Chewing gum, drinking something can help kids avoid ear pain on an airplane
A: Many people get ear pain when they travel by plane. This is from pressure building up behind the eardrum, a membrane between the outer ear (ear canal) and the middle ear. During takeoff and landing, there is a rapid change in air pressure inside the plane. The pressure in the outer ear becomes different from that in the middle ear. Pain is felt as the eardrum moves away from an area of higher pressure.
In many children, the Eustachian tube does not function as well as in adults. Plus, the tube can be temporarily blocked by colds, allergies, or ear infections. This can result in mild to severe ear pain.
There are some simple things you can do during takeoff and landing to help open the Eustachian tube and relieve pressure. These include yawning, chewing and swallowing. Infants and young children can drink something or suck on a pacifier. Older children can chew sugarless gum.
If your child has an ear infection or a cold with nasal congestion, some parents have chosen to delay their flight, if possible. If you still want or need to fly, an over-the-counter pediatric nasal decongestant may make a difference. Talk with your child's doctor about it.
(Henry Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)