Blocked ears – easing the pain in flight

You’re on a flight trying to get a little rest when the kid whose been kicking your seat for the last half hour suddenly begins to scream.You do what any normal passenger would do and spin around, shooting the parents an evil look. When that doesn’t work you ring your flight attendant call light and ask the attendant if perhaps she can help, all the while thinking thank God we’re landing soon. What the heck is wrong with that kid!

Blocked ears. Altitude changes increase air pressure as the plane lowers. The change in pressure pushes the eardrum inward. Because children have relatively narrow Eustachian tubes, they may not function as effectively as an adults’, especially if they’re clogged by an inflammation or ear infection. Blocked ears can cause severe pain, dullness in hearing, and can occasionally lead to hearing loss.

What a parent can do…

1.Don’t allow the child to sleep during descent
2.Find something to suck on; a bottle, pacifier, gum or hard candy
3.Postpone any future air travel if a cold, sinus infection, or allergy attack is present.
4.Ignore the jerk seated in front of you.

What you can do when your own ears hurt…


Photo courtesy of TomD



  1. Hi, I do not agree with number 4. I think some parents do not really care and just let their kids cry.

    • Something tells me you don’t have children. I’ve come to find that passengers without children have very little patience. I didn’t see this until I had my own child – who is very good on the plane – but people are quick to judge. Anyway, you mentioned SOME parents….Some being the key word. And you are correct. Some parents don’t care, but I think the majority of parents do.

  2. I have to admit that I cringe whenever I see the “flying tip” of making a baby suck on something during take-off and landing.

    First of all, after 13 years working in the air, and countless flights with my own three children, I can assure parents this problem is grossly overrated. I rarely saw problems with either adults or children.

    Many babies fall asleep during taxi and it pained me to see parents unnecessarily wake them up and force them to drink. Then, amusingly, they would cry and the parents thought it was their ears!

    I also saw parents not do something about a crying baby because they claimed “It’s his ears” ON THE GROUND. What about the hot sweater? What if he wants out of that seat for a minute??

    Ironically, if it IS the ears, the crying works much better than any sucking action!

    Also, like you mention, it’s the TOP of descent, not landing, which is too late. All they have to do is be awake. Laughing, moving the head, etc. all helps the ears. You don’t have to force the child to drink if he doesn’t want.

    The BEST way to avoid ear problems is to visit the doctor a few days before flying. Sure enough, my son had an ear infection once and he was happily cured with antibiotics before our 11 1/2 hour trip. No surprise as he was plagued with ear infections as a toddler. He had NO problems on the flight. Most of them didn’t bother him on the ground but they can get nasty in the air. No amount of sucking will relieve the pain.

    Flying with an ear infection is painful for the child, potentially damaging and unpleasant for everyone else. It’s so easy to avoid! Healthy ears can handle pressurization changes. Let your children sleep on take-off please!!!

    Screaming works for adults too. Once I had blocked ears (typically, I *thought* I was over my cold!) I went in a closet and screamed. Opened those puppies right up. I went into the closet because we lived in an apartment and this would be difficult to explain to the police. “No officer, no one was attacking me. See, I’m a Flight Attendant and I thought I was over my cold…”

    • I use the hot wet paper towels in the cup. Works wonders for me. NOTE: I’m not going to sue the airline if/when I burn myself.

      • I was way beyond any of those tricks. I actually had been on the ground for *hours* before I tried the screaming. My ears were totally blocked.

        Just be sure you’re over any cold before flying or you’ll suffer!!

  3. Do “Ear Planes” really work? Can’t hurt right?

    But good luck getting them into a toddler’s ears! My kids would not have put up with that!

    • I hear what you’re saying, but with all things not everything works the same for everyone. When my son’s ears were hurting I had him drink water. He stopped crying.

  4. This is a very well done piece and offers some fantastic tips for traveling parents. As the mother of a 5 year-old that has been traveling since he was a newborn, I understand how important it is plan for making the flight as comfortable as possible for your child! And there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My son now enjoys travel more than some adults!

  5. As someone who neither has nor particularly likes kids very much, I used to HATE flying when children were seated nearby because I always got a screamer. That is, UNTIL I got my own clogged ears on a (thankfully pretty short) flight from Chicago to Atlanta in April 09. I imagine it had something to do with being out and about in freezing temps in Chicago for 5 days.
    Anyway, I was in SO much pain that I myself was almost crying on the plane. And they were clogged somewhat (though not painfully, just where I couldn’t hear very well) a good 3-4 days after I got home.

    After that experience, I have a lot more patience for children who cry on flights. Still none for those who kick my seat though; those little gremlins WILL get told off. 😉

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