Flying doesn’t cause ear infections, but getting on a plane if you’re stuffy can end painfully. My records show only a few dozen visits for ear pain because I handle most over the phone. If a guest felt fine before boarding, pain that begins afterward generally disappears after a few days, but it’s an unpleasant experience.
Before beginning this entry, I googled “ear pain on flying.” Internet medical advice is unreliable, and even reputable sites such as the Mayo Clinic and WebMD solemnly recommend feeble preventatives such as antihistamines and drinking fluids plus dangerous ones such pinching your nose and blowing (they warn you to do it “gently”). All deliver traditional advice: chew gum, suck on hard candy, yawn frequently, take oral decongestants. Traditional advice sometimes works but never dramatically.
The best preventative is a straightforward, chemical nasal spray (Afrin, Dristan, Sinex). When you’re sitting the plane before takeoff, spray, wait five minutes for it to work, and spray again. That sends the spray far up your nose to, hopefully, reach the eustachian tube opening, the only connection between your middle ear and the outside world. If the flight lasts more than a few hours, do the same before the plane begins its descent, an hour before landing. I give the same advice when guests call afterward. It’s not as effective then, but waiting works.