Almost 70% of Britons experience health problems when flying

Published: Wed May 28 2008

As millions of holiday-makers prepare to fly out of Britain this Bank Holiday and for their upcoming summer holidays, we should be taking more care of our health – and particularly our ears - according to leading charity, Deafness Research UK. An independent survey commissioned by Deafness Research UK shows that almost 70% of people experience some health problems when flying, with ear pain the most common medical problem experienced whilst traveling on a plane.

Over a third of people (34.3%) have experienced ear pain during a flight. The second most common condition is swollen feet or ankles (18.8%) and 14.9% have experienced stress, anxiety or "air rage" during a flight. Only 28.6% of people have never experienced a medical problem while flying (see table below for full results).

Many ear problems are avoidable with good ear hygiene and regular check-ups, according to Deafness Research UK. Once on the plane, there are things you can do to minimise ear pain if you are unlucky enough to suffer any discomfort. The charity has re-launched its free leaflet called ‘In-flight ear health’ which is now available and gives practical tips on preventing ear discomfort, including guidance for hearing aid users and parents of children with glue ear. For a free copy of Deafness Research’s In-flight ear health tips, contact the Deafness Research UK Information Service on freephone 0808 808 2222. E-mail:
Write to: Deafness Research UK, FREEPOST WC4938, London WC1X 8BR.

Dr Gordon Hickish, adviser to Deafness Research UK and a family GP with a special interest in ear, nose and throat, said:"This survey shows that most people experience some sort of health problem when flying. Ear pain is clearly the most common problem by far, and we can all do a lot to reduce the likelihood of experiencing ear problems when flying - by taking often very simple preventative and reactive measures to avoid and minimise problems."

Vivienne Michael, chief executive of Deafness Research UK said: "Ear pain in the air can ruin many people’s holiday before it has even started. More worryingly, it can lead to much more serious hearing problems in people who have a bad cold when they fly. We want holiday-makers and regular flyers to be aware of how common this is and the simple things you can do, like yawning or swallowing regularly, to ease the pain." Most discomfort results from changes in cabin pressure and these are most noticeable as the aircraft descends. During descent, the air in the middle ear is at a lower pressure than the air in the cabin. The Eustachian tubes, which pass air from the nose into the middle ear when you swallow, may become blocked with mucus, and the small muscles in the throat which normally open them may not be able to do so. The eardrum is pressed inward and tensed, resulting in discomfort, and even pain.

Vivienne Michael continued: "As with many health issues, prevention is better than cure. Making sure you consult your GP and read our leaflet if you know you have a problem before flying would be a wise move. Once on the plane, you can minimise ear pain or discomfort by swallowing regularly so keep a drink handy – boiled sweets or chewing gum also help. This helps air pass more easily through the Eustachian tubes. If this doesn’t help, you could try blowing through your nose while pinching your nostrils which forces air along the Eustachian tube, equalising the pressure. Yawning also helps a lot but is difficult to do repeatedly. For a full set of tips contact Deafness Research UK for the free leaflet."
The top ten most common minor medical problems people experience while flying are:

1. Ear pain (34.3%)
2. Swollen feet or ankles (18.8%)
3. Aching joints or muscles (18.8% - as above)
4. Stress, anxiety or "air rage" (14.9%)
5. Dehydration (10.1%)
6. Extreme fatigue (8.1%)
7. Dizziness or fainting (5.5%)
8. Sickness or nausea (4.9%)
9. Toothache (2.5%)
10. Hyperventilation (2.5%)
(28.6% of people have never experienced a medical problem while flying).

We dreaded going on aeroplanes
Geraldine Googe, from London, recalls why, until recently, every flight was a nightmare:
"Like many children, my daughter Kerri, aged 10, seemed to have a constantly snuffly nose. And the worse it was the more discomfort she seemed to experience while we were in the air. "She never seemed to be bothered while the plane was taking off. It was as the plane began its descent that she would put her hands over her ears and wail, 'It hurts, Mummy.' Often, she would start crying and burying her face in my lap. She started to dread going on aeroplanes. "Personally, I find that by yawning, my ears go pop and the sound rushes back in, and that's me sorted, so the final part of a flight is not really a problem. But you can't always get a child to yawn on cue. "The tips in the Deafness Research UK leaflet have been very helpful. Kerri was quite happy with the suggestion that sucking a boiled sweet during descent would encourage regular swallowing. It doesn't work quite as quickly as yawning, but has an added calming effect. I also used a nasal spray on her to reduce the blocked up nose feeling. She was completely free of symptoms for the first time during our most recent flight."
Notes to editors:

1. The survey was conducted by NEMS Market Research and used a general cross section of the population (sample size = 528 people of whom 45 have never flown). Full details and results are available.
2. A useful guide to most in-flight medical problems and how to avoid them is available here (by Dr Rob Hicks):
3. About Deafness Research UK
• Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
• The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
• The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
• Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
• With effect from January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR), became part of the Deafness Research UK family of charities.
• For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at where you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at
• One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people - suffer hearing loss.
For more information on tinnitus and research into deafness and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at where you can access a wide range of information. People can call the Deafness Research UK freephone helpline on 0808 808 2222, or e-mail

Press enquiries: Jon Gardner, BeyondPR. Direct line 0114 275 6996. Mobile 07930 697773. e-mail:
Ref: DRUK0080 – Flying
Contact Name: BeyondPR
Contact Email:

Visit website »