Using Afrin To Prevent Ear Pain While Flying

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses how Afrin can help relieve ear pain while flying.

Question

I was told to use Afrin 3 days before flying to prevent my left ear from the inner ear pain I experience as the plane descends. Will this work? I do not have allergies and am rarely ill with congestion.

Asked by Cher On Jun 13, 2018

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Jun 14, 2018

Flight Title PictureAfrin can be used to relieve sinus pressure and the pain/pressure that is often experienced when flying. However, Afrin does not have a long duration of action and will have no effect if it is used 3 days before flying. For most individuals, best relief for sinus and ear pressure will be achieved by using Afrin 15-60 minutes before your flight and again mid-flight if it is over 8 hours.


Below, we discuss additional information regarding why your ears may hurt when flying and how Afrin can help.


Why Your Ears Hurt On Your Flight

Flight Ear Pain

While flying, it can sometimes be difficult for our bodies to normalize the air pressure in the plane cabin to the air pressure behind the ear drum.


The Eustachian tube (also known as the pharyngotympanic tube) connects the back of your throat to the middle ear (behind your eardrum) and usually does a good job equalizing air pressure but inflammation and swelling can make this difficult.


When air pressure is not equalized behind the eardrum, pain in your ear, often times intense, can occur. When flying, it is recommend to swallow often as this opens the Eustachian tube. Activities such as chewing gum can aid with this. Yawning also opens your Eustachian tube causing your ear to "pop" which can relieve pain as well.


If you are sick, congested, or have allergies that cause clogged sinuses, ear pain can be even worse when flying as it makes it difficult to equalize pressure.


Using Afrin To Prevent Ear Pain While Flying

Nose Spray

The use of Afrin (Oxymetazoline) is often recommended to relieve ear pain while flying. It works by stimulating alpha adrenergic receptors, which causes strong vasoconstriction, shrinking swollen membranes. This action relieves sinus pressure, promotes drainage and improves ventilation (helping to normalize air pressure). 


Afrin nose spray is extremely fast acting, with effects noticeable within 60 seconds. It is often recommended to use spray Afrin in your nose 15-60 minutes before a flight for optimal effects. As ear pain is often most intense upon descent, you may need to use Afrin again before you land if the flight is long.


Each dose of Afrin lasts for 8 to 12 hours but should not be used for more than 3 consecutive days. Prolonged use is well known to cause rebound nasal congestion due to our bodies feedback mechanism.


Additional Information

If you prefer not to use a nasal spray, oral decongestants can be effective for ear pain due to flying. Over the counter decongestants include:

  • Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)
  • Sudafed PE (phenylephrine)


It is recommended to start taking oral decongestants before your flight and continue to take them daily up to and including the day of your flight for best effects.

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger Pharm.D

Dr. Brian Staiger is a licensed pharmacist in New York State and the founder of PharmacistAnswers.com. He graduated from the University At Buffalo with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010. He has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post as well as a variety of health and pharmacy-related blogs. Please feel free to reach out to him directly if you have any inquiries or want to connect! He's answered thousands of medication and pharmacy-related questions and he's ready to answer yours! Brian.Staiger@PharmacistAnswers.com Office: 716-389-3076

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