malush/Fotolia

How To Prevent A Child's Ears From Hurting On A Plane, According To A Pediatrician

One of the major setbacks of flying can be that awful ear pain. One year I had to travel with a head cold, and I swear I thought my eardrums were going to explode as we were descending. And I nearly broke my husband's hand while I squeezed it in pain, all while his chatty seat mate wouldn’t shut up. Ugh. So if ear pain while flying is bad for me, what about our children and their little ears? If you’re gearing up to travel soon, you may be wondering how to prevent a child’s ears from hurting on a plane. While you can’t prevent popping from happening since this is how the pressure equalizes in their ears, you can make it a little more bearable.

Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, says to help your child find relief, “You can have them yawn, plug their nose and blow out (as long as they don’t have a cold — if they have a cold, this can cause ear infections), suck on lollipops, chew gum, and drink liquids.” But what about babies? They’re a little trickier, but having them nurse or drink from a bottle, or even using a pacifier on ascent and descent helps, according to Posner.

How exactly do these methods work when dealing with the inner workings of your kid’s ear? Posner says it helps by equalizing the pressure in the eustachian tube. A eustachian tube, according to Health Line, is the canal that connects your middle ear to the nasopharynx, “which consists of the upper throat and the back of the nasal cavity.” Yawning, chewing and drinking cause the tube to open, allowing air to go through the passage. And that’s how it equalizes the pressure, according to Health Line.

What’s going on in there anyway that makes your ears feel clogged? Why does it happen on an airplane and is so painful? “This happens because the air pressure in the inner ear becomes greater than the pressure in the outer ear and doesn’t have time to equalize because of the rapid ascent,” Posner explains.

Does the thought of your kid popping his or her ears gross you out? To prevent them from having to unclog their ears, just have them start with a piece of gum from the beginning, and have them drink and swallow frequently throughout the flight — but especially on the way up, and on the way down, Posner says.

Another alternative I’ve found and actually had really great luck with are “Earplane” plugs, which are ear plugs specifically made for flying. I bought them pretty inexpensively at CVS last year before flying to visit my in-laws in Colorado, when I didn’t want another fiasco of my ears blowing up like before. I popped these ear plugs in preemptively, especially since I was traveling sick once again, and they worked like a charm. They worked so well, I’ll probably never fly without them again. Luckily, they make a children’s version, too, which you can purchase at Buy Buy Baby, Target, or Walmart. And, no, I promise I don’t work for the Earplanes manufacturer, I just was so happy to not have to worry about my eardrums bursting while traveling to visit my in-laws, I feel like I need to share these magical earplugs far and wide.

So flying with children doesn’t have to be a complete and total disaster — at least when it comes to your kids crying in pain because their poor ears hurt. As far as them crying because they’re restless and bored on a long flight, that will take a lot more planning than buying magic earplugs, I’m sorry to say. But, hey, at least they won’t be in pain, right? Happy traveling.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.