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Flying with an Ear Infection

An ear infection is unpleasant at the best of times, but it can be desperately unwanted news if you get an infection or experience a flare-up just as you’re preparing for a trip.

Flying with an ear infection isn’t impossible, but it’s best to be as informed as possible about the potential risks associated before you decide to go ahead with your travel plans.

There are a number of different complaints that fall under the category of an ear infection, as well as other hearing-related conditions. Here we’ll take a closer look at the risks of flying with each one.

Why do your ears pop on a plane?

As a plane climbs higher and higher into the atmosphere, the air around it becomes less and less dense.  

This change in atmospheric pressure can also affect any air that is trapped inside the tiny structures of the inner ear. As the plane returns to denser pressures above the Earth’s surface, this trapped air is forced against the eardrum. It is this build-up of pressure in the ear that leads to discomfort and in some situations can contribute to temporary hearing loss.

Most people can relieve these symptoms by helping trapped air to pass down the Eustachian tubes of the ear that connect to the throat, resulting in a ‘pop’ that restores hearing and normal pressure in the inner ear.

If the Eustachian tubes are blocked or congested due to an ear infection, it makes it hard to equalise the pressure throughout the structures of the ear. This can result in severe pain and extreme discomfort for ear infection sufferers as the pressure continues to build, also placing them at risk of rupturing their ear drum.

Can you fly with an ear infection?

Yes, you can fly with an ear infection but you do so at your own risk. Before you board the flight, consult your doctor or and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who will be able to offer guidance and advice specific to your condition.

It’s important to take an ear infection seriously when flying as it could lead to complications or long-term problems.

If the ear infection is causing congestion within the structure of the ear including the Eustachian tubes, then you’re likely to experience a significant build-up of pressure as the plane ascends or descends through the atmosphere that is likely to be extremely painful.

If the trapped air in your ear can’t escape because of the congestion, your eardrum will be subjected to a prolonged period of increased pressure which could result in a ruptured eardrum, causing pain and affecting your hearing. Ruptured eardrums usually heal on their own over time, but could require surgery to close the punctured skin.

How to soothe an ear infection

If you experience increased pain in your ears during a flight, due to changes in air pressure and a blocked inner ear, there are a few techniques you can use to try to alleviate the build- up of pressure and soothe your ear infection.

  • During the flight ensure you stay hydrated to prevent mucous and phlegm from thickening.
  • Ensure you’ve taken any medication you may need, like antibiotics, when you’re supposed to, and keep some on the flight if you need to take medicine or pain relief at regular intervals.
  • When you feel the pressure start to build, try swallowing down. If you can’t achieve a dry swallow, take a few sips of water or keep a few hard-boiled sweets or mints in your hand luggage to suck on as the plane starts its descent.
  • Try yawning and stretching your jaw to help open up the head to allow air to escape from blocked passages or internal structures.
  • Make sure you stay awake during take-off and landing so you can implement these methods before the pressure starts to build.

Can you fly with a perforated eardrum?

Yes, it is possible to fly with a perforated eardrum, but if you’ve had surgery to repair a ruptured eardrum you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or surgeon.  

A perforated eardrum is also referred to as a ruptured eardrum or burst eardrum, and means that the thin layer of skin that makes up the surface of the eardrum has a small tear or hole in it. Perforated eardrums will often heal themselves in time, but sometime require and operation called a myringoplasty to repair the damaged skin.

If you do choose to fly with a perforated eardrum you may find that you encounter fewer problems in relation to pressure build up in your ears during take-off and landing.  As the air trapped in the inner ear can pass through the tiny perforation, the air pressure should equalise quickly without causing too much discomfort to you.

Can you fly with Labyrinthitis?

The decision to fly with Labrynthitis should be informed by the opinion of a medical professional, as aircraft conditions can exacerbate your symptoms.

Labrynthitis is a viral or bacterial infection of the inner ear, that can affect balance and lead to hearing loss.  Other symptoms of Labrynthitis also include sensations of vertigo, nausea and vomiting, and dizziness. The changes in air pressure, the change in motion and movement, and the presence of flickering lights during a flight can trigger your symptoms, making you feel unwell and very uncomfortable.

If you can, it may be best to delay flying until your Labrynthitis clears up. If flying is unavoidable then you can use a few strategies that may help to help reduce your symptoms:

  • Try wearing sunglasses. Tinted sunglasses may help to minimise the effects of flashing lights and can help to manage visual disturbances.
  • Stay awake. Being alert during the flight’s descent will ensure you’re vigilant to pressure building in your ears.
  • Use the techniques outlined above for soothing your ears.
  • Use decongestants if you can

Travel Insurance for Ear Infections

If you have an ear infection or an associated ear problem like a perforated eardrum or Labrynthitis, you can get specialist travel insurance policies that will cover you for pre-existing conditions.

When you plan a holiday, buying travel insurance should be part of the process. You’ll need to declare any pre-existing ear conditions when you go through the quote application with Medical Travel Compared.

Our quick application process only takes a few moments, and you’ll get access to a range of comprehensive and competitive specialist travel insurance quotes. Get a quote in just a few minutes.   

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