My Ears Can’t Take Flying

Singing Ensemble with Doctor

Hi Dr. Jahn

I just got back from a gig in Sedona and I cannot get my right ear to regulate. This happens whenever I fly (I usually try to travel by train). I’ve been given the remedy of washing out my ears with one part alcohol and one part white vinegar —does this do any damage? 

I’m seeing an acupuncturist tonight to help me with my chronic back pain – will this help me with releasing the pressure in my ears?


Dear Brian:

You most likely have a blocked Eustachian tube, which can happen when you fly with a cold, allergy or congestion.

Normally, as the ambient air pressure changes with airplane ascent (and especially descent), the pressure spontaneously equalizes between the back of the throat and the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. When the tube or the nasopharynx are congested, the pressure cannot equalize. You may then notice discomfort in the ear, with a sense of blockage or hearing loss. In severe cases, you might even develop some fluid in the middle ear that may require drainage.

Try to open the Eustachian tube by using a decongestant, either oral (such as Pseudoephedrine – also known as PSE) or a nasal spray (such as oxymetazoline), and popping your ears. If you are seeing an acupuncturist, have her/him stimulate the “nasopharynx” point just inside your ear canal – this often releases the blockage.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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