airplane ear

Airplane ear is an injury to your middle ear often caused by changes in air pressure while flying. It usually occurs when you have a cold, congested nose, nasal allergy, or throat or sinus infection. Airplane ear can also occur when you drive in the mountains or go scuba diving. Airplane ear usually causes temporary ear pain and hearing loss.

Airplane ear can occur in one or both ears. It is also called barotrauma or barotitis media.


Airplane ear is caused by unequal pressure between your middle ear and the cabin of the airplane. Normally, the tube that connects your middle ear to the back of your nose and throat, equalizes the pressure. However, if the tube is blocked because of congestion or some other problem, the unequal pressure on your eardrum may impair your hearing and cause ringing in your ear, dizziness and ear pain. If the tube is completely blocked, pressure changes may be severe enough to cause fluid buildup or bleeding in your middle ear.

Symptoms and signs

Some of the most common symptoms of airplane ear are:

  • discomfort or pain in your ear
  • feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ear
  • slight hearing loss
  • ringing in your ear
  • bleeding from your ear
  • dizziness
  • middle ear pain
  • a feeling of pressure in your ear

When to call your doctor

If your symptoms don’t disappear within a few hours or if pain persists, see your doctor. If you develop a fever, severe ear pain or drainage from your ear you should definitely call your doctor.


If airplane ear does not go away on its own, or if it is not treated properly complications may occur. The most common complications are:

  • ruptured eardrum
  • ear infection
  • temporary hearing loss

Can Airplane Ear be Treated?

Treatments focus on relieving your symptoms. Treatments include: decongestant nasal sprays, oral decongestants or oral antihistamines, antibiotics, and in severe cases, surgery.