middle ear barotrauma A type of earache related to abnormal pressure changes in the air space behind the eardrum (the middle ear) that usually occurs during an airplane flight. Even in a pressurized aircraft cabin, there is a decrease in the cabin air pressure as the plane climbs; as the plane descends, the air pressure increases again. it is during descent when children are most likely to experience the discomfort of middle ear barotrauma.
When a plane descends and the pressure in the cabin increases, the air pressure in the middle ear must be equalized; if it is not, the increased cabin air pressure pushes on the eardrum and causes pain. Normally the eustachian tube will open to equalize pressure, which is what happens when a child yawns or swallows, causing the "popping" sensation in the ear. in children, however, the relatively smaller eustachian tube may not function effectively and pain is the result.
There are several ways to help a child more effectively equalize the air pressure in the ears. Because airplane air is dry, this thickens nasal mucus, making it harder for the eustachian tube to open. A glass of a noncaffeinated beverage (water is best) for every hour of air travel will help overcome the drying effect. Careful use of nasal decon-gestant sprays before takeoff and before descent will also help open the ear and nasal passages. Medications that include antihistamines should be avoided unless the child has allergies, because they can actually worsen the problem by thickening secretions. An older child may benefit from chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. A bottle works well for infants, but the child should be upright while drinking. Children with ear tubes do not have to worry about ear pain, because the tubes ensure that pressure equalization happens automatically.
Was this article helpful?