Help with Ear Pain
December 24, 2011 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Help me deal with ear pain after flying

I took a flight yesterday, I've been a little congested the past couple of weeks and had some pretty bad ear pain on the descent. It felt better last night, but around 4:30 I woke up and it was terrible.

Along with the usual techniques (yawning, swallowing, that hold your nose and blow theing) I've tried both Sudafed (the real kind) and Afrin, which seems to have increased the popping noises in my ear, but I haven't been able to equalize the pressure and stop the pain. Advil has helped with the pain enough for me to sleep, but when it wears off the pain comes back.

I've got a few questions:
1) Is there anything else I can do to make this better?
2) When should I think about seeing a doctor?
3) Should I try to get a rental car instead of taking the return flight? I just have no idea if this is likely to get worse if I take another flight.

My return flight is on Monday, so I kind of need to make that last call son, so any help anyone could offer would be great.
posted by Bulgaroktonos to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Musinex might be a better bet. I've also found success with drizziling some alcohol in my ear. If you can, go to a minute clinic / urgent care and get some more serious treatment if it is an ear infection.
posted by k8t at 9:49 AM on December 24, 2011

Have you tried decongestants of some sort to help open up your passages anything for sinuses I imagine might help, gargling, steam that sort of thing.

If it persists I'd see your doctor, I got a vacuum form that distorted my eardrum from a sinus infection/flight combo and was in so much pain the doc gave me a morphine shot, you can damage things in your ear so easily.

I would be hesitant to fly as I'd hate to imagine being stuck in a plane in the screaming pain I was in, at one point I was on the floor trying to knock myself out (I am however a drama queen and a pain wimp).

Having said all that I am not a doctor of any sort and all advice is anecdotal.
posted by wwax at 9:51 AM on December 24, 2011

Here's what I've found to be absolutely magical (YMMV): Put a finger on the bit where your earlobe meets your jawline, apply light pressure, and pull down.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:57 AM on December 24, 2011

I flew with a cold a few years back and did serious damage to my eardrum. A few days later I had to fly back, so I saw a doctor and got some Extra-Fucking-Strength Miracle Cold Suppressants, which worked until I got back and finished with the cold.

Go see a doctor NOW! Not so that you can treat the pain, but so that you can treat the congestion that caused the pain before your next flight. Sooner is better.

BTW- I spent 3 days in pretty serious pain after the first flight, and nothing except time seemed to help. Sorry.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:15 AM on December 24, 2011

Get some Earplanes for the return flight. If a nearby chain pharmacy doesn't carry them, a place at the airport will.
posted by brujita at 10:21 AM on December 24, 2011

Heating pads, jacuzzi and/or hot showers. Also, be sure to limber up with various safe neck stretches.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:34 AM on December 24, 2011

I was in kill me now ear pain on a 10 hour flight. Good times. The attendant helped me by making a little heat/vacuum contraption. She took two thick paper coffee cups, stacked them one inside the other and put a chix cloth/thick paper toweling stuffed into the bottom. Then she poured a little bit of steaming hot water in the bottom and had me hold one set of cups tightly over each ear. We changed the toweling/hot water frequently for about an hour, but the relief was almost instant.

Maybe this can help give you some relief until you can get to a 'Doc-in-a-box'.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:46 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my toddler had to fly with an ear infection a doctor gave her ear drops that did the trick. I don't know what they were but, as suggested above, maybe a drop-in clinic could get you some.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:52 AM on December 24, 2011

delay the flight. the congestion/blockage doesn't have to be 'bad' to seriously damage your eardrums, it only has to be 'persistent'...i have a friend who is a music producer (!) who seriously messed up his hearing in one ear in just this situation.
also, try repeating the valsalva maneuver (the holding your nose and blowing thing) on a regular, repeating schedule...every 5-10 mins (set yr watch!) particularly after the hot bath/shower.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:53 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it isn't too much trouble, I would take the rental car. Twice, I have made the call to take Amtrak and lose a plane ticket rather than risk what you are describing.

That said, here is my formula for getting through a flight: 30 min before boarding, take Sudafed. As close to boarding time as possible, do the Afrin. Once on the plane, insert Earplanes. Keep Earplanes in until after take-off and the plane has reached cruising altitude. During all of this, constantly drink water/suck on cough drops, etc.

Important! Make sure to put the Earplanes back in *before* the plane starts descending. Keep up the drinking/cough drops routine throughout the landing.

Doctors that I have seen about this problem have recommended steroids and puncturing my eardrums (ie: put tubes in to expand it).

Good luck!
posted by ainsley at 11:04 AM on December 24, 2011

Boy, this is me all over. I use Sudafed (sometimes more than the recommended dose), Afrin or other nose spray, and Earplanes. My decision on the rental would turn completely on the relative expense and the distance, as well as how my ears felt on Sunday. I suspect nothing will spare you some pain if your eardrums are already very sensitive and not full recovered.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:08 AM on December 24, 2011

Try some hydrogen peroxide in your ear - lay on one side and pour a capful in the up ear. Let it sit until it quits sizzling (feels weird but shouldn't hurt), then flip and repeat. This works to knock out ear infections, which you may or may not have, and might help just open your ears up too.
posted by attercoppe at 11:26 AM on December 24, 2011

I have a lot of trouble with my ears when I fly, even when I am not sick. One thing I noticed years ago, I have much more trouble if I have showered that morning. So I usually try to shower the night before, in order to give my ears more time to dry out. So while illness is probably the most pertinent factor in your pain, consider that moisture might be exacerbating it a bit too.
posted by vignettist at 11:39 AM on December 24, 2011

"hold your nose and blow thing"

I've mentioned this before in other AskMes, but I'll put it here again - when you do this, make sure you hold your nose closed with one hand, and with your other hand, put a finger in the good ear to block that off, too. Blow gently. You should immediately hear and feel a pop, and then, if it worked, your ear will pop for the reast of the day while it equalizes.

I was plugged up for about a week after I last flew, and that technique is what finally gave me some relief.
posted by HopperFan at 11:59 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Last Christmas I was on a flight with two ear infections (they both developed within 8 hours of the flight). I experienced the pain you mentioned alternating between my ears (it was a short 45 minute flight and each ear flared up twice - I can't imagine what a long flight would have felt like). I actually went temporarily deaf the following day when I got treatment. A year later and I still have recurring problems with one of my ears stemming from that incident.

See if you can find an urgent care center open in the area (they don't require appointments and will diagnose you and write you a prescription immediately, and you'll be able to ask them if you can board a flight). It sounds like you definitely have an ear infection, and the pain isn't likely to just disappear of its own accord.

If you can do the rental car and you can't get treated before the flight, I really recommend it. If I could do it all over again I would have driven home.

FWIW "hold your nose and blow" was a tactic I tried, tentatively, when my ears were in pain on the flight. It was the most pain I ever experienced in my life, so I can't say it sounds like a good idea with an infection that's been aggravated.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:24 PM on December 24, 2011

Also, if you have intense ear pain, your eardrum may be perforated, in which case do not put hydrogen peroxide in your ear. Wait til you get to a doctor who can tell you definitively before you start treating yourself with it. Both of mine were perforated after that flight.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:31 PM on December 24, 2011

I wouldn't risk flying on Monday if I were you - I had an ear that wouldn't pop and was painful after a flight, which left untreated developed into an ear infection, which developed into a series of recurring sinus infections over an entire year, and my ear still isn't the same two years later. I would go to a doctor ASAP, and rent that car!
posted by ukdanae at 12:47 PM on December 24, 2011

P.s. try chewing gum or sucking on boiled sweets constantly to help your ears equalise (if that's the problem).
posted by ukdanae at 12:48 PM on December 24, 2011

Go see a doctor, ASAP, before putting any drops, etc, in your ear or getting on that plane. None of the techniques listed here may help you in the manner you need best, and you can do serious damage to your ear if you have a perforated ear drum.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 2:58 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The last time this happened to me, I spent about 2 hours constantly blowing my nose. It was kind of shocking how much stuff came out. After a while, I could feel my ears start to clear a little with each blow. I kept it up until nothing else would come out/ I got on the plane, whichever came first.
posted by Weeping_angel at 4:00 PM on December 24, 2011

I also made the mistake of flying with a cold a few years ago. My eardrum has not been the same, though it seems to be gradually getting better. Delay your flight if you value consistent eardrum performance.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:34 PM on December 24, 2011

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