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If at all possible, it is best to avoid flying with an ear infection because the change of pressure in the cabin can cause a great deal of pain. Avoiding air travel, however, is not an option for many people, especially those who travel regularly on business and those who work in the field of air travel. For people who must fly, there are two key ways to avoid pain and complications: use an over-the-counter decongestant and make sure to swallow frequently.
People who have a serious ear infection should consult a medical professional before flying. Those with a mild ear infection will usually be able to manage with an over-the-counter decongestant. A decongestant can either be taken orally, in the form of a capsule, or can be applied topically, as a liquid that is put into the nose either with a dropper or with a spray nozzle.
In addition to taking a decongestant during or just prior to a flight, those who will be flying with an ear infection can begin using the decongestant on the day and evening prior to the flight. This will help to manage inflammation in the sinuses and in the ear canal, which will help to lessen the pain.
The second method of managing the discomfort of an ear infection while flying is actually a trick that many people use to avoid pain in their ears during takeoff and landing. It is during these times in the flight that the cabin pressure undergoes the greatest changes, which can cause the greatest amount of pain in the ears, especially for those with an ear infection. Making sure to swallow frequently is a good way to manage the way that the cabin pressure affects the ears.
Most people do this by chewing gum during takeoff and landing. Chewing gum causes the mouth to produce extra saliva, which in turn causes the person chewing the gum to swallow more frequently than he would otherwise. For those who don't like to chew gum, sucking on a throat lozenge or a piece of hard candy can help to relieve pressure in the ears as well.
Yeah, don't if you can avoid it. It's excruciating. I have a friend who flew from Key West, Florida to her home in northern California with an ear infection. She had to do it to get home. She's been miserable for two solid weeks.
My sister also flew with an ear infection and said the flight was incredibly painful. She said taking a decongestant about an hour before her return trip made that flight a little better.
I might recommend an NSAID for those who can take them. They are known to reduce swelling and inflammation. I've flown with a head cold and that was bad enough.