Sunday, October 07, 2007

ERVs Fear of Flying

No, Im not afraid of flying in the usual sense. I know flying is safer than driving. I dont care if I die in a plane crash, because I know I will be dead-- aint gonna live to suffer after that accident. I hate going through security, but Id rather take a 1 hour flight (plus 2 hours BS) to Houston rather than drive for 8 hours in football game traffic.

But Im scared shitless of flying.

Ever since I flew for the first time when I was about 10 years old, Ive had severe ear pain on planes. Every goddamn time. And Im not talking 'Eh my ears are popping. Annoying.' I mean I am doubled over in pain and close to tears. Im close to tears typing this, just thinking about it. And while my plane landed five hours ago-- my ears are still bothering me.

I fly infrequently enough that I forget how bad it is until Im on the plane and its happening again. After I got to Houston I was like "*deep breath* Okay, I made it, not that bad" and I looked down... I was drenched in sweat from stuffing down the pain.

But then I had to fly again today, and its the only way home. And I get to hear the usual comments from co-passengers trying to help "Try yawning! Try gum! Have a piece of candy!" which just makes me angry because it doesnt help. Its a trivial thing for everyone else, but its hell for me, and no one else 'gets it'.

I cant do this anymore. I have never flown on a plane and not still been in pain 24 hours after the plane lands. Something is wrong with my ears (intelligently designed my ass).

Any strange tips, blog hive-mind?


dochocson said...


I assume there is a plugging sensation along with the pain, typical for barotrauma. I'm not an otolaryngologist, but it is a difficult problem to treat.

Most of what I've read consists of the usual, good hydration, use of decongestants prior to flight.

There are pressure equalizing earplugs on the market, but at least one small study did not show a benefit.

Do you get the same pain going over high mountain passes?

Tympanostomy tubes would probably be effective, but might be a little drastic.

Anonymous said...

I have experienced unpoppable-type ear pain, occasionally. It's usually when I have a cold, and there's some extra snot in my system. I can tell myself that it's not going to happen because I'm only a little stuffy, but it can be really bad. I have a mental picture of the pressurization dragging drainage through my tubes... ok, enough of that. The "fog" lasts up to an hour after landing, and is certainly worse on the way down.

Solution: pre-emptive decongestant. Give it a try, if nothing else. Make sure you know it's a brand that works.

Dan said...

My solutions to ear problems are naprosyn, guaifenesin, sudafed, hydrocodone, butalbital, and alcohol- listed in order of desperation. Except for naprosyn these are all verifiably terrible ideas, especially mixed, by the way. You should probably not take my advice, and I should probably not have been allowed to take pharmacology.

I never completely grew out of ear infections for some bizarre reason; sparing details, I can tell you that grimacing and cursing loudly is therapeutic, if medically useless.

Nikhil said...

Do you dive/swim regularly? Sounds like a bad case of ocular dysbarism or barotrauma. I would see an ENT or an AME (Aviation Medical Examiner)

Anonymous said...

Can you equalize your ears down here at sea level okay? I can do it easily by moving my jaw in the right spot. I guess that's what chewing gum will do for you, more or less, although not quite so directly. I can also do it by holding my nose (and closing my mouth) and blowing gently. I can feel my ears doing the right thing standing in one spot. Can you do that?? If not, I would not advice flying - it'll hurt :)

Anonymous said...

God knew you'd be bad-mouthing him later in life, so "intelligently designed" you some random pain just to return the favor.

Prst said...

I think there are special ear plugs that control the air pressure in your inner ear. I found something about that here.

Antonio Mas said...

Some years ago, flying from Frankfurt to Washington, there was a passenger with the same problem and the hostess recommended him to put a glass covering each ear... just to maintain the pressure...

The Factician said...

I had a bad cold a few years ago, and when the plane went up and down, I was in agonizing pain. It took all my willpower to force myself to get on the connecting flight. That's only happened to me once, so I can only imagine how little fun flying is for you.

Go see an ENT. Better yet, do it while you're in Houston, the TMC is one of the best medical centers in the world.

Kim said...

Well, I hated flying for the same reason, until I discovered that the following would help under all conditions with me. I squeeze my nose shut, and close my mouth. Then I either try to suck in air when I go up with the plane, or try to blow out air when I go down with the plain. I do that gently, but with so much force that the air pressure at both sides of the ear drum get equal. Works good for me, and might take a bit of getting used to, as it is not immediately clear how strong to blow or suck air. During the sucking/blowing, I also drop my jaw as that makes the equalizing easier. Hope this helps.

Bill said...

Yawning usually works for me.

Try going to Dembski's blog an reading for a while. That should do the trick.

Of course, you might start laughing so hard you get the hiccups. There's another cure for that.

J-Dog said...

"My advice to you is to start drinking heavily."
Bluto Blutarsky in Animal House.

But seriusly, I wish I knew a magic answer... but I don't.

I might experiment a little with Antonio Mas's suggestion of glasses to equalize pressure.
You might get some relief from the "old Style" head sets that cover the ears. And what about sound cancelling earplugs? Could their frequency be adjusted to counter-act the pressure change efffects?

And as I was typing this, I thought of Shelley Batts - a neuro-scientist PhD Candiate specializing in hearing at U of MI... and does the Retrospectavle blog.

You can send her an email - she is very good at responding, and looks like a lot of fun, plus lots of smart. She will want you to vote for her though!

Good luck! Let us know if you find something that works....

Maybe that Noble is waiting for you in Stockholm?

Vodyanoj said...

I will never be allowed to prescribe drugs of any kind, but several shots of whiskey do the trick for me. The problem then is shutting me up for the duration of the flight. (And it is a problem).

ERV said...

doc-- Yeah its not really popping at all. Its like Im slowly being submerged in water. Everything sounds like people are talking to me through a swimming pool.

And then the pain starts. Goes down my neck and up to my forehead. Continual sharp pains.

And about 24 hours later, it sounds like someone is crumpling up a paper bag in my ears, and I can pop them again, and after an hour or so of popping them, Im fine again.

Its retarded.

I have no problem hiking mountains (done that in Colorado or riding elevators on tall buildings (like going up to the top of the St. Louis Arch).

Others-- I dont think Im congested, but I might try some nose stuff if I have to fly again before I figure something out. And I cant drink cause I normally have to drive myself places after landing :) so that throws out the opiates too.

Nikhil-- I used to swim a LOT when I was younger, but that stopped when I started getting water in my ears every time I swam... hmmm?

Factician-- Im already back :( But thank you!

J-Dog-- I FORGOT ABOUT ASKING SHELLY! OMG she had a post some time back on this topic and I FORGOT! (must be all that ear blood leaching into my skull...)

Dan said...

Uh, yeah. Driving does throw out heavy drinking and opiates, and guaifenesin won't do anything if it's not congestion. Naprosyn's still a decent bet for pain, and sudafed might help. Bit of a long shot, but you can drive on it.

TR Gregory said...

I have terrible problems when flying too -- but EarPlanes, special ear plugs that regulate pressure, work like a charm.