Q. I suffer terribly from ear pain when flying. I take the decongestant pseudoephedrine, chew gum and blow my nose, but none of these strategies is working anymore to relieve the pressure. Do you have any recommendations?
A. During the holidays, millions of people will fly to visit family and friends. Ear pain can be excruciating on descent. We recently received this recommendation from someone with experience:
“I have been a flight attendant for more than 17 years, and I have seen and heard it all when it comes to ear pain on descent. I’ve had passengers screaming and crying. One passenger’s eardrum exploded, shooting blood on the white shirt of the passenger next to him.
“This is a serious problem, and the medications people take for it don’t always work. I was lucky to have been given an Ear Ease years ago as a baby-shower gift. After my son was born and I went back to work, I took the Ear Ease with me every time I flew. I’ve helped so many people, both kids and adults, in terrible pain.
“We used to use foam cups with hot paper towels in them, but our company told us not to use them anymore. There was a worry that someone could be burned if the towel dripped. Many people ask me where to get the Ear Ease device. I tell them to check the Internet. It is a lifesaver if you are flying with head or ear congestion.”
Ear Ease resembles a headphone ear cup. Hot tap water in the base heats the air around the ear and helps equalize the pressure in the eustachian tube that runs between the inside of the ear and the throat. There is a picture and a description at www.EarEase.com.
Q. My husband has suffered unbearable headaches for more than 40 years. The doctors have not found a cause.
The headaches can come in cycles that last for weeks. A few are so severe that he cannot stand any noise or light and goes to bed.
The prescriptions give him too many side effects. Are there any natural treatments that might help?
A. When doctors hear the word “natural,” they often shudder because they think it connotes “unscientific.” In this case, two natural remedies – oxygen and melatonin – have been shown to provide pain relief for migraine and cluster headaches (American Journal of Emergency Medicine, November 2012; Current Neuropharmacology, June 2012).
One reader shared his story: “I am 30 years old and have suffered with cluster headaches for nine years. I would get them every day for a month straight. I tried pills, but they never worked.
“My doctor told me to try oxygen, and it has worked miracles for me. The pain is gone within minutes instead of the usual hours.”
We discuss melatonin, oxygen and many other treatments in our Guide to Headaches and Migraines. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (65 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. M-98, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q. My 70-year-old husband is taking two full-size aspirins a day to prevent heart problems. There are no heart problems in his family. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him this is too much. Your take?
A. Long-term aspirin use is NOT a do-it-yourself project. Despite the many benefits of aspirin, this drug can cause life-threatening bleeding ulcers. This is a big dose, and your husband must discuss it with his doctor.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”