Dreading flying with a cold? Use ear plugs and medication to ease the pressure

Posted by Fodor's Editors on January 19, 2011 at 2:00:00 AM EST | Post a Comment
The cabin air dries out already aching sinuses and sore throats, and the pressure changes during takeoff and landing can cause severe ear pain. Consider investing in EarPlanes, earplugs designed to keep the pressure in your ears consistent. They really do work, and their semihollow design also helps to block out engine noise while still allowing you to hear what the flight attendant is saying. And over-the-counter nasal sprays work wonders on congested sinuses. Give each nostril a spritz well before takeoff, so that the stuff has time to work before you ascend.
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Member Comments (3)  Post a Comment

  • JackCreeber on Feb 25, 12 at 07:57 AM

    I think the the orginal tip relates more so to helping resolve the pain and discomfort caused by cabin pressure. Although, I understand the concerns of sitting next to someone who suffers from an illness, it is important to also bear in mind that once travel plans have been arranged, they cannot easily be changed.

    Please visit http://www.comfyearplugs.com/flying-ear-plugs.html for a range of flying earplugs.

  • Sue_xx_yy on Jan 19, 11 at 01:52 PM

    Most ear pain results from a failure of the ear's Eustachian tube to adjust fast enough in response to pressure differences that can arise across the eardrum. On ascent, as pressure drops (notwithstanding cabin pressurization) the pressure of air on the middle ear side of the ear drum - i.e, in the Eustachian tube - will be comparatively higher, relative to cabin air and one's outer ear, which is continuous with cabin air (yes, even with ear plugs, since these are unlikely to be airtight). As a result, this Eustachian tube air will exert force on the ear drum, resulting in pain. The sense one has when the ear 'pops' occurs because the tubes compensate by widening in diameter, thus increasing the volume of the tube. As pressure is inversely proportional to the volume of a space, at given temperature, the pressure inside the Eustachian tube will thus drop, and equilibrate to cabin air pressure. Force on the ear drum stops, since pressure is equalized.

    A reverse sequence of events happens on descent: as cabin air pressure rises, and with it the pressure of air on the outer ear side of the eardrum, pressure is is temporarily higher on the OUTER ear side of the eardrum. Once again, depending on how fast one's Eustachian tubes compensate for the pressure difference, one will experience pain. This time, the tubes must narrow, thus decreasing the volume of the ear tube and increasing the pressure of the air within the tube.

    When one has a cold, one's Eustachian tubes can be swollen and less responsive: there may even be fluid inside the middle ear. Decongestants act to constrict the swollen capillaries that are a source of this fluid. If decongestants are to work, they need to be taken a short time before the ascent or descent, so as to have time to work.

    Products like Earplanes are hard to assess since they are inserted into the outer ear and are unlikely to be airtight (the way one's eardrums are airtight.) Also, the flight path of the aircraft can vary on ascent and descent: comparatively gradual ascents and descents give one's ears more time to adjust, even if they are relatively unresponsive for whatever reason. Reports that special ear plugs 'work' may be because the party reporting success has not tested them on identical flight paths. Myself, I am skeptical, but to the extent that ear plugs do anything, an ordinary pair will work just as well.

    If you doubt what I've just written, consult with an ENT as a fact checker.

  • escism on Jan 19, 11 at 12:04 PM

    Admittedly this is a pet peeve, but this article totally ignores your fellow passengers and the issue of whether flying SICK is a reasonable idea in general. I had to sit next to a woman coughing, hacking, sniffing her way across the US on a east to west coast flight. It was simply gross, there was NOTHING one could do to get away from her. Her illness was circulated around the cabin. My son got quite ill after the flight. I really have little sympathy for those flying sick, THEY need to have more consideration for their fellow passengers. WEAR A MASK, take medications, don't fly sick unless there is no alternative. People will often decide their desires are more important than the needs of other people on the plane to stay well.

    This same person picked up a baby toy and handed it back to the parent of a very young infant seated in front of her... then I saw her later in the baggage area leaning over the same infant breathing on it.

    Yes, a lot of stupid people out there...

    This article needs to address the correct issue. Not how to make you feel better when you're flying sick but under what conditions should you fly sick and what precautions should you take in order to make sure you don't spread your germs all over to everyone on the plane who can't get away from you.