Soothing Ideas for Sore Ears

What works and what doesn’t for soothing your congested child during air travel.


I’ll never forget the “please drive an ice pick through my ear canal” pain of flying with a congested head. It wasn’t so bad on the take-off, but landing was sheer agony.

While I was forced by social pressure to retain my cool through this heinous experience, should your child be subjected to this unholy misery, everyone on the plane (and certainly half of the people on the ground) will be privy to his or her aguish. As a dubious bonus, you’ll score a ten out of ten on the mommy guilt chart.

Whether or not your child is flying with a cold or congestion, it never hurts to come prepared with some strategies to cope with the pain that pressure changes can cause.

Drink Up!

If you can get your child to drink from a bottle while you are taking off or descending, the swallowing action will often be enough to keep their tiny ear canals clear.

Wait a minute: last time I checked, you had to hold infants and even small toddlers facing you, with your arms supporting their head and body, leaving nary an extra appendage to hold a bottle to their lips (which is also why I didn’t suggest breast-feeding, so don’t write me about that).

This is where it can come in handy to have a husband or friend sitting next to you, if they can rip their attention away from the in-flight movie long enough to see that you need this assistance. Really, fathers travelling with small children should not be allowed to watch a movie or pick up a magazine until the child AND mommy are settled and comfortable, but I digress…

Clearing Older Ears

Flying is the one time when I am actually happy to see my kids with big wads of gum grinding around their mouths. The chewing action of a BIG wad forces them to open their mouths wider, and I think, produces more of that lovely nausea-inducing (to grown-ups only) watermelon-scented spit for them to swallow (just watch them, of course, to make sure there is no choking hazard).

My husband swears by pinching his nose and blowing, and tries to teach it to the girls, but I think they’re still too young to get it. I have also resorted to fake yawning, in hopes to get them to follow suit, with similar success rates as my husband’s technique.

Drugs at the First Sign of Trouble

If you have already been through a bout of eardrum-popping pain in flight (either yours or your child’s) you won’t need convincing to JUST SAY YES TO DRUGS. If you child has even a hint of the sniffles, or has had previous congestion issues, get thee to the pharmacy well in advance (no, not on your way to the airport) and ask your pharmacist to recommend a decongestant.

The key lies in the timing of the dose, which can be a little like the trouble you may have gone through to conceive this child in the first place. Too early or too late, and you may as well not have bothered at all.

Keep in mind that with the current restrictions on liquids, you may have to dose your child while in flight, to ensure they receive the maximum benefit at the right time (usually about an hour before descent).

Oh, and if it’s a liquid, while you’re at the drug store, get a little travel bottle for lotions and fill it up with the amount you need, not exceeding the allotted carry-on limit, of course. See what I mean about it getting complicated?

But just like the complications of having this child, getting this part right is well worth it.

Photo #1: chimothy27
Photo #2:

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