51 PM
Yes, but your eardrum actual heals very quickly initially. You don't end up with nice little holes in your eardrums that let the air in and out.

But if you DID have holes in your eardrums, would it be okay?

I remember seeing posters at the office of the pediatrician my children go to, big "THE INSIDE STORY OF EAR INFECTIONS" posters, and on the posters they show pictures of the tubes that are sometimes installed in the eardrums of children with ear infections, to let the pus drain out from the inner ear.

So, if one of those was installed in your eardrum, could you ride an airplane without a problem? What about scuba diving, or other activities where pressure equalization maneuvers are normally required to avoid massive ear troubles?

cathee
03-30-2004, 09:46 PM
If your eardrums rupture
See a doctor. It's an indication Something Is Wrong. It may be a temporary thing requiring no intervention, just time, but if it's not you'll want to take care of it so you don't wind up with chronic problems. I work with a gal who let things go a bit too long - now, she just about screams riding an elevator up and down more than about 5 floors. And she lives and works in downtown Chicago, where we have buildings up to 110 stories tall. This is not pretty.

Thanks Broomstick. The person who ruptured his eardrum did go to the doctor who confirmed the eardrum was truly ruptured. He has many health problems, such as juvenile diabetes which he was somewhat neglecting back then. That was several years ago, and now he is hesitant to fly anymore.

So from most of the replies am I to assume that his eardrum probably did heal itself and that his decision to fly is reliant on his willingness to face his fear of excruciating ear pain?

cathee
03-30-2004, 09:51 PM
I know that the responsible answer is "see your doctor", except I did that, twice, and haven't really gotten any relief. So I don't know if it's worth pursuing. Maybe my head is just wrong.

My friend in question also saw the a doctor the day after his flight. The doctor wasn't in and the nurse examined his ear who did nothing for him. He raised hell before they finally had another doctor determine his eardrum was indeed ruptured/broken. Point being don't blame your own head--sometimes medical people dont know what the hell they are talking about and see more than one or two doctors if you know you're pain isnt right.

cathee
03-30-2004, 09:54 PM
I've had each eardrum burst, and fly hundreds of times. I've noticed no additional sensitivity.

I have a friend who has never had an eardrum burst who says he cannot fly, because the pain is so great it feels like a rat eating his brain. It's because his eustachian (sp?) tubes seem to be perpetually blocked up.

I think it more depends on your ability to equalize pressure than past injury, but it likely varies on a case-by-case basis.

Thanks, Una...This gives me much hope!

MaceMan
03-30-2004, 09:58 PM
Sometimes this happens to me when I fly. I have tremendous pain in one or both ears, and it is usually worse upon landing. Chewing gum, blowing my nose, and burping (yes, drinking soda really does help) are some of the things I do to help equalize the pressure. My hearing is often affected for a day or two after. Other times when I fly, I experience no pain at all! If I have a cold, though, I know I'm in for an uncomfortable ride. My great grandmother's ears used to bleed whenever she got on a plane. Luckily, I've never gotten that bad.

Why do they say airplane cabins are "pressurized"? If so, they don't seem to be controlled very well. I saw these products for sale once, called "earplanes" or something. Has anyone ever tried them?

cathee
03-30-2004, 10:01 PM
Hi. light plane pilot checking in here.

Last year, at just about this time, I got sick like I never knew a person could get sick. The short story of it is, that due to severe head congestion, both of my eardrums ruptured while on the ground. The pain up to that point was so severe that the rupture was actualy a relief. Of course, weighing heavily on my mind was what this was going to do to my flying.

I had a signifigant hearling loss for about a month, which has gradually lessened to the point where, I hear normally as far as I can tell.
Pain lasted about a month, with twinges for a few months after that. I refrained from flying on my Dr's advice for about 2 months, when I did return to the air, My ears seemed more sensative to altitude changes, and I had to keep my climbs and descents pretty tame. Some of this sensativity has lingered, but is greatly lessened, one year later. I did go see an ear/nose/throat guy, and I can't urge you strongly enough to do the same, if nothing else, for the peace of mind.

Thanks for your reply. It seems the best solution is to see a good doctor and hope for the best. Good luck to you.

cathee
03-30-2004, 10:03 PM
I saw these products for sale once, called "earplanes" or something. Has anyone ever tried them?

Never heard of them, Mace. What are they supposed to do?

Richard Pearse
03-31-2004, 01:18 AM
Why do they say airplane cabins are "pressurized"? If so, they don't seem to be controlled very well. I saw these products for sale once, called "earplanes" or something. Has anyone ever tried them?

Because they are pressurised, and they are controlled very carefully.

Most people get hypoxic (not enough oxygen) above about 10,000' depending on the individual. If your aeroplane cabin depressurised at 20,000' then you'd probably be conscious for about 10mins, once again, depending on the individual. Commercial passenger jets generally fly between 30,000' - 40,000', at 30,000' you'd have more like 2mins of consciousness if that. Ideally, the cabin would be pressurised so that at 30,000' the cabin was still at the same altitude as the departure airfield. This isn't practical though for structural reasons.

As a compromise, the cabin is pressurised so that the cabin altitude is low enough so that people stay awake and lucid, but not so low that the walls need to be super strong.

The result is that the cabin is generally pressurised to around 8,000'. When the aircraft goes up, the cabin goes up as well, but at a slower rate. When the aircraft comes down, the cabin comes back down, also at a slower rate. This means that you can still suffer from pressure related problems such as stomach upsets, toothaches, burst eardrums, and the "bends" if you've been SCUBA diving recently.

PookahMacPhellimey
03-31-2004, 04:53 AM
But if you DID have holes in your eardrums, would it be okay?

Yep. I have a little hole in my right eardrum resulting from a very bad ear infection when I was a child. As you and others have inferred I suffer no pain or popping at all in that ear when flying, even when my left ear is in absolute agony. However, I also can't swim without an earplug, am prone to ear infections and lost a small amount of hearing in that ear, so I would rather endure the pain during flying if I had had a choice.

don't ask
03-31-2004, 05:18 AM
There is a product called "Ear Planes" that a pommy friend gets from The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID). They are earplugs with a microfine hole in them to slow the rate at which the air pressure changes in the outer ear. Anecdotally they work very well, and I gather they are quite cheap so may be worth atrial.