QUESTION: I have been having increasing ear problems as a result of flying.
After my last flight from Tokyo to Detroit it took at least a month of painful discomfort for my ears to get back to normal.Is there medication or some other way to protect ears from altitude changes?
ANSWER: Dr. Donald C. Kent, associate medical director for Pan American World Airways, said that experiencing clogged ears on a plane's descent is a common problem.
When planes descend, cabin pressure generally increases. If the Eustachian tube, which leads from the middle ear to the nasal passages, is blocked, he said, the pressure outside the blocked area increases, while the part inside the blockage is unchanged.
In other words, the pressure is not equalized, and the passenger experiences an uncomfortable clogged feeling.
The reason for such a blockage, said Kent, may be a respiratory infection or that the ear passages are naturally small. (Kent recommends that that those who have a head cold avoid flying if possible.) It may also be, he said, that an air passenger, perhaps asleep, has not made an attempt to keep the Eustachian tube open during the descent.
The simplest thing to do, he said, is to swallow repeatedly, which is all the easier if you have something to eat or drink or chewing gum to stimulate salivation. Nursing or feeding infants during descent helps to keep them swallowing, he added.
Simulated yawning balloons out the tissues that have a tendency to block the Eustachian tubes, Kent said.
In another technique that equalizes pressure, called the valsalva maneuver, the passenger holds the nose closed and blows out hard against the blocked nostrils. Kent warned that this maneuver might, in some cases, force bacteria into the middle ear and lead to infection.
As to medications, a decongestant or nasal spray may keep passages open, Kent said, but he recommends the maneuvers over these.
If a passenger does have ear discomfort on descent and it does not clear within several hours of landing, Dr. Kent recommended seeking medical attention.
QUESTION: My parents are planning a trip to Rome but can go only during the last week in August.
I understand that this time is known as Ferragosto, and the Romans leave on holiday and Rome is virtually deserted. Are the tourist attractions, restaurants and entertainment spots open at this time?
ANSWER: Ferragosto refers only to Assumption Day, Aug. 15, but you are right about the month of August. Many factories and offices in Rome, and all over Italy, are closed in August and Romans generally take their vacations in that month.
In Rome, many restaurants, shops and night spots are closed, and crowds you encounter are likely to be other travelers. So if you want the full swirl of everyday Roman life, August may not be the best time to visit.
However, that month can provide a chance to see the sights of the city in relatively clean air, and without the customary roar of traffic.
According to the city association for restaurants and trattorias, half the restaurants are open in August.
In July and August, the organization will publish in most newspapers (Il Messaggero, La Repubblica and Il Corriere della Sera among them) a list of restaurants that are open that day.
Theaters and most movie houses are closed in August. Museums will be open but some will be on a shortened schedule, according to the Italian Ministry of Culture. Visitors can check schedules with the ministry's office (22 Via de San Michele; telephone 58431).
Most nightclubs will be closed; one exception will be the Club 84 on the Via Veneto.
So many food stores have previously shut down in the summer that this year a certain number are required to stay open in each part of the city.
QUESTION: A recent article on Strasbourg, France, stated that delegates and visitors to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament "regularly fill its hotels and restaurants." Can you tell me when to avoid these conditions?
ANSWER: The 12-nation European Parliament holds sessions 12 times a year. Its next sessions are June 11 to 15, July 9 to 13, Sept. 10 to 14, Oct. 8 to 12, Oct. 22 to 26, Nov. 19 to 23 and Dec. 10 to 14.
The 23-nation European Council meets three times a year. Its next session is Sept. 24 to Oct. 4. The 1991 dates should be available in September from the European Parliament (telephone 88.37.40.01) and the European Council.