Protecting Sensitive Ears.

HeadphonesThere are two main issues for sensitive ears when flying. First there is noise, loud, unfamiliar or both, and there is pain associated with changes in cabin pressure. While the latter can be uncomfortable for anybody, it’s a whole lot harder when you have difficulty communicating how it feels. Noises are a problem that lots of us see with our children in other situations aside from flying.

The good news is that you can do a lot in preparation before you ever leave home. You have two things to figure out. The first of these is which remedies will your child tolerate ? Some of the things that work for others may just be totally unsuited to your child. The second thing to find out is, of the “acceptable” remedies, which ones actually work.

Let’s look at noise. The really good news here is that you can answer both questions at home. No, we’re not saying that your house is noisy ! What we are saying is that, if your child is upset by loud or strange noises, you’ll find plenty of those somewhere locally.

If your child is considerably affected in this way, you probably have already figured the best means to deal with this and could possibly tell us some of the answers.  In your case, take whatever works at home with you, when you travel. There’s a very high probability that you’ll need it. In fact, if two different things work, take both.

If your child is only overwhelmed by noise occasionally, then you should work on something before you leave. One of the best answers here is noise-cancelling headphones attached to the device of your choice. The choices are limitless. You could go crazy and spend well over $ 300. Alternately, we found something good, that worked, in Wal-Mart for around $ 20. Once you’ve found something, try it out in a situation where you have reason to suspect that your child would struggle without them.

You might be able to use the, generally cheaper, type of earphones that fit into the ear but there are things to consider with this. The obvious one is, does your child tolerate things being placed into their ear ? The other possible issue is for kids that can hear a pin drop from a block away, they may still be disturbed by “outside” noises.

The remaining possibility is plain, ordinary, foam ear plugs. The plus side of these is that they cheap and they’re easy to find. The downside to these will be, are they tolerated ?

Now let’s look at cabin pressure changes. In this case, you don’t have a good way to see if they work in advance of actually using them. That may be not quite true. Somebody did suggest that you could try this out in a very fast elevator in a very tall building. While we accept the theory of this, we have to guess that packing your child into a tiny, crowded, space full of strangers and then closing all possible exits, may lead you to have more problems that just their ears !

Now, it’s not all bad news. Everything here can be tested in advance for how well it is tolerated. Once you know which things are accepted, take them all !

Start by looking at EarPlanesTM by Cirrus Healthcare. These are plastic plugs that fit into the ear and help to stabilize pressure. They’re easy to buy at stores like Walgreen’s and CVS. They work well for many people. They come in child and adult sizes. Try a pair and see if your child can tolerate having them in their ears. If they do, take them with you.

Next, how is your child with either chewing gum or sucking hard candy ? Food issues may mean that these remedies are unsuitable for some. On the other hand, if they merely represent things that you prefer to discourage, this might prove to be a worthwhile “exceptional case”.

How is your child with drinking through a straw ? The sucking can really help. Either your child can already do this or it’s a skill that may be easily taught. Take some straws with you.

Our favorite variant on this is sucking on a straw from a juice box. Here’s why. If you are careful when puncturing the box with the straw, you are left with a, nearly, air-tight seal between the straw and the box. This means that you end up sucking against a vacuum and that requires much more sucking effort than drinking with a straw from ,say, a glass. Of course, you can’t do this if you wiggle the straw around to enlarge the hole ! The tough part about this suggestion is that there are few, if any, juice boxes smaller than the 3.5 oz limit that you can take through security. You need to be able to purchase them from a concession after you’ve gone through. If unable to purchase them there, you still have those straws (see above), don’t you ? If you don’t ordinarily permit your child to drink juice, think “exceptional case”, as above.

Then, there’s nose blowing.  Have plenty of tissues with you just in case none of the above has worked. This will work best if you can assist and, gently, constrict the nose enough to close it off. This builds internal pressure while attempting to blow and may be enough to overcome the changes in the cabin pressure.

Now let’s look at both issues. Oh boy ! It does make things harder if you have to deal with both issues. It doesn’t, however, make them impossible.

The first thing to consider in this case is, when is each issue going to come into play ? For the airport, the issue will be noise and not cabin pressure. In fact noise will, probably, be the bigger issue throughout with the exception of the ascent and descent portions of the flight.

There are a couple of things that you can do and, again, you can do some of the testing at home. You could, for example, see whether the EarPlanesTM help with noise tolerance. They aren’t made for that purpose but they do reduce noise somewhat and, with luck, that somewhat may be good enough.

If that isn’t the answer, you can’t reply on noise cancelling headphones to deal with cabin pressure but they will still be effective against noise and you can go with the candy, gum or straw drinking solution in order to tackle the pressure.

So, find your noise solutions before you leave home and check which pressure solutions might work and take all that do.

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