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Landing and Ear Aches

This is not a question or a tip. Just interested in other folk’s experience or opinions/theories. For the past three years, my wife and I have traveled to Europe. Each trip has involved passing through Heathrow, both going to Europe and returning home.

Every time we get ready to land at Heathrow on the outbound flight (flight from the U.S.), my ears bother me (I mean, I-think-my-head-is-exploding kind of pain!). This does not happen while landing at any other airport, nor does it happen while landing at Heathrow going home – we have always left Europe from Munich and connected at Heathrow.

I only have three ideas why this happens: (1) coincidence; (2) the approach to Heathrow on a trans-Atlantic flight is somehow different; or, (3) the first landing acclimates my ears so that they don’t bother me on subsequent landings.

Anyone have similar experiences?

Posted by
808 posts

I'd say there are probably a conbination of factors. IME, you can fly into the same city repeatedly from the same departure point and have different physiological effects some of the time and similar physiological effects another time. IME, I'd dare to say it's a coincidence. I have no scientific findings...
Flight Crew often experience similar problems with ear aches upon landing in general. One explanation the Aviation Doc gave was that the various cavities in both the sinuses and ear canal react according to various factors. Some include "sinus pressure, your own ability to equalize the pressure, blood and cabin pressures at higher elevation/altitudes and duration of flight time."
This quote was taken from a Flight Training Safety Manual used by a major Canadian Airline in 2004.
So that explains one theory. Doesn't really answer your question, I'm afraid, but gives you a little background on the condition.

Posted by
8995 posts

My unscientific theory is that when you are flying the transatlantic route to Heathrow the plane is flying at a higher altitude for a much longer duration. Thus when the plane comes in for a landing your ears have more "pressure" to adapt to. The shorter a flight, the lower the altitude the plane flies so your ears aren't going to bother you as much.

Posted by
342 posts

I thought of that, too, but why don't they bother me from London to New York?

Posted by
103 posts

Steve,
I have heard that it has to do with cabin pressure... I don't risk it EVER.. I always take some benedryl on flight to avoid the pain and hearing loss that has lasted up to a day. Always wondered why so many babies start to cry and wind it up to a full blown howl upon approach and landing.. THEY HURT!!

Posted by
505 posts

Now that I think about it, it's always been much worse for me flying into Heathrow. I don't have the same issue now that I fly into Edinburgh.

Unscientifically, I think it's partly due to the fact that I'm anxious because I'm dreading getting through Heathrow, fed up with being squished into a small seat for far too long and also because the plane inevitably ends up doing a zillion circles before landing so my ears have lots of time to go bonkers. Maybe planes have to decrease altitude at a greater rate at Heathrow than most airports? And maybe there's always more of a holding pattern at Heathrow (my ears tend to be worse when there's a delay getting into one of the NYC aiports).

Kate

Posted by
9363 posts

I use Earplanes earplugs and never have pressure/pain issues. You insert them before takeoff, can remove them during flight and reinsert them before landing. They have small ceramic balls inside that help regulate the pressure. You might try those for your next trip -- available at Target and other places.

Posted by
20 posts

I have been having great success with Earplanes also.

Posted by
103 posts

WOW. I'd LOVE that.. even though the benedryl helps.. it leaves me groggy and muzzy for hours.. will try the plugs..on the next flight I take.. thank you.

Posted by
769 posts

i think ive heard of people chewing gum to help keep the ear canals active from the process/mechanics of chewing...

Posted by
188 posts

Starting in 1991 on a flight into San Fran and then onto Dallas, my ears have given me so much pain upon descent that I cried!! Then my ears were blocked for hours afterwards so I couldn't hear properly. It didn't seem to matter where (Honolulu, Frankfurt, Paris, London ....) or if there were other connecting flights, or if I tried chewing, swallowing, EarPlanes, nose spray, etc. However, this summer into and out of Heathrow, I had no pain and my ears gently popped before the plane had stopped at the terminal! The remedy was taking a non-drowsy antihistamine one to two weeks prior to my flight (outbound and inbound) and then nose spray on the plane. I also used EarPlanes and sucked candies for extra luck. I'm a happy traveller once again!

Oops, that was rather offtrack from your initial query! I think that the steepness of the descent might have something to do with the ears and that might change depending on which direction you approach the runway. I'm not so sure that my ears could become accustomed to subsequent landings but maybe you're luckier! So my vote is for option 2.

Posted by
1813 posts

One thing that always works for me is: Hold your nostrils and gently blow out your nose...this is better than swallowing or chewing gum for me (neither does anything for me)

Key point ---the gentle blowing out the nose --you shouldn't be able to exhale through your nose, and this releaves the pressure in the ear.

This works for me every time. I wait until I feel the pressure building, then do this a few times until my ears clear!

Posted by
103 posts

Tricia.. that is SO good to hear. I fly in and out of John Wayne in Orange County CA a lot ( yeah I know. and the OC is true) and each time I suffer with excrutiating pain and semi deafness for hours, even though I take Benedryl. But it's NOT a quick descent.. it's slow ( almost 30 mins.( I think it's to avoid bothering the OC residents.. they have a noise abatement law) at any rate.. I have chewed gum.. have blown my nose ( both with and without a hankie ( eeuww) and to no avail.However after an 11 hr flight to Frankfort on my favorite airline Lufthansa. my ears were FINE!!! I think it might have something to do with cabin pressure. What do you think Flight Attendant??

Posted by
342 posts

Well, that concludes our science project. Thanks to all. I am leaning toward the idea that the landing approach pattern to LHR is the culprit. As someone here said, it can be a lengthy, twisty, turny kind of thing.

I will tell you that I had one other theory, but dismissed it: the CIA had planted a coded message in my head, and the pain was the data extraction by MI5 when approaching London. But then I thought better.

Posted by
808 posts

Cabin Pressure can factor into a lot of discomfort. Headaches are a common complaint, also.

The technique Ellen discribes is one my friend swears by. She learned it from a SCUBA Diver who told her they do something similar to equalize pressure under the water.

Posted by
19 posts

Ellen's technique really works - I've used it diving too.

You can also try wiggling your lower jaw from side to side - also causes you to yawn.

And of course, sucking or chewing on something will help too (good for kids).