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Do you know why babies sometimes cry hysterically during a flight, especially towards the end of the flight? I do, and I’ll tell you why. No, they are not hungry and they don’t need to go to the bathroom. They are likely suffering from ear pains due to the change in air pressure during a flight descent.
How can I be so sure? Because I experience the pain myself, and I have flown often enough to see a pattern. The timing is almost impeccably predictable — some babies almost always begin to bawl within seconds after I feel the pain myself.
It’s a kind of pain I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone else.
It’s Not Just Mere Discomfort
I always know when the plane has begun its descent long before the announcement is made, or even before the descent can be felt by most passengers. This is because any changes in air pressure affect my ear in a significant way.
I had the most intense pain in one of my ears the first time I experienced it. I tried to pop my ear, swallow to see if I could ease the pain, rub my ear, and tilt my head sideways. When all had failed, I literally had to bite down on my lips to keep myself from crying.
Let me be clear. Some people experience air pressure discomfort — where sounds get muffled and there’s an uncomfortable pressure in the ear. I’ve experienced ear discomfort, but an ear pain is different. You almost feel like your head is going to explode. Your ear drums are going to pop. Or you think you’re going deaf. Sometimes the pressure behind your head gets so big that you almost feel like your eyes are going to pop out. Maybe even a combination of all of them.
Advice like swallowing, chewing gum, popping ear, yawning don’t always work. They can sometimes help, but they are not consistently effective. When you are dealing with such pain, you really don’t want to take the chance of having to experience the pain again.
What Caused The Pain?
I eventually talked to my doctor who referred me to a ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist. There really isn’t much that can be done — some people just have blocked eustachian tube, which may caused pain or discomfort when pressure can’t be equalized.
After numerous attempts, there are two remedies that really worked for me:
I never travel without my EarPlanes. You put it on before the flight and don’t take it off until the plane has reached a steady altitude. I made the mistake of only putting it on right before descent, so it hadn’t always been effective or pain free. I know this works because I can feel the air pressure equalizing with the EarPlanes.
In fact, I realized I had done it wrong when I experienced the pain again last year. It got so bad at one point that my ear was actually bleeding during the flight. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Put on the EarPlanes before takeoff and keep it on until the altitude had stabilized.
I used to get a nasal spray prescription from my doctor. Since then, I’ve gone with over the counter (OTC) decongestant nasal spray. Afrin is a common nasal spray, but any OTC decongestant nasal spray should do. The nasal spray is used to unblock the Eustachian tube. I have been supplementing Earplanes with the nasal spray for increased effectiveness, even when I don’t have a cold.
I love to travel. Without these remedies, flying would be an immensely painful and intolerable experience.
What can you do if you have a crying baby during descent? Parents, you may be able to help by giving babies a bottle or pacifier. According to the article, “Babies traveling on airplanes cannot intentionally pop their ears, but may do so if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Crying, similar in function to yawning, will also enable equalization of air pressure.”
What if you happen to sit near to a crying baby? You can’t do much anyway during a flight’s descent. Just try to be understanding. Trust me, the babies are not intentionally trying to destroy your peace in a confined space, and the parents are often doing their best to calm the babies down. Let them cry out their pain. Once the pain subsides, they’ll stop with the crying too.