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My Ears Can’t Take Flying

Hi Dr. Jahn

I just got back from a gig in Sedona and I cannot get my right ear to regulate. This happens whenever I fly (I usually try to travel by train). I’ve been given the remedy of washing out my ears with one part alcohol and one part white vinegar —does this do any damage?

I’m seeing an acupuncturist tonight to help me with my chronic back pain – will this help me with releasing the pressure in my ears?


Dear Brian:

You most likely have a blocked Eustachian tube, which can happen when you fly with a cold, allergy or congestion.

Normally, as the ambient air pressure changes with airplane ascent (and especially descent), the pressure spontaneously equalizes between the back of the throat and the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. When the tube or the nasopharynx are congested, the pressure cannot equalize.

You may then notice discomfort in the ear, with a sense of blockage or hearing loss. In severe cases, you might even develop some fluid in the middle ear that may require drainage.

Try to open the Eustachian tube by using a decongestant, either oral (such as Pseudoephedrine – also known as PSE) or a nasal spray (such as oxymetazoline), and popping your ears. If you are seeing an acupuncturist, have her/him stimulate the “nasopharynx” point just inside your ear canal – this often releases the blockage.

Anthony F. Jahn MD

Note: this discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice which you should obtain from your own physician.

  • johnlowrance

    I don't know if you are an avid gum chewer but, chewing a xylitol gum can be helpful even if you're not flying. Look up xylitol, there are things out there that are not drugs that can be helpful.

  • Stringhawk

    Be carefull about jumping to use any oproduct with out researching it or getting medical advise, especially if your career depends on it….


    There can be some very negative effects from this is you have a reation to it.

  • ujiya

    I've done it all. I'm really frustrated at this point because the doctor gave my antibiotics, which did nothing. The ETN put me on steroids which gave me incredible back pain but did relieve the symptoms to a degree…not completely and now its back in full force.

    It does sound as though there is fluid in my right ear…almost like when you swim and get water stuck in there. The accupunturist cancelled my appointment so I'd still like to try that option and see what happens. I'm pushing through it all and performing anyway. However, it is extremely bothersome to not know if I'm hearing correctly. No one has complained that I'm singing poorly or off key but I know I'm not 100%.

    Thank You for your guidance thus far – much appreciated :)


  • Please give me more information. I love it, Thanks again.

  • garymckinney

    As long as we're clinging to medical disclaimers here, I have one — equal parts vinegar to equal parts olive oil — one or two drops down the old canal and wahla! Instant relief.