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DO YOUR EARS GET PLUGGED UP?

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For many with a cold or sniffles, the bane of winter air travel is stopped-up ears. But there are ways to deal with it.

"Rapid change in air pressure can cause a problem," said Dr. James Runnels of the Travel Medicine Service at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "The result can be difficulty in hearing and, in some cases, pain."If the traveler has a cold, the problem can be compounded. In fact, people with severe head colds, high fever or sinus pain may want to postpone their flights, especially if the traveler is a child.

But if the flight must be made, decongestants and/or nasal sprays can be helpful if used before take-off, he continued. For long flights, he suggests timing the decongestant doses so that it can be taken an hour before landing. Also, nasal sprays are most effective if taken immediately before landing.

For air travelers not suffering from colds, time usually takes care of stopped-up ears. But if that does not occur readily, Runnels suggests:

- Chew gum. This is particularly helpful for children because it is something they already know how to do. It also can work for adults.

- Block nostrils with your fingers and blow gently.

- Take an antihistamine or decongestant before boarding.