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Healthy Travel

Tips on Safely Flying with an Ear Infection

Flying with an ear infection can prove difficult if not dealt with correctly. Click through for advice, and tips on making your trip as pleasant as possible.

Flying with an ear infection

You are about to board a flight home from vacation but you have terrible pain in your ear. What do you do?

You’ve likely developed an ear infection. This can be caused by bacteria finding their way deep inside your ear and marking its territory. Perhaps you were swimming at one of the best swimming spots in the world when it happened. It’s an awful feeling and one that impacts a lot of travelers. 

Seeing a doctor or canceling your flight until you feel better might not be options available to you. So you have to press on, board your flight and figure it out along the way.

Flying with an ear infection is common and has affected many people. Let’s discuss whether it’s safe to fly with an ear infection before highlighting some ways to help you do so.  


Is it safe to fly with an ear infection?

A man with an ear infection

It is possible to fly with an ear infection but there are risks, especially for children. Avoid flying if possible, if you can’t, then find a local doctor to prescribe ear drops. If that is not possible either, you might have to suffer through your flight, we highlight some tips for doing so below. Flying can be uncomfortable any time, also check out these exercises on a plane, to get the blood flowing.

The Eustachian tube is an important part of our ear. It connects our middle ear to our sinus/nasal cavity. This tube plays an important role in balancing air pressure. So when you have an ear infection the tube may be blocked resulting in discomfort.

To safely fly you should understand exactly what happens to your ears on an airplane. If you have trouble sleeping on planes, this flight sleep kit can certainly help.


What happens to your ears when you fly?

You may have noticed your ears “popping” during takeoff or landing any time you fly. When planes take off or land the air pressure inside the cabin changes. This is done because air pressure changes as you gain altitude and is necessary for planes to safely travel through the air.

image of plane window

This change naturally impacts people as our sinuses react to the air pressure changes. This often does not cause much discomfort. However, if you have an ear infection, you will feel some pressure on the infected area. Depending on how bad the infection is, the pain you feel will vary.

Hopefully, once the plane reaches its cruising altitude your ears will stop feeling so bad. Let’s jump into the best tips for flying with an ear infection.


Tips on safely flying with an ear infection

Stay Hydrated

glass of water

Drink plenty of water when you are flying with an ear infection. The act of swallowing helps ease the pain but drinking water has another benefit. Airplane cabins are extremely dry so drinking plenty of water helps to thin the ears mucus which will help to reduce pain.


Avoid sleep during takeoff & landing

Sleep is hard to get on an airplane regardless but if you have an ear infection then it’s recommended to try and stay awake during takeoff and landing to help fight the pain. Due to changing air pressure in the cabin, you may experience the most pain during takeoff and landing. So try and stay awake during these periods. If you can sleep during the flight this may mean you are not feeling as much pain.


Have some painkillers handy

Ibuprofen is highly recommended for travelers who have ear infections. Ibuprofen can ease mild pain in your ear to make the flight tolerable. It may not completely remove the pain however so you may experience some discomfort. If you are experiencing allergies an antihistamine may be a good idea instead.


Try yawning to relieve pressure

Yawning is common when flying as we often experience the “popping” sensation in our ears as cabin pressure adjusts during takeoff and landing. This is done to equalize the air pressure in the inner and outer ear as the inner ear can sometimes become blocked. If you are flying with an ear infection then you may want to yawn more often as the pressure will cause more pain and a yawn can offer a little relief.


Swallow small amounts of water at a time

When you have an ear infection, swallowing can sometimes make you feel a bit of pain. However, if you are flying and feeling extra pressure, try to drink some water and swallow to help relieve some of the pain you might be feeling.


Use a decongestant


A decongestant can help relieve some of the pain while flying. Since our sinuses are connected to our ear function, using a nasal spray may help clear your sinuses and thus relieve some of the pressure build-ups which could be causing your discomfort. Other decongestants could be over-the-counter or prescription medications. Please speak to a doctor about these options.


Chew Gum

If you or your child have an ear infection and have to fly, it’s a good idea to have a pack of gum or two handies. Chewing gum helps relieve some pressure in your ears because you are constantly moving your jaw and swallowing. This is especially helpful during takeoff and landing.


Final Thoughts

Flying with an ear infection is certainly possible, I have done it myself. But be prepared for an uncomfortable ride, especially during takeoff and landing. If you can avoid flying it might be wise to do so however sometimes we cannot avoid the flight. We highlighted several techniques to help relieve pain while flying, from yawning to chewing gum. The idea is to relieve as much pain and constantly moving your jaw to open up the Eustachian tubes (which become blocked by infection) can provide relief. Thank you for reading!