It Hurts in Flight – Barotrauma




Aero-odantalgia refers to symptoms related to various dental ailments due to change in ambient pressure in flight. It commonly presents as pain in tooth due to trapped air in a dental cavity after a filling has been done. Other reasons for dental pain could be due to infection of the gums or the root canal or even referred pain from maxillary sinus (Sinus Barotrauma).

Aero-odantalgia can be prevented by regular dental care and periodic dental check up.

Symptoms Due to expanding Intestinal Gases

The stomach and the intestines normally contain variable amount of gas. The quantity of gas depends upon the type of food consumed, its fermentation and digestion. During constipation or diarrhoea, the quantity of gas in the intestines may be more than what is normally present.

Obeying the Boyle’s Law, as the ambient pressure continues falling during ascent, the intestinal gas expands and gets expelled spontaneously at regular intervals. However, if the quantity is more or does not escape from natural orifices, one may suffer from abdominal distention and painful cramps. The discomfort may be tolerable at low altitude but can become severe at higher altitude. It is advisable to initiate descent, if the pain and discomfort is not relieved.

Adherence to the following habits may help reduce abdominal symptoms due to expanding intestinal gases in flight:-

  • It is advisable to cultivate regular eating habits.
  • One must avoid eating in a hurry.
  • It is safer to avoid certain foods which are known to produce more gas e.g. cabbage, cucumber, radish or any other food that may not ‘agree with you’.
  • Avoid chewing gum, since one tends to swallow more air while chewing it.
  • Aerated or carbonated drinks must not be consumed before flying.

Read More


1. Ernsting’s Aviation Medicine. Rainford DJ, Gradwell DP (Editors). 4th Edition. Hodder Arnold, London 2006.

2. Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine. DeHart RL, Davis JR (Editors). 3rd Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia 2002.

3. Human Performance & Limitations – JAA ATPL Theoretical Knowledge Manual. 2nd Edition. Jeppesen GmbH, Frankfurt 2001.

Acknowledgement  Image courtesy and Wikimedia Commons

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