Flying With An Ear Infection? It May Not Be As Safe As You Think

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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!

Happy Flying!


  1. […] Flying With An Ear Infection? It May Not Be As Safe As You Think …Oct 12, 2009 … When flying with an ear infection and clogged eustation tubes what is irritating can turn into severe pain and permanent damage to your ear. […]


  1. I am NOT suggesting that the following are a solution to the problem addressed in this post. (that is my disclaimer)

    Having got that out of the way; have you had any experience with “EarPlanes”, ear plugs with a ceramic core, and if so what did/do you think of them?

    Thanks 🙂

  2. I have had ear trouble when flying ever since my first flight over 35 years ago- probably due to horrible ear infections when I was a kid. Tried those “ear planes” once and didn’t notice any difference. Recently flew with a cold (three days ago) and had excruciating pain on both descents. The things I have heard that help are: take an antihistamine as often as the label directs for the 24 hrs before your flight. (I’ve tried this and it makes me sleepy but probably helps) and use Afrin type nasal spray one half hour before the plane starts to descend. Perhaps this will help. I now need to go to a walk in clinic because I am away from home and need to fly again in two days and think I have an ear infection as a complication of flying with a cold last week. Yucchhh!

  3. I got a severe cold around Christmas time, after one way of my flight, therefore I was stuck flying back sick and by the time I landed for the final time I was in agony. I didn’t get my full hearing back for close to a week. I just found out that my almost 2 year old niece is flying next week with an ear infection that she has had for close to a month. I’m terrified to know the outcome, but her mother is a pediatrician, so I would have hoped that she knew better.

  4. A few weeks ago I flew from NY to FL with no problems. The day before I was supposed to come back, I somehow developed a cold. I knew it would immediately turn into a sinus infection (my 4th so far this year) but had to fly anyway. The cold became worse due to the air travel, and upon arriving home not only did I receive confirmation that it was a sinus infection, but now I have a very bad ear infection (which I am not prone to get.) Is it ideal to travel with a cold/ear infection? No, of course not, but unfortunately you have to do what you have to do. Take a decongestant and START 24 hours before your flight. Drink a liquid or swallow several times during takeoff/landing. If possible, take the day off of work or relax your first day at your destination because a lot of rest/sleep will help.

  5. I just saw a doctor today about a ear infection. I am suppose to leave Miami tomorrow to go home in NY. On top of prescribing me two antibiotics, the doctor told me to ask the pharmacist for ADVIL Cold and Sinus (no need for prescription, but the bottle will be behind the pharmacist’s counter). He instructed me to take a pill 30 minutes before flying… I had to postpone my trip to 24h later than my original plans. Let’s see what happens!

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