In our office, we often see patients who have ear problems who are planning to fly. Here are a few facts to consider.
1) IF you can pop your ears easily, there shouldn't be a problem with flying.
2) IF you have a hole or a tube in your eardrum, there shouldn't be a problem with flying.
3) IF you have problems popping your ears and your flight is not for a few weeks to months, read this webpage and follow the suggestions mentioned. You can watch a video as well.
4) IF you are going to fly soon (within 1 week) and have trouble popping your ears, contact your local ENT to get a tube placed in your eardrum. Why? Your middle ear is like a balloon and with pressure changes, the eardrum stretches out and causes excruciating ear pain known as ear squeeze. A tube in your ear is just like putting a hole in a balloon. Just like pressure can't build up in a balloon with a hole, pressure can't build up in your ears with a tube.
5) IF you are going to fly and unable to see an ENT or absolutely refuse to get ear tubes, you can try EarPlanes. Read more about this device here.
An easy way you can predict if you are going to have problems with your ears when flying is to go swimming into the deep end of the pool (5+ feet). If you are able to pop your ears as you swim deeper into a swimming pool, you generally shouldn't have any problems flying.
If you live near the mountains (Shenandoah or Rocky Mountains), take a drive up the mountains and see if you can clear your ears with the gradual elevation changes. Alternatively, if you live near a very tall skyscraper (ie, Empire State Building or Chicago Sears Tower), ride it to the top and see if you have problems popping the ears.
Spraying Afrin into your nose 30 min before ascent and descent will help with ear popping and may be something you may want to bring with you when flying to prevent problems. Do NOT use afrin daily for more than 3 days otherwise one may become addicted to it... a rebound phenomenon known as rhinnitis medicamentosa.
Read a USA Today article on this problem here.
Listed below are some products that may be helpful to get your ears popping: