David Mason R.H.A.D Hearing Aid Audiologist Ampleforth, York.    Tel: 0800 612 7 812
0800 612 7812

David has now retired and has
handed over the business to
Mr Robert Donnan RHAD.

Please be assured that his service and commitment to his clients are in direct parallel with our own. He has recently opened a branch in Fulford, York and has a number of other highly useful resources that you may find useful in the future. This includes Micro suction.

You can have every confidence in his service and I'm delighted to say that he always treats people with consideration and commitment. If you are interested in the latest hearing instruments he will only be too pleased to organise a free trial.

David Mason - August 2016


York Hearing Practice, 92 Main Street, Fulford, YORK YO10 4PS

Freephone 0800 612 7812

Ears, altitude and aircraft travel


Have you ever wondered why your ears pop when you fly on an aeroplane? Or why, when they fail to pop, you get an earache? Have you ever wondered why babies fuss and cry so much during the descent?

Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of aircraft travellers, and while they are usually simple, minor annoyances, they occasionally result in temporary pain and hearing loss. This section is to help you understand the reasons for occasional ear problems during air travel, how to avoid them and how to care for them.

It is the middle ear that causes discomfort during air travel, and this is so because it is an air pocket inside the head that is vulnerable to changes in air pressure.

Normally, each time (or each 2nd or 3rd time) you swallow, your ears make a little clicking or popping sound. This is the moment that a small bubble of air enters the middle ear, up from the back of your nose, passing through the Eustachian tube.

The air in the middle ear is constantly being absorbed by its membrane lining, but it is frequently resupplied through the Eustachian tube during the process of swallowing.

In this manner, air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays more or less equal. If, and when, the air pressure is not equal, the ear feels ‘blocked’.

How can air travel cause problems?

Air travel is sometimes associated with rapid changes in air pressure. To maintain comfort, the Eustachian tube must function properly, that is, open frequently and widely enough to equalize the changes in air pressure.

This is especially true when the aircraft is coming down for a landing, going from low atmospheric pressure down closer to earth where the air pressure is higher.

In the early days of aeroplanes with open cabins and cockpits, this was a major problem to flyers. Today's aircraft are pressurised so that air pressure changes are minimised.

Even so, some changes in pressure are unavoidable, even in the best and most modern aeroplanes. Actually, any situation in which rapid altitude or pressure changes occur creates the problem.

You may have experienced it when riding in elevators of tall buildings or when diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. Deep-sea divers are taught how to equalise their ear pressures; so are pilots. You can learn the tricks too.

How do you unblock your ears?

The act of swallowing activates the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube. You swallow more often when you chew gum or let mints melt in your mouth.

These are good practices, especially just before and during descent. Yawning is even better. It is a stronger activator of that muscle. Be sure to avoid sleeping during descent, because you may not be swallowing enough to keep up with the pressure changes. (The flight attendant will be happy to awaken you just before descent.)

If yawning and swallowing are not effective, the most forceful way to unblock your ears is as follows:

  • Pinch your nostrils shut
  • Take a mouthful of air
  • Using your cheek and throat muscles, force the air into the back of your nose as if you were trying to blow your thumb and fingers off your nostrils.

When you hear a loud pop in your ears, you have succeeded. You may have to repeat this several times during descent.

This is my own particular technique:

As you know, the pilot, under normal circumstances, will give you landing instructions just prior to descending. I’ve found that it's best to start this as soon as I hear this by dropping my jaw as low as possible and moving it backwards and forwards (or side to side). There has never been an issue with a build-up of pressure.

However, there may have been occasions when the pilot was given instructions to descend rather more quickly because an earlier ‘slot’ had become available. There is very little warning of this, so this technique is, not only portable, but can be applied instantly.

Don't be put off from some strange looks from other passengers... it actually works!

Obviously, babies cannot intentionally pop their ears, but may do so if they are sucking on a bottle or dummy. Feed your baby, and do not allow him/her to sleep during descent. Keep them laughing and get those facial muscles moving.

What precautions should you take?

When inflating your ears, you should not use force from your chest (lungs) or abdomen (diaphragm) which can create pressures that are too high.

The proper technique involves only pressure created by your cheek and throat muscles.

If you have a cold, a sinus infection, or an allergy attack, it is best to postpone a trip by air. Also, if you have recently undergone ear surgery, consult with your surgeon on how soon you may safely fly. Holidays have been known to be ruined because of chronic earache.

nasal-spray What about decongestants and nose sprays?

Many experienced air travellers use a decongestant pill or nasal spray an hour or so before descent. That will shrink the membranes and make ears pop more easily.

Travellers with allergy problems should take their medication at the beginning of the flight for the same reason. Decongestant tablets and sprays can be purchased without a prescription.

However, persons with heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, thyroid disease or excessive nervousness should avoid them.

Such persons should consult their doctor before using these medicines. Pregnant women should likewise consult their doctor first.

What to do if your ears will not unblock

Even after landing, you can continue the pressure equalizing techniques. You may also find decongestants and nose sprays helpful. (However, avoid making a habit of nose sprays – they may cause more congestion than they relieve.)

After a few days if your ears fail to clear, or if pain persists, you will need to seek the help of a doctor who has experience in the care of ear disorders. He may need to release the pressure or fluid with a small incision in the eardrum.

To book an appointment, just click here or call Shirley free on 0800 612 7812 any time.


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