Why babies really cry on planes – and what you can do that actually helps
We’ve all been there.
On a flight we’d rather forget - seated in a row where you are unable to escape a screaming tot.
Or worse still, reluctantly embracing the role of the embarrassed parent of the baby who just Won’t. Stop. Crying.
Sounds familiar? I know I have been here, for sure.
What is it about air travel that just seems to bring out the worst in babies, you wonder? We caught up with the experts at Hidden Hearing to get the lowdown on all things babies, ear troubles and summer travel.
Undeveloped eustachian tubes
"Babies can have a severe reaction to the sensations associated with flying, explains Sarah Sheehan, Senior Audiologist at Hidden Hearing Ireland.
"The pressure build-up and popping ears that go hand-in-hand with your air miles can simply be too much for their little ears to handle."
This, she reveals, is because their eustachian tubes, the tiny tubes which connect the middle ear to the throat, haven’t fully developed yet.
"And this makes it difficult for them to equalise pressure in the middle ear which can be incredibly painful for them and somewhat excuses the high-pitched, in-flight shrieks that we’ve all been subjected to at one point or another."
Sheehan explains that Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, or ETD as it’s commonly known, can be difficult for sufferers to endure in everyday circumstances, but the pressure build-up can heighten (literally) when jetting off to your holiday destination.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
"Eustachian Tube Dysfunction is a common condition which occurs when the tiny tubes which connect the middle ear to the throat get blocked," she reveals.
"These tubes are responsible for making sure pressure is equally distributed between the outer and middle ear. They also drain fluid away from your middle ear to ensure that the passageways are clear and free from blockages. They are usually closed but open when you chew, swallow or yawn."
Sheehan explains that these passageways are very small and can easily become blocked for a variety of reasons.
"This can cause pain, hearing difficulties, and a feeling of fullness in the ears which is referred to as ETD. This condition is most common in children aged 5 or under as their eustachian tubes are shorter and have not developed properly which means it can be increasingly difficult for them to regulate pressure build-up in their ears."
“We’ve all experienced an uncomfortable pressure build-up in our ears at some stage. Cabin pressure can be especially difficult for the ears to regulate as it builds when the plane ascends and descends. If you can’t equalise the pressure difference in your middle ear because of ETD, it can become quite painful. This is why babies cry so much on planes. But there are preventative measures that can be taken on a flight to ensure optimum ear-health for the duration of your journey."
Symptoms of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can vary from person to person, but they generally include one or more of the following:
· Fullness in the ears - feeling as if ears are blocked
· Changes to hearing
· Popping sounds
· Ticklish feelings in the ears
· Tinnitus symptoms such as ringing, whooshing or humming sound in the ears
· Pain or tenderness in one or both ears
· Dizziness or trouble keeping your balance
How to help alleviate symptoms of ETD
Sheehan recommends taking the following steps for a happy, stress-free flight.
“For tiny travellers, we recommend giving them a bottle or dummy to suck on when the plane is landing or taking off. This sucking sensation helps to open the eustachian tubes to prevent any painful blockages and can offer great relief to small children.”
For more seasoned travellers, sucking on a sweet, yawning and chewing gum can all help to regulate your middle ear at times when cabin pressure is on the rise, the expert reveals.
"If it is too late for preventative measures and you’re already experiencing a painful blockage in your middle ear, you can ease this by holding your nose and blowing with a closed mouth.”
The following will also help with most instances of ETD
· Nasal decongestant sprays
· Antihistamines and oral decongestants