Is it safe to fly with a perforated eardrum?

Yes, it is safe to fly with a perforated eardrum. However, if you’ve had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum (myringoplasty), you shouldn’t fly until your doctor or surgeon says it is safe to do so.

What is a perforated eardrum?

If you have a perforated or ruptured eardrum, it means there is a hole or tear in your eardrum. Your eardrum is a thin layer of tissue that separates the outer ear from the middle ear.

A perforated eardrum is usually left to heal by itself, but surgery can sometimes be used to repair it. Read more about treating a perforated eardrum.

Flying with a perforated eardrum

Flying causes changes in air pressure, which can cause discomfort or pain in your ear, as well as temporary hearing loss. This happens particularly when the plane descends, because the pressure inside the aeroplane rises, meaning pressure in the middle ear is lower than that in the cabin.

Air normally passes into or out of your middle ear through a tube connecting it to the back of your nose and throat (eustachian tube). The eustachian tube is closed most of the time and only opens when you yawn or swallow. This tube can become blocked when the pressure in an aeroplane rises.

When you have a perforated eardrum, the air pressure in your middle ear can balance out more easily with the pressure in the surrounding air, because the air is able to pass through the hole. This means that flying with a perforated eardrum may cause less discomfort than flying with eardrums that aren’t perforated.

To find out more about looking after your ears when you fly, see Action on Hearing Loss’s factsheet Flying and the ear (PDF, 257kb). 

Read more about preparing for your flight in How can I have a healthy and comfortable flight?

Read the answers to more questions about travel health.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 05/09/2013

Next review due: 04/09/2015