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12/10/2009 – Flying With An Ear Infection? It May Not Be As Safe As You Think
Ears’ popping on flights is common. As the pressure in the cabin changes during the assent and descent you might find the pressure in your ears irritating, but it is not dangerous under normal conditions. When flying with an ear infection and clogged eustation tubes what is irritating can turn into severe pain and permanent damage to your ear.
The story is usually the same, whether I receive it by e-mail, read it in an online forum or get a phone call regarding flying with an ear infection (and I get asked this question probably once a month). The story begins “I have to fly to a meeting/assignment/wedding/vacation tomorrow and I have an ear infection/sinus infection…yadda yadda yadda yadda…what can I do to relieve the pressure for the flight?”
First off…I am NOT a doctor, I have never claimed to be a doctor, and I am not qualified to check out anyone’s ear to determine the seriousness of an ear infection.
…now that my disclaimer is out of the way…If you have a serious ear infection, or a double ear infection, or an impacted sinus you should check with your doctor. If your doctor says you should not fly, then you should not fly. There is no magic pill or elixir that reduces ear pain or pressure, if there was your doctor would be prescribing it to you, regardless of your plans to fly.
Flying with an ear infection, or clogged eustation tube, can lead to unexpected symptoms. While the most common issue while flying with an ear infection is severe pain (and I know, I have done it and wished I had not!) the pressure changes in the aircraft, leading to pressure changes in the middle ear can lead to a sense of vertigo. Vertigo can lead to nausea and vomiting. This is not something you really want happening while sitting in a 17.5-inch wide seat with people sitting next to you.
The pressure caused by the changes in cabin pressure, in conjunction with an ear infection can also lead to tinnitus, a ringing in your ears, or potentially a loss of hearing. If your eustation tubes are severely clogged the pressure changes can also lead to the rupturing of your tympanic membrane…more commonly know as your eardrum.
While chewing gum, yawning or swallowing can often help with the common ear pressure passengers experience when flying, they do little to relieve the pain and pressure when flying with an ear infection or sinus infection.
I understand the need to travel and the urge to get on the plane, but as we enter cold-and-flu season here in the Northern Hemisphere, I strongly suggest visiting your doctor and if they tell you that you should not fly that you avoid flying!