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Is It Safe to Fly With an Ear Infection?

Is It Safe to Fly With an Ear Infection?

Nicolle Harwood-Nash
7 minutes read
Last Updated:

As the world becomes more interconnected, travelling by plane has become a routine for many of us. However, specific health issues can turn a smooth flight into an uncomfortable experience, one of which is an ear infection.

An ear infection, or otitis, is an inflammatory condition of the middle ear caused by bacterial or viral infections. Ear infections can be painful because of inflammation and a build-up of fluid in your ear. Symptoms typically include earache, reduced hearing, fever, and sometimes tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear.

To ensure your travel is safe and comfortable, AirAdvisor is here to provide useful insights about whether flying with an ear infection is safe and what precautions to take.

Can I Fly with an Ear Infection?

In short, yes, you can fly with an ear infection, but it's typically not recommended because of potential discomfort and complications.

Air travel can exacerbate the symptoms of an ear infection due to the rapid change in air pressure during takeoff and landing. This change can cause pain and discomfort, as the Eustachian tubes, which help balance the pressure in the ear, might already be swollen or blocked. Consequently, it becomes harder for the ear to balance the pressure, leading to severe discomfort or pain, often known as "airplane ear."

RelatedIs It Safe to Use My Cellphone on an Airplane?

Is It Safe for an Adult to Fly with an Ear Infection?

While adults can fly with an ear infection, it's not always the best decision. The severity of the infection and accompanying symptoms should guide your decision. If the infection is minor and symptoms are manageable, flying might be possible with the right precautions, such as taking decongestants or using a special earplug that can help equalise the pressure.

When Is It Not Safe to Fly with an Ear Infection?

If you've ever wondered "Can flying with an ear infection be dangerous?", the answer is yes, it can be. There are certain circumstances when it's unsafe to fly with an ear infection. If the infection is severe, marked by extreme pain, fever, or discharge from the ear, it's not advisable to fly. In severe cases, the rapid change in air pressure during the flight could potentially lead to a ruptured eardrum, an extreme yet possible complication. It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before deciding to fly with a severe ear infection.

Should I Fly with an Ear Infection if I’m on Antibiotics?

Being on antibiotics suggests that the infection is being managed and may provide some relief during the flight. However, antibiotics don't alleviate your ear's pressure regulation problem associated with air travel.

If you can avoid flying with an ear infection while on antibiotics, it's advisable. If you must fly, using additional measures like pressure-equalising earplugs, yawning, or chewing gum during ascent and descent might help ease discomfort.

Related: Is It Safe To Fly a Plane In a Thunderstorm?

Should Children with Ear Infection Fly?

In most cases, it's not recommended for children with an ear infection to fly because of the potential increase in pain and discomfort.

Children, especially young ones, are more susceptible to ear infections than adults due to their narrower and shorter Eustachian tubes. This anatomical difference makes it harder for their ears to equalise pressure during a flight, which can lead to severe discomfort. Also, a baby or toddler is less able to communicate their discomfort or voluntarily perform pressure-equalising techniques like yawning or swallowing to make their ears pop. 

As a result, if your child has an ear infection, it's often better to postpone the flight until the infection has resolved or consult with a healthcare professional for further advice.

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Tips for Flying with an Ear Infection

Despite the discomfort, sometimes flying with an infection in your middle ear is unavoidable. If you find yourself in this situation, consider the following tips to ease potential ear pain during your journey:

  • Clear your ears during take-off and landing: During your flight's ascent and descent, the rapid change in cabin pressure can create discomfort, especially if you're already battling an ear infection. To equalise the pressure in your middle ear, try to clear your ears by swallowing, yawning, or using the Valsalva maneuver, which refers to gently blowing out of your nose while pinching your nostrils shut and keeping your mouth closed.
  • See a doctor: Before you fly with an infected ear, it's crucial to seek advice from a healthcare professional. They can examine the severity of the infection and provide personalised advice to ensure a comfortable flight. Sometimes, they may advise against flying until the infection clears up.
  • Use a decongestant: Over-the-counter decongestants can be beneficial for reducing the swelling in your Eustachian tubes, which may ease discomfort during your flight. A nasal spray or oral decongestant are both effective; however, it's essential to use them as directed and consult your doctor if necessary.
  • Stay hydrated: Hydration is key when flying, especially with an ear infection. Drinking plenty of fluids helps to keep your mucus thin and your Eustachian tubes clear, reducing pressure build-up in your ears.
  • Use special earplugs for flying with ear infection: There are specially designed earplugs for air travel that help equalise the pressure in your ears. Using these during takeoff and landing can minimise discomfort.

Is It Safe to Fly with Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer's ear, medically known as otitis externa, is an infection in the outer ear canal, often caused by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.

When it comes to flying, swimmer's ear rarely causes the same discomfort as a middle ear infection would. That's because the pressure changes primarily affect the middle and inner ear, not the external ear. However, if there's significant swelling or pain, it could still be uncomfortable during the flight.

As with any health condition, it's wise to consult with a healthcare professional before flying. They can assess the severity of your swimmer's ear and recommend treatment options or advise you whether it's safe to fly.

Also read: Best Days to Fly

How Does Flying Affect Your Ears?

Travelling by air, particularly during take-off and landing, can have a noticeable impact on our ears, even if they're free of infection or any other ailments. As mentioned, the main reason behind this is the rapid change in air pressure within the aeroplane cabin. 

The middle part of our ears, connected to the back of our throat by Eustachian tubes, balances this pressure. In normal circumstances, the Eustachian tubes equalise the pressure between the middle ear and the environment by allowing air to flow in or out.

However, during a flight, especially during ascent and descent, the air pressure changes quite rapidly. This can temporarily overwhelm the Eustachian tubes' ability to quickly equalise the pressure, leading to a pressure imbalance between the middle ear and the aircraft cabin. This imbalance can cause a feeling of fullness or discomfort in the ear.

While this sensation is typically temporary and resolves once the Eustachian tubes adjust to the pressure changes, it can be quite uncomfortable, especially for those who are not used to flying or who are dealing with an existing ear condition.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below, you can explore some questions people commonly ask about ear infections and flying:

Can you get an ear infection after flying?

Flying doesn't directly cause ear infections, but it can exacerbate eustachian tube dysfunction due to rapid pressure changes, leading to fluid buildup in the middle ear, an ideal environment for bacterial or viral growth. Conditions like a cold or sinus infection can further increase the risk of developing an ear infection after flying, but it's essential to note that flying is not the only cause of ear infections.

Can you fly with a blocked Eustachian tube?

If travelling is unavoidable, you can fly with a blocked Eustachian tube, but it may be uncomfortable due to pressure imbalance and may lead to complications like ear pain or hearing difficulties. As discussed, precautions such as using decongestants, chewing gum, or using pressure-equalising earplugs can help manage discomfort. If you're unsure of whether your condition permits you to fly, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for advice.

Also read: Why are Flights so Expensive Right Now?

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