how to prevent

toddler ear pain

during flights

This was one of my biggest fears before my first flight with a baby.  What if his ears hurt?  What if he’s in pain?  What can I do to prevent toddler ear pain or, better still, avoid it?  I read lots of tips online and got as prepared as I can.  But you know what? Nothing happened.  He was fine and didn’t seem to be bothered by his ears at all.  As a matter of fact, having flown on over 100 flights with somewhere between 1 and 4 young children, ages 2 months to 6 years, we’ve only had a child experience significant ear pain one time.  Some of them have maybe mentioned that their ear feels funny but, thankfully, serious ear discomfort has not been something we have dealt with often.

Having said that, you know what I say, it is way better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.  (Check out my blog post on what I pack in my carry-on when flying with little ones).  So below is the list of strategies I always have up my sleeve just in case one of the children – or grown-ups – experience ear pain while flying. 

1. breastfeed, bottle feed or use a pacifier

The sucking motion used when nursing or using a pacifier opens up the ear tubes and equalizes pressure.  This action tends to prevent ear pain very well in babies.  I love taking my nursing pillow on board with me (check this post for everything I always bring on board with me) so it makes it so much easier to get seated, and start nursing the baby right away.  By the time we’re in the sky, the pressure equalizes and, if I’m lucky, baby’s fast asleep.


2. drink water 

Drinking for children and adults does what nursing does for babies.  It’s the process of swallowing that really does the trick.  If the child is old enough to understand, tell them to take small sips and swallow slowly.


3. chew gum or suck on a hard candy

This is another way to isolate that swallowing motion in order to release any pressure difference in the ear tubes.  Chewing gum forces you to swallow slowly and methodically every once in a while.  Sucking on a hard candy does the same.  Hey, the child might even be slightly consoled just by the fact that they get candy.


4. pinch your nose and blow gently

This is my personal favorite technique and the one that always comes through for me.  It is important not to blow with all your might though – that might cause more harm than good. 


5. distraction 

Lastly, if all else fails, tell a story, play I-spy, watch a video, sing a song.  Sometimes, just changing the subject can give the child some breaks from focusing on the discomfort.

Again, even though we take dozens of flights per year, dealing with significant ear pain during flights with my children is a very rare occurrence.  So, yes, be prepared, but don’t let it scare you too much.  Hopefully, you won’t have to use any of these tools.  I also have an awesome free downloadable list of all the travel medications moms shouldn’t travel without.

What are some of you strategies to help prevent toddler ear pain during flights?  Comment below what has worked best for you.