With the holidays around the corner, you or your family probably already have flights booked to visit Uncle Stu and Aunt Reima.  But before you go, make sure to check your list for necessities: airline tickets, drivers’ licenses, iPod, DVD players, Game boys, handheld snacks, kids’ pillows, and most importantly….Ear Planes. Ear Planes, you ask?

Jetliners provide a great example of how we recognize that our ears and nose are intimately connected. Deep inside our ears, behind our ear drums, we each have long narrow tubes that run to the back of our nose. These tubes are about 4-5 cm long, aid in draining the middle ear space, and are called Eustachian Tubes. When they narrow, become inflamed, or stop working, we start to see immediate problems ranging from popping to cracking to fullness to full-blown ear infections. The medical term for this is called Eustachian Tube Dysfunction and airplanes are a prime place where things go wrong. In addition, colds, sinus infections, allergies, growths, a history of radiation, and others can all cause similar problems.

So, what can we do? Usually as prepare for take-off, our fellow flight pals are gathering their water bottles, starting to yawn, or reaching for their Extra, but we can do more than just that. At Michigan ENT & Allergy Specialists, we recommend a series of interventions that can help keep you comfortable as you make your way to five miles high.

It starts with Ear Planes. Ear Planes are modified ear plugs that assist in regulating ear pressure and reducing hard noise using their exclusive CeramX Filter technology. They are simple, cheap, sold over the counter, effective for both kids and adults, and do wonders in assisting middle ear function amidst flights. One more piece of advice? Make a stop at your nearest pharmacy store rather than waiting to buy them at the airport where prices can be quadrupled.

A second intervention is topical Afrin nasal spray. Afrin is sold over the counter and contains Oxymetazoline, a chemical which causes blood vessels to constrict and will ultimately reduce swelling to help keep your sinuses and Eustachian tubes open. Afrin’s dosing is one spray each nostril and is best used 30-minutes prior to take-off and landing. Be cautious though – regular use of Afrin in the nose can create real problems of dependency causing you to need Afrin spray just to get through your day. Careful you Medallion members.

Beyond these more immediate options, other options exist. Regular use of nasal saline rinses and/or a nasal steroid spray can be helpful in maintaining healthy anatomy for excellent function of your Eustachian tubes. Flonase, now sold over the counter, can be used daily for 2-4 weeks prior to your flight. It is possible to use Flonase regularly if you fly frequently or have regular problems with pressure behind your ears – just be sure to ask your doctor. Keeping your allergies under control with antihistamines can help, too. In addition, placement of ears tubes is an option to help regulate pressure behind your ear drums. In our practice, we frequently place ear tubes for airline pilots or flight attendants who fight this battle week-in and week-out. Ear tube insertion is a quick and easy procedure which is typically performed in the office setting. Ear tubes are placed within your ear drum and create a tiny communication between your middle ear space and the outside world. Air can equally pressurize through the tube stopping your symptoms before they even begin.

So, no matter where you are headed next, keep these simple tips in mind to keep you feeling comfortable high in the sky.

Stefan is a board-certified Physician Assistant who specializes in Otolaryngology and Allergy care. Daily, Stefan expertly evaluates and treats patients in a compassionate regard in a teacher-based approach with the goal of providing understanding and assisting patients in their own path to wellness. He resides with his wife and daughter in Holland, MI.