Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ear Pain

I have a special relationship to my ears. I have had ear trouble my entire life. As a child, I would regularly suffer from middle ear infections. By the age of five I could pronounce "Amoxicillin" without even hesitating; that was the normal prescription when my ears would be in pain.

Ear infection pain is hell. There's no other way to describe it. Beyond the fact that the pain is a combination of a throb, a burn, and being poked by a needle, it frustrates you. You have the consistent belief that you can reach into your ear and cover the pain. Except it's on the other side of the ear drum. That doesn't stop you from trying, poking your finger into your ear as far as possible, only to come away disappointed each time.

As a kid, I had ear operations a number of times to insert "tubes." Literally the tube creates a tiny hole in the ear drum that relieves pressure on the inside of the ear, and allows fluid to drain straight outside. The tubes worked, except it meant you had to plug your ears when you swam to protect the vital inner section of the ear.

Needless to say, throughout life I have gotten pretty good at self-diagnosis. About eight or nine years ago, I suffered an ear infection while at work. I could tell. For me, besides the pain, when I have an ear infection I walk funny (an ear infection affects my balance). I calmly called my doctor, who was on call, and said, "I have an inner ear infection and need you to prescribe me some Amoxicillin." The doctor, who I had seen only twice since starting my job, was pretty amazed. He quizzed me for a bit about my condition (as if Amoxicillin is a controlled narcotic or something), until I finally said, "Trust me doc, I have been here before. I know my ears well."

I am not sure, in reality, why my ears are bad. I think it has to do with the development of the Eustachian tube, which is the passage way that connects the inner ear to one's nose (it's what is supposed to allow air to escape from the ear, serving the natural purpose of the artificial tube in the ear drum). I think my Eustachian tube is different from other adults. It doesn't stay clear as much. And when it's blocked, like after a fairly minor cold, my ears pay the price.

My ear history comes into play during what is becoming a fairly common part of my job lately. Flying. Flying is harsh on a person's ears, due to the change in air pressure on ascent and descent. This week, I had a trip to Austin, Texas, and over last weekend, my ears were blocked. I knew this was a problem. I had heard stories of people who blew out eardrums because their ears were blocked while heading in for landing.

I had talked to my ear, nose and throat specialist about this possibility. The flippant nature of his advice is something I will never forget. "Well, if you're ears are blocked, you shouldn't fly [Have you ever heard of anyone giving this excuse for not going on a trip?]. But if you must, then take some Sudafed, use nose spray a few hours before you change altitude, and we'll just hope for the best."

I was forced to hope for the best this past Wednesday and Friday, when I flew to and from Austin. Fortunately, the regiment my specialist prescribed worked. The flight to Austin was rather painful in flight, but the descent went fine. My jaws were rather sore on landing from how aggressively I chewed gum on the plane (chewing gum moves the jaw, which causes the Eustachian tube to open and equalizes the ears). Driving around Austin, my ears were not in pain, but they were sore, kind of like as if they were trying to figure out what I had just did to them.

By the way, my current primary care doctor tells me that Sudafed is not good to take, since it raises blood pressure. Sudafed and I have been friends since I was old enough to swallow. If my doctor is in the process of ending that relationship, them's fightin' words.


Patrick said...

Ross! Great time at Orinoco. Just added you to my reader. Seriously you gotta give me something other than your bodily issues...

agmon said...

you should try the EARDOC it is great for ear pain.
check it out at

bren said...

I have the same difficulties w/my ears! I am hoping we can compare notes because the docs sure don't know what to do! and yes, sudafed is good -- but it stopped working for me unless I'm at high doses (not a good idea).

Have you heard of the eardoc? I noticed agmon posted on your site - he has a product he's selling called eardoc and it doesn't seem legit at all the more I research on the internet....all I find are his testimonials or his posts, not anything from anyone else....

Edward Harris said...

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