This summer has been the busiest ever for air travel. An estimated 246.1 million passengers will fly with U.S. air lines between June 1 and August 31, 2018. The effect of high altitude on the body is considerable.
At high altitudes, defined as 8,000 feet or above, the air pressure is lower. Oxygen levels drop—about three percent per 1,000 feet. Heart and respiratory rates increase with altitude. Humidity is low. The air is dry. You exhale and perspire twice as much moisture as you would at sea level. The risk of dehydration goes up. Blood flow increases to the brain, heart and lungs. All of this can lead to headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Meanwhile, many people experience pressure in their ears and perhaps a popping sensation. As the pressure changes, the pain can be excruciating—especially for babies and children. The Eustachian tubes’ job is to equalize the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure by opening and letting air reach the middle ear. Popping is merely the Eustachian tubes adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears. Children have more narrow tubes so when anything blocks the tubes (infection, swelling, etc.) it’s painful. As a plane descends the air pressure increases which is why children experience pain during the landing phase. While the pain is usually temporary, if a child has an ear infection the risk is possible rupture or tear of the eardrum, in which case the trip may need to be delayed.
In most other circumstances there are a number of ways to avoid ear pain.
– Drink lots of water for hydration. Swallowing opens the Eustachian tubes.
– Chew gum, suck on lozenges or mints, or eat something that requires lots of chewing.
– For babies or toddlers, always have a pacifier or bottle and keep the child upright while swallowing.
– Pinch the tip of your nose and exhale through the nose with the mouth closed. Do this both during the ascent and descent of the flight.
– Before flying consult with your physician about taking or stopping OTC pain meds, antihistamines, expectorants, and congestion relief meds.
Remember, ears can be painful at 35,000 feet in the air. Planning and patience will help you and yours to have a more enjoyable flight. Happy travels!
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Written By Julie Moselle, Senior Marketing Specialist