Prevent Airplane Ear

The majority of parents traveling with young children worry about airplane ear.

What Is Airplane Ear?

A short anatomy lesson will help you understand airplane ear and how it develops. Ear pain is caused by a difference in pressure in the middle ear and the cabin of the airplane.  This occurs most often and most intensely during descent, but it can happen during take-off as well.
Cute Baby Boy Isolated on White
While most adults have Eustachian tubes that are more vertical, your baby’s Eustachian tubes are shorter and more horizontal.  This makes it common for fluid to be trapped in the inner ear and for the tissue to become inflamed.  When your baby has a cold or is congested, he is less able to regulate pressure in the inner ear.  Children also have larger adenoids, which are gland-like structures in the upper throat.   Adenoids are can interfere with the opening and draining of the Eustachian tubes.

How Can I Keep My Baby Safe From Airplane Ear?</h3>
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Perhaps more than any other time, it is crucial to strengthen your child’s immune system in the weeks before your trip.

  • Be diligent in hand-washing.  This more than anything will prevent infection.
  • Limit your child’s intake of sugar and saturated fats.
  • Make sure you little one is getting enough sleep.  Our bodies repair and regenerate during sleep.  A good night’s rest can combat impending infection.
  • Give your child plenty of water to flush nasties through their system before they have the opportunity to populate.
  • Make sure your child has lots of fruits and vegetables in their diet.  Not only are these food high in antioxidants, which strengthen and protect the immune system, they also contain a lot of fiber.  Fiber helps move pollutants through the system before they have the opportunity to become toxic.
  • Give your child a quality infant or child’s probiotic.  Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that combat harmful microorganisms in the gut.  Since it is estimated that 80% of all illness originates in the digestive tract, probiotics are your child’s first line of defense against illness.  Despite marketing claims, flavored yogurt is high in sugar and is not the most beneficial way to ingest beneficial bacteria.
  • Have your child’s blood serum levels checked for Vitamin D.  The majority of children are deficient in this nutrient, which play a vital role in the functioning of the immune system.  Daily sun exposure (15 min. without sunscreen) and / or a chewable calcium supplement can increase blood serum levels of Vitamin D.
  • Give your child a high-quality multi-vitamin supplement. offers a Comparative Guide to Children’s Nutritionals which provides excellent criteria in choosing a quality children’s supplement.

How Can I Prevent Airplane Ear During the Flight?

As long as your child is not battling a head cold, you can easily prevent ear problems by helping your child regulate pressure in the ears by nursing, bottle feeding, or encouraging the use of a pacifier.  Older children can chew gum or suck on a sucker to relieve ear pressure.  All these techniques are effective because frequent swallowing helps clear the ears.

There’s also a handy little device called “EarPlanes”.  They cost about $5/pair and are sized for children 1-11 years of age.  Not only do they help to regulate air pressure, but reduce background noise as well.  An older child might grasp the logic of using such a thing, where it might be a useless battle to keep them in a toddler’s ears.

Many parents ask if they should wake a sleeping child to give them an opportunity to clear their ears during the descent.  The answer is an emphatic “NO”!  A sleeping child rarely experiences ear problems.  Relaxation of the muscles helps the ears clear themselves much more easily than when a child is awake.

Traveling With A Head Cold</h3>
We’ve all heard dire words of caution regarding flying with a child who has a cold.  Panic-stricken, we wrestled with questions like, “Should I cancel the trip?”   “Should one of us go ahead and the other follow later when the baby is better?”  (we all know that it can take WEEKS for a cold to clear up!)  “Am I being a bad mother by bringing my baby on the airplane with a cold?”

You are the best judge of your child’s condition.  But before you start rebooking flights, try this bit a voodoo, which is surprisingly effective in clearing ear problems.  Get a high quality oregano essential oil, along with”carrier oil”. Olive oil or grapeseed oil work fine.  Pour the carrier oil in the palm of your hand and add 3-5 drops of oregano oil.  Dip a finger in the mixture and rub on the outside of the ear and around the base and back of the ear.  (don’t put anything in a baby’s ear canal)  Many ear infections “magically” disappear in 5-15 minutes.

If your child is recovering from a head cold, you will want to pack Benedryl.  Many mothers flinch at the use of the “B” word. No, you shouldn’t use it to sedate a child for flight.  Especially since Benedryl can have the opposite effect of stimulating some kids instead of knocking them out.  Most parents (not to mention flight attendants and fellow passengers) would consider a dose of Benedryl a welcome alternative to the sounds of a child’s suffering.

Since most trouble happens on the descent, watch your child for ear problems 20 minutes prior to landing.  The effects of Benedryl are nearly instantaneous, so you can wait until your child shows signs of discomfort before administering medication if you choose.

If nothing seems to work, know that your baby’s crying is actually nature’s way of clearing the ears.  She’s opening her mouth, swallowing more frequently, and clearing the nasal passages.  So order up a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and know that your baby’s airplane ear will resolve when you reach the ground.


  1. Molly Bricker says

    Thanks for the great tips! Can you find “EarPlanes” in airports? If the flight attendants offered them on their snack carts, there would be much happier, quieter babies on flights, not to mention much happier, well-rested nearby adult passengers. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Molly. You reminded me to link EarPlanes to the Baby Travel Boutique. The price is actually $5.00 rather than $7.00 as was printed in the first version of this article. Brilliant idea to make them available on airplanes!

  3. Ruth Grass says

    Great tips for travel with kids, Christy. I particularly love the way you have parents think ahead with tips to protect the child’s immune system. Airplane air and close contact with others can take a toll on a weak immune system. Keep up the great articles.

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