Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Fly?
It is a common complaint that people’s ears hurt when they fly. The pain is caused by stretching of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) during ascent and descent whilst the pressure changes. Usually the Eustachian tube works to equalize the pressure across the membrane but if it is blocked by mucus or swelling then a pressure gradient develops across it, causing pain. If the pressure is too high for the drum to withstand it will tear. Tearing is very painful and may result in blood from the ear but the pain is relieved once a hole exists in the drum. This allows equalization of the pressure. Wearing ear plugs for flying can give protection against tearing. They do this by creating a second pressure gradient between the air in the canal and the outside world. It is especially important to choose a comfortable pair so you can sleep on the aeroplane. This will also help you to prevent jet lay and fatigue by allowing you to adjust to time differences before you land. ZenPlugs molded ear plugs are designed especially to mold to your ears one at a time to ensure a comfortable fit and maximise the exclusion of sound and air from your ear canal. Foam earplugs are not so good for use on aeroplanes to prevent ear pain as they are porous and so will let the air through, without creating the second pressure gradient you require. They are also not so good for sleeping as they often protrude from the ears and fall out, waking you up. Foam earplugs are less hygienic then many other types as they are porous and so will act as an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. It is worth investing in a good pair of moulded earplugs instead.