the flu and my ears

...... I've been fighting a chronic flu (for seven weeks now) which seems to have ended up in my sinuses. I haven't been flying since this ongoing battle with the flu virus and so I was wondering about my ears.

Like most sensible pilots you've made the wise decision to avoid flying during your flu. Several years ago I tore both of my eardrums while practising aerobatic spins. I didn't know it at the time but a day later I developed the classic symptoms of a cold. There was already enough swelling, even though I didn't know I was brewing a cold, to impair the clearing of my ears.

During a cold or the flu the linings of your throat and ears swell up. This swelling blocks the tiny Eustachian Tube which connects your ears to the back of your throat. With the Eustachian tube blocked the ears can't vent changes in gas volume that occur with altitude (pressure) changes. If the ears are unable to vent pressure can build-up and damage to the ear can result.

As mentioned above you may be able to clear your ears during the climb but it will be more difficult, maybe impossible, to vent them during descent. It is wise to avoid flying until you're completely free of symptoms of the flu and can easily 'pop' both ears by pushing your breath out while keeping your mouth and nostrils occluded (called the Valsalva manoeuvre).

Decongestants such as ''Drixene' spray, 'Sudafed' or 'Cold' tablets are of limited use in preventing these problems and are a potential danger because they can lull you into a false sense of confidence.

Problems with colds, the sinuses and ears were covered in more depth in some articles published here a few years ago ( It's only a cold. AOPA Magazine September 1991. p. 67. Gas collections within the body. AOPA Magazine April 1990. p. 28. ). Maybe the editors will consider reprinting these articles in future editions.