If you have an ear infection but have an upcoming flight, it’s vital to know if it will be safe to fly or not.
You can fly with an ear infection, but due to changes in cabin pressure, your body won’t be able to equalize the air pressure in your middle ear to the cabin pressure, which may result in extreme ear pain, a ruptured eardrum, hearing loss or vertigo.
The changes in air pressure inside the cabin that causes discomfort inside your ear while you’re flying is known as airplane ear.
We therefore recommend first visiting your doctor to get the all clear from them before you fly.
Naturally, doctors err on the side of caution, so most will recommend that you delay flying, if at all possible, especially if your ear infection isn’t mild.
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Dangers of Flying With an Ear Infection
Every day, people fly with an ear infection, and they arrive at their destination with nothing bad having happened.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should fly with an ear infection, as there are dangers involved, some of which can be serious.
These dangers include:
- Extreme ear pain
- A ruptured eardrum
- Hearing loss
Why Flying With an Ear Infection Can Be a Bad Idea
As mentioned, there are several dangers associated with flying with an ear infection.
But why is this?
- Airplanes are pressurized, but when flying, there are still changes to the pressure inside the cabin.
- Your Eustachian tube works to equalize this pressure in your middle ear by opening and letting air in or out.
- If you have an ear infection, this process won’t work as effectively.
- If your body is unable to equalize the pressure, it can build on one side of your eardrum, resulting in extreme ear pain or worse.
What If You Still Want to Fly
If you have an ear infection, you need to help your Eustachian tube equalize the pressure in your middle ear as effectively as possible.
So, doing the following can help and can help pop your ears while flying:
- Drink lots of water: Drinking water on a plane will encourage you to swallow and help open the Eustachian tubes.
- Chew gum or suck hard candy: You are allowed to chew gum on a plane, or suck on hard candy, which can help to activate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes.
- Yawn frequently: Yawning can also help to activate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes.
- Stay awake for takeoff and landing: Staying awake will mean that you can actively take steps to open the Eustachian tubes.
- Use the Valsalva maneuver: The Valsalva maneuver that involves pinching your nostrils, closing your mouth, and gently blowing as if blowing your nose during ascent and descent can help the equalization process.
- Use decongestants: Decongestants will help dry up the mucus in your nose.
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen: Taking these medications 30 minutes before takeoffs or landings can help manage pain.
Should You Wear Earplugs?
You may have heard that wearing earplugs can be a good idea if you have an ear infection or simply want to avoid airplane air.
What you have heard is true.
Earplugs can help by slowly equalizing the pressure against your eardrum during takeoff and landing, but the earplugs should be the filtered kind.
Mack’s Flightguard Airplane Pressure Relief Earplugs are inexpensive and have received very good reviews from frequent fliers.
Landing Might Be Uncomfortable
When you have an ear infection, landing is usually worse.
When you take off, the air inside your middle ear is at a higher pressure than the air inside the cabin.
When you descend for landing, the air inside the cabin is at a higher pressure than the air inside your middle ear, which means that air needs to be drawn in through the Eustachian tube for equalization.
This process is more challenging for your body.
Look Out For a Ruptured Eardrum
If you’ve ruptured your eardrum when flying, you will definitely know.
You will experience the following symptoms:
- Severe earache or discomfort
- Bloody or clear drainage from the ear
- Noise or ringing in the ears
- Pus coming from the ear
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
- Facial weakness
Thankfully, a ruptured eardrum will often heal on its own within two months, but it’s best to see an ENT doctor for a complete evaluation and to ensure that your hearing hasn’t been permanently damaged.
Avoid Flying With Babies and Kids
Ideally, babies and kids should avoid flying with an ear infection because they have more narrow Eustachian tubes that are not as effective at equalizing the pressure in their middle ear as adults.
If you’ve ever wondered why babies cry when flying, that is why it happens.
Doctors will usually recommend to delay flying if your baby or young child has an ear infection until it has passed.
When flying with a baby that doesn’t have an ear infection, it can be helpful to give a dummy to suck, or a drink from a bottle.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).