Air travel is no doubt convenient, but for some individuals, that convenience can come with an uncomfortable price: ear pain. If you experience pain while flying, you can thank the changes in air pressure during take-off and landing for your symptoms.
Although this phenomenon is known as airplane ear, the reality is that ear pain from pressure changes 一 officially known as ear barotrauma 一 can happen when air pressure around you changes quickly, whether you're driving to the top of a mountain, riding an elevator, or scuba diving.
If you’re planning your next vacation or business trip, you might wonder if there’s a way to avoid this ear pain, and the answer is yes. At Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing in Houston, Texas, our team provides several solutions to this problem.
Here, ENT specialist Dr. Conrad McCutcheon and audiologist Dr. Marty Lippeatt share how certain measures or perhaps a procedure can help reduce your pain while flying, making air travel a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Understanding barotrauma and the eustachian tube
Let’s explain the role of the eustachian tube in your ears.
This small passageway connects your middle ear to the back of your nose and throat. Its main job is to equalize air pressure on both sides of your eardrum, and it does this by opening when you sneeze, swallow, or yawn. This keeps both air pressure and fluid from building up.
So, what happens to your eustachian tube during air travel? On a flight, air pressure changes quickly during take-off and landing. The change in both altitude and air pressure can lead to a situation where your eustachian tube does not equalize the pressure effectively.
This imbalance can cause pain, muffled hearing, and even severe barotrauma, such as eardrum rupture. This is sometimes known as baro-challenge-induced eustachian tube dysfunction, a type of eustachian tube dysfunction.
Eustachian tube dysfunction can often be treated by simple measures such as chewing gum, yawning, swallowing, or drinking a liquid. If this fails to alleviate the pressure and pain, sometimes pinching the nose and blowing or sucking can help. Nasal decongestants such as oxymetazoline HCL 0.05% (4-way, Afrin, etc.) may be used immediately prior to air travel to alleviate pressure build-up. If measures such as these are not effective, eustachian tube balloon dilation may be indicated.
The Eustachian tube balloon solution
The Eustachian tube balloon procedure is a minimally invasive procedure performed in the doctor’s office designed to restore proper Eustachian tube function and prevent the discomfort associated with barotrauma. It involves the following steps:
At your visit, Dr. McCutcheon will take a careful history and perform a physical examination. In addition, he uses two tests to determine whether an Eustachian tube balloon is right for you. One is a sophisticated test of your ear and eustachian tube function. The second test is an ultra-low dose radiation, ear-optimized CT scan. Both of these tests can be performed at our office at the time of your visit!
Once it is determined that your eustachian tube dysfunction can be treated with Eustachian Tube Balloon, we will schedule your procedure. During the procedure, The doctor will apply an adequate level of topical anesthesia. He then gently inserts a small, deflated balloon catheter carefully into your eustachian tube through your nose.
Once the balloon is in position, he inflates it. As the balloon inflates, it widens, opens, and remodels your eustachian tube.
Deflation and removal
After 2 minutes, he deflates the balloon and removes it, leaving your eustachian tube with improved function. That’s it!
Benefits of the Eustachian tube balloon procedure
Many people try chewing gum on planes, but that’s not always enough to prevent barotrauma. Apart from improved experiences while flying, there are many other reasons to consider a eustachian tube balloon procedure.
Fast and painless
The procedure itself is quick, well-tolerated, and relatively painless, with minimal discomfort. While you might experience some pressure momentarily, it is less uncomfortable than the pain of barotrauma.
Unlike traditional surgical interventions such as ear tubes, the eustachian tube balloon procedure doesn’t require any incisions or sutures. Not only does this reduce downtime, but it also reduces the risk of complications.
Improved Eustachian tube function
By widening the Eustachian tube, the procedure allows for better equalization of air pressure, significantly reducing the risk of barotrauma during flights.
Patients can resume their normal activities shortly after the procedure, making it convenient for those with busy schedules.
In most cases, the effects of the Eustachian tube balloon procedure last for years. This is especially good news for frequent flyers.
Are you tired of ear pain on your flights? We can help!
If you suffer from pain or discomfort during air travel due to pressure changes, the Eustachian tube balloon procedure may be the solution you've been looking for. By addressing the root cause of barotrauma, this minimally invasive procedure offers lasting relief, allowing you to enjoy air travel without the worry of ear pain or hearing difficulties.
If you’re ready to experience pain-free flying, call Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing for a thorough evaluation and find out how the Eustachian tube balloon can help you. Give our office a call at 281-822-3777 or request an appointment online.