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Flying and Ear Popping

air travelI usually reserve two weeks or so of my annual holiday allowance to fly back to South Africa to do the family & friends run-around, and to remind my skin what the sun looks like… As much as I cant wait to see my loved-ones, the 11 hour long-haul flight is not exactly the part I look forward to. Although there’s no real jet-lag to worry about, I have yet to find sitting in economy class for a day a positive experience.  

However, I have to be grateful that I don't currently have to do this type of trip with a baby. I take my hat off to all parents, who have to endure the same cabin-fever complaints as me compounded by flying with young children. Not only do children have to stay still for ‘soooo long’, they can struggle a lot more than adults with their ears.

Many of us have felt that strange ear-popping sensation when we fly. For children it can seem especially odd and even scary at first. This sometimes uncomfortable sensation is related to pressure changes in the middle ear, which is primarily a cavity of air.  Normally, the eustachian tube, a passageway that leads from the middle ear to the back of the throat equalises the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure by opening and letting air reach the middle ear. When our ears "pop" while yawning or swallowing, the eustachian tubes are adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears. Whether you're flying, scuba diving, or even traveling in a lift, air pressure decreases as you go higher and increases as you go lower. If the pressure isn't equalised, the higher air pressure pushes on one side of the eardrum and causes pain. (Children’s eustachian tubes are more easily affected by inflammation and mucus from ear infections or colds, or blocked by enlarged or swollen adenoids.) The pain is temporary and shouldn’t cause any lasting problems as it usually subsides within a few minutes as the eustachian tubes open to let the air pressure equalize on both sides of the eardrums. Further relief can be achieved by using earplanes flight ear protection, an earplug shape product which uses special filters to regulate air pressure.

Some seasoned travelers can appear quite dismayed by having to share their flight with young children, but hopefully this will help give a bit more understanding why so many babies cry during those last few minutes of the flight, when the air pressure in the cabin increases as the plane prepares to land.

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