Ask the Doctor.
This week's question was answered by Professor Ram Dhillon Consultant Surgeon, The Princess Grace Hospital, Hon Professor, Middlesex University, London.
I've always had a problem with my ears when flying - they don't pop when they should and I end up with intense pain and temporary deafness.A Is there anything we can do?
This is a condition termed, "Otitic Barotrauma". The patient is unable to open a tube, the Eustachian tube, which connects the nose to the middle ear. This tube opens during activities such as swallowing, yawning and blowing/popping the ears, allowing the entry or egress of air from the middle ear. The pressure equalises on both sides of the eardrum and hence vibrates freely. Any inequality stiffens the eardrum and reduces vibration.
In airflight any inability to equalise is seen during descent in certain groups of patients. The patient experiences symptoms of pressure, hearing loss, fullness and possibly pain, which can be severe.
Measures to minimise problems during flight include avoiding travel if suffering a cold, and about 20 minutes before descent commence regular swallowing e.g. sip water, chew sweets etc. Additional manoeuvres include regular popping of the ears with the mouth closed and opening/closing the mouth.
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