For most people, airplane ear usually heals with time. When the symptoms persist, you may need treatments to equalize pressure and relieve symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe medications or direct you to take over-the-counter medications to control conditions that may prevent the eustachian tubes from functioning well. These drugs may include:
- Decongestant nasal sprays
- Oral decongestants
- Oral antihistamines
To ease discomfort, you may want to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), or an analgesic pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
With your drug treatment, your doctor will instruct you to use a self-care method called the Valsalva maneuver. To do this, you pinch your nostrils shut, close your mouth and gently force air into the back of your nose, as if you were blowing your nose. Once the medications have improved the function of the eustachian tubes, use of the Valsalva maneuver may force the tubes open.
Surgical treatment of airplane ear is rarely necessary. However, your doctor may make an incision in your eardrum (myringotomy) to equalize air pressure and drain fluids.
Severe injuries, such as a ruptured eardrum or ruptured membranes of the inner ear, usually will heal on their own. However, in rare cases, surgery may be needed to repair them.
Jul. 19, 2013
- Vernick DM. Ear barotrauma. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 16, 2013.
- Ears and altitude. American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/earsAltitude.cfm. Accessed May 16, 2013.
- Flint PW, et al. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: MosbyElsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05283-2..X0001-8--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05283-2&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed May 16, 2013.