Ear infections + flying


so I think I have an ear infection as my ear is freaking killing me. It started yesterday. I am going on vacation on thursday, and it involves a flight. So my question is ear infection + pressure change in a plane = anything? Pain? Deafness? Nothing at all? Thanks.

If you’re able to equalize pressure, you should be fine.

By this you mean the old plug your nostrils and blow method?

That will just make things worse if you are ascending you might try inhaling at that point but I only use that method as a last resort. I do best when I open and push my jaw forward which opens my eustacian (sp) tubes.

It depends on how bad the infection and fluid/pressure build up is.

It also depends on whether or not the airplane is pressurized, and how high you go.

Assuming you are like normal people (and not me), I’ll assume you’re talking about a commercial passenger jet, in which the pressure varies from sea level (when sitting on the ground at sea level) to the equivalent of 8,000 feet altitude.

Now that that is out of the way - if you’re ear is hurting on the ground it is guaranteed to hurt worse with pressure changes. There are several possibilities.

  1. Your eustachian tube is not completely blocked, so the pressure can equalize - eventually. You still be subjected to occassional stabs of pain.

  2. When the pressure in your ear is higher than ambient - such as on the way up - the extra air pressure might open the e-tube sufficiently to alleviate pain on the way up… but maybe not on the way down. So you’ll have a lower pressure inside the ear as the external pressure goes up. This will bear down on your eardrums. It will be excruiciating. It may even lead to alternative #4, below

  3. You e-tube may be so blocked pressure can’t equalize. In which case, your pain will increase as you go up, level out at cruise along with the airplane’s altitude, then subside as you go down. Assuming both arrival and destination are at roughly equivalent altitudes, you should be left with the same pain you started with.

  4. In extreme cases, your eardrum can rupture. Really. On the way up, if internal pressure exceeds your eardrum’s structural limits you’ll have a blow-out. The good thing is that this will immediately result in a dimishing of pain. The bad things are the nasty, infected goo that will drain out of your ear - this is sure to freak out someone, if not several people - and the necessity of seeing a doctor. It is much less likely, but it’s also possible that if external pressure is much higher than internal the eardrum could also rupture. In some cases the eardrum will heal on its own with only neglible hearing loss, but surgery may be required and permanent hearing loss can occur.

In light of the above, I strongly suggest you seek out a doctor. If you start antiobiotics and a good decongestant you may be able to complete your trip with something less than howling agony.

This may also be an instance where the wisest course is not to fly. Unless you don’t care about jeopardizing your hearing.

But it would take a doctor evaluating you in real life to make that sort of determination.

What Broomstick said.

If you are in a big town, go ride an elevator in the tallest building. If that hurts you, stay out of airplanes until you get better.

Ignor all of this and hie thee to an doctor… :smiley:

I second the previous post, Fiancé recetnly had a similar situation - research and my Mum (retired GP) told us it depended what type of ear infection he had … so he went to the doctor and was told he was good to go. (Oh and he also got the necessary drugs to treat the infection!)

Ah geez, scaring the hell out of me. Well I am not positive it is an ear infection, it was more of a wake up one morning, and what the hell? My ear is hurting. It could be something else. I did get some non-prescription medicine (not from a Doctor though), and it does seem to making it better. I can’t really not go, and since I leave in about 15 hours, don’t know what benefit a doctor would do for me now. I suppose I will just hope for the best. And I thought I was joking about the going deaf bit, dammit. Wish me luck.

Then there is the possibilty that it will not get a lot worse, and you will not rupture your eardrum, but you will spend the whole trip in significant pain, bringing discomfort and sleeplessness to your travel companion, and significantly degrading the quality of your vacation. My husband did this. I will not put up with that again.

I get earaches quite frequently. And I have gone to a doctor to get them checked out. What I have is allergies. My allergies make the eustachian tubes in my ear narrow and cause me pain, although not really bad. But annoyingly so.

An ear infection might have some other problems with it like a fever or nasty stuff coming out of your ear.

You can buy a product called “Earplanes” at the drugstore. They are earplugs with a small hole in them to very slowly equalize pressure. They might help make your ride much more comfortable.