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 June 6, 2003
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Ear Pain on Airplanes
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SATURDAY, May 24 (HealthScoutNews) -- Even on the smoothest of flights, a discomfort most flyers can count on is ears that pop as the plane is landing.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery reports that ear problems are the most common medical complaints of airplane travelers.

The culprit behind such problems is a part of the middle ear called the Eustachian tube, a tiny but important passageway that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.

Under normal circumstances, the Eustachian tube does its job of maintaining an equal balance of air pressure on both sides of the eardrum.

However, when the body is subjected to rapid changes in air pressure, such as flying on an airplane, the Eustachian tube must open frequently and wide enough to try to equalize the quick change in pressure.

One of the best ways to help with that process is simply swallowing, which activates the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube. The traditional technique of chewing gum or sucking on mints is also effective, because both make you swallow more often, and yawning is an even better trick.

Since you don't want to give gum to babies and you probably can't tell them to yawn, experts advise instead letting them suck on bottles or pacifiers to facilitate swallowing and don't let them sleep while landing.

Adults also should avoid sleeping while landing to prevent ear problems, and many experienced travelers take nasal decongestants before landing to shrink the nasal membranes and help the ears pop more easily.

If none of the methods succeed in opening your ears, or if you're experiencing ear pain after landing, medical help should be sought.

More information

The Hearing Alliance of America offers more information on ear pain and flying.

-- Nancy A. Melville

SOURCES: American Academy of Otolaryngology -Head and Neck Surgery

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