Diagnosis

Your doctor will likely be able to make a diagnosis based on your history and an examination of your ear with a lighted instrument (otoscope).

Treatment

For most people, airplane ear usually heals with time. When the symptoms persist, you may need treatments to equalize pressure and relieve symptoms.

Medications

Your doctor might suggest you take:

  • Decongestant nasal sprays
  • Oral decongestants

To ease discomfort, you can take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), or an analgesic pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).

Self-care therapies

With your drug treatment, your doctor will instruct you to use 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.

Surgery

Surgical treatment of airplane ear is rarely necessary. Even severe injuries, such as a ruptured eardrum or ruptured membranes of the inner ear, usually heal on their own.

However, in rare cases, an office procedure or surgery might be needed. This might include a procedure in which an incision is made in your eardrum (myringotomy) to equalize air pressure and drain fluids.

Preparing for your appointment

If you have severe pain or symptoms associated with airplane ear that don't improve with self-care techniques, talk to your family doctor or a general practitioner. You might then be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

What you can do

To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your symptoms and when they began
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Questions for your doctor about airplane ear might include:

  • Is my ear discomfort likely related to my recent airplane travel?
  • What is the best treatment?
  • Am I likely to have long-term complications?
  • How can I prevent this from happening again?
  • Should I consider canceling travel plans?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor will ask you questions, including:

  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Have you had a cold, sinus infection or ear infection recently?
  • Have you had airplane ear before?
  • Were your past experiences with airplane ear prolonged or severe?

What you can do in the meantime

To treat pain, you might take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), or a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).

July 31, 2019
  1. Vernick DM. Ear barotrauma. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed June 18, 2019.
  2. Ears and altitude (barotrauma). American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/ears-and-altitude-barotrauma/. Accessed June 18, 2019.
  3. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Ear, nose, and throat disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2019. 58th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2019. http://www.accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed June 18, 2019.

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