When our ears pop on an airplane, our ears are reacting to the change in pressure as we ascend or descend in altitude. But knowing what causes this reaction doesn’t make it hurt less, especially for children, whose small ear canals can make it really painful. Remember these top tips for avoiding and alleviating your children's pain with the handy acronym CRY AID: Chew - Research - Yawn - Awake - Ibuprofen - Drink.
Lollies, lollipops, gum… forget worrying about the dose of sugar for one flight and allow your children this one treat. Children for whom these chews are not an obvious choking hazard can use these as a mechanism to keep swallowing. For babies, use a bottle or a dummy; if you breastfeed, plan ahead to make sure you can have the feed for take-off or landing. For everyone, the act of swallowing helps ears equalise.
Before you purchase flight tickets, check what kind of aircraft you would have. Some new models are crafted to reduce the pressure in the cabin (which is supposed to help reduce jet-lag, too!). For example, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 have been optimised to ease the cabin pressure.
By yawning, ears have an easier time equalising the pressure caused by change in altitude. If you don’t feel a natural yawn coming on, fake it ‘til you make it. Open your mouth and mimic a yawn - this trick usually brings on a natural yawn within a few seconds.
While it might be tempting to let your children sleep through the chance to feel the pressure, it’s actually better for them to stay awake. While we sleep, we do not swallow as frequently, so our ears don’t have as much of a chance to equalise. If they can actively swallow, they have a better chance of alleviating pain.
Ibuprofen or paracetamol
These anti-inflammatory medicines will decrease the swelling in the ear that can be painful. And of course, they lessen pain pain overall. Try to time it so that the medicine is taken a half about before takeoffs or landings so it kicks in when the pain occurs.
Staying hydrated keeps our nasal mucus from getting too thick, which can clog tubes in the ear. And of course, it helps force a swallowing action, which helps the ears equalise. While water is best, juice will do the trick. If none of the above are available, ask the flight attendant for some ice.