“Mum my ears hurt” how to manage your child’s ear pain inflight.

My three month old baby developed his first cold the evening before we were due to fly from Rome to New York.   The first leg of the journey the poor little man screamed the entire way.  By the end I was in tears too, not just because of my baby’s distress but also as a result of the dirty looks that were directed my way by neighboring passengers.  As we disembarked my husband said, “Never again.  We are never putting him or us through that again.” He meant it.  Unfortunately though, unless we were going to live in transit, as Tom Hanks did in the movie“Terminal” we did have to do it again, immediately.  Thankfully a store in the transit lounge sold infant paracetamol and my little one progressed to New York a happy traveller.

The cause of my baby’s profound distress was ear pain.  The Eustachian tube, which connects the ear to the throat, was blocked.  The change of air pressure during the flight had caused pressure behind his ear drum to build.  Although the sensation of pressure behind the eardrum commonly occurs in adults during take off and landing, it tends to cause more distress in children and babies.

The ear pain is likely to be worse if your child has an ear infection or cold.  In either of these instances it may be worth delaying your flight to avoid you child experiencing extreme pain and distress.    The Canadian Paediatric Society goes so far as to recommend that children with an ear infection should wait two weeks before travel.  With a note from your doctor some airlines will waive the usual charge to reschedule your flight (check whether the airline is willing to do this before resheduling).  Even if you do not intend to reschedule your fight I suggest taking your child to see a doctor before they fly if they do have a cold or ear infection.  There are medications that may assist your child in these instances including antibiotics and anti-histamines under specific instructions from your doctor.

Try the following during take off and decent to assist your baby or child to clear their Eustachian tub:

  • Nurse your baby on the breast or bottle.  Do limit the feeding time however as excess feeding in flight may lead to abdominal discomfort.
  • If your child will take a dummy have them suck on one.
  • Older children may receive some relief through sucking on a lolly.
  • If your child is crying don’t despair, this may be helping them clear the tube.
  • Rub a eucalyptus based ointment (such as Eukybear) on their chest.
  • If your child is flying with a cold or ear infection consider a dose of paracetamol half an hour before take off and descent (if descent is more than four hours later).
  • Don’t wake your child on decent to nurse them as a preventative to ear discomfort.  If you child is sleeping it indicates that they are not bothered by the change in pressure.

In rare instances the pressure differential may be great enough to cause bleeding behind the ear drum or ear drum rupture.  If there is persistent discomfort after a flight, or discharge of any kind from the ear a prompt appointment with a doctor is warranted.

© Copyright 2012 Danielle, All rights Reserved. Written For: Bubs on the Move