Feb 24, 2014

Posted by in Blog, Health, Kate's Luscious Life, New Zealand | 2 Comments

Travelling with an Ear Infection

I wasn’t plagued with frequent ear infections as a kid, but I did get them. My dad kindly passed on his “tub ear” or “swimmer’s ear” genetics to me. I actually got an ear infection while I was home visiting my parents in August; I didn’t have a family doctor after being away from home for many years, and Yarmouth didn’t have a walk-in clinic. I was not about to go sit at Outpatients at the Emergency Room, as a low-priority I could have been there for days. Instead, I saw the pharmacist, and he gave me some pain relief and antibiotic ear drops. I was pathetic for a few days, but came right.

Fast-forward to February 2014 in Fiji.

Little did I expect to be travelling with an ear infection again. We were island-hopping around the Yasawas, with a package that including snorkelling on every island. 3 days into our 7 days of island hopping we hired gear to explore the reef out the front of our ‘resort’.

It had been a long while since I’d been in the water, and the first time I went snorkelling, I kept my lifejacket on because I just wasn’t sure. The second time heading out, I had more confidence and was determined to practice free-diving in order to get a closer look at the marvellous world under the water. And by crickey, I did it. I held my breath and went down to explore, trying to equalise as I went. But something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t feel right. The pressure on my ears felt funny, and so after a few goes, I stuck to the top.
snorkelling and travelling with an ear infection I still had a ball exploring the stunning world under the water. The colourful coral, the fantastic fish, a school of squid went squirming by. I was stoked with the clarity of our Lumix Waterproof camera, which was no going on its third year of travel abuse from us.

P1070743We made a less than graceful exit, as it was it still low tide and had to walk over a bunch of dead coral in flippers. But thinking back, I’d take that over the nuisance that my ear would become in the days following.

It gets worse before it gets better.

That evening I couldn’t shake the water in my ear feeling, despite my best efforts of  looking life a fool while shaking my head, standing on the opposite foot and every other trick suggested. Chewing, equalising through the nose, none of it was working. My right ear was still blocked.

I’ll into more detail of what we got up to on the islands soon. I promise.

But what I will tell you, is that I kept on keeping on. Determined not to let the ache in my ear bring me down, I participated in all the activities during the day. By evening though, after being in the beating sun, I was generally quite drained, and it was harder to keep up my fight. I’d resign to an early bedtime in hopes of some relief of the dull ache. I passed on going scuba diving because of my funny ear; I had also left our PADI certificates on the mainland, but that’s another story.

2 days later after the initial snorkel/dive that hurt me, it was the the morning we were leaving for our next island and one of my fellow hoppers shared some ear drops with me. But a one-off done doesn’t do much good. I’d carried a pack of ibuprofen tables in my makeup case across Canada twice, and not touched one of them. Now I was super glad I had them with me.

Arriving at the Gold Coast Resort further up north, my blocked ear was proving to make hearing difficult. I hopped into the transfer boat and was sat next to an English man on my right side. I had to awkwardly try to balance myself as I turned to listen with my left ear.

At dinner that evening, the struggle continued. I felt like I had thick earmuffs on, and everything was muffled. I was frustrated not being able to hear clearly. I quickly had a new appreciation of the ability I so easily took for granted.

I still hadn’t quite accepted that I was travelling with an ear infection yet. The next morning we were scheduled to go to the infamous Blue Lagoon to snorkel. Made famous by the Brook Shields movie “Blue Lagoon” (which I’ve not actually seen… I was still very interested, as I’d heard heaps about it since being in Fiji).

We took off in the longboat around the island, and turned up to the same spot we’d walked to the afternoon before. The driver cut the engine and fish began to swarm beside us, as he threw bits of bread into the water.

travelling with an ear infection at the blue lagoon fijiThe resort didn’t have enough snorkels for each of us, so we had to take turns. I hopped in the water and swam with the Needle Fish. Taking my turn with the snorkel, I didn’t last very long before my ear began aching in agonising pain. So much so, it brought me to tears.

I wallowed in the sandy shallows of the bluest water, feeling sorry for myself that this on-going ear ache was in fact putting quite a damper on my travels. Allowing the ear to dry out, I was able to pull myself together and come right, at least for a little while.
what to do when travelling with an ear infectionAt meals, I strategically chose seats where my right ear wasn’t next to anyone, so that I could still participate in conversations with my invisible ear muffs on. The English bloke had given me a packet of 10 codeine tablets, which helped me cope with the pain through the night, enough to get a bit of sleep.

Our last night in the Yasawas I barely slept at all. I was in that state of misery where all I wanted to do was sleep, but it just wouldn’t come. Throughout the night I got up and went outside to lay in the hammock in hopes of the cool breeze knockign me out. After an hour of being outside, I went back to my bed to try to get comfortable.

At 6.30am I was back in tears from the aching. Thom didn’t know what to do with me. We’d talked to a few of the volunteers who were staying down the beach, and they’d mentioned that there was a sea plane that flies between the mainland for $220 Fijian Dollars.

As soon as he could, Thom went out to talk to Filo, the hostess at the resort, to go about organising me to get on the sea plane, so that I could get to the doctor. We were scheduled to take the Yasawa Flyer back to the mainland at 1pm that afternoon, but if I could get back sooner, we thought that might be best.

Why do I always get sick at the end of my travels?

That plan fell through, as the 10am seaplane was full and the next one wasn’t until 3pm. And for foreigners, it actually costed $375 Fijian dollars. Well isn’t that a whole lot of money to arrive an hour early than we would for free. I wasn’t about to do that.

I did opt out of going on the Sawailau Caves trip though, even though I was advised that they wouldn’t issue a refund.

Ugh, travelling with an ear infection was suddenly becoming as much of a pain in my ass, as my ear!

I accepted the fact that I’d just have to forfeit the money. I couldn’t risk getting my ear wet again, so I sent Thom with the waterproof camera, and instructions to take heaps of photos for me.
travelling with an ear infection and missing outFilo ended up surprising us, by sending the English lady with Thom on our pre-paid voucher, and giving me the $60 cash that she’d paid for the tour. So all was not lost in the end.

Later that afternoon we made it to the Flyer. I was rationing my gifted codeine pills, 2 for the boat, 2 for the night, and then 2 for the flight back to New Zealand. I survived the 5 hour boat ride with my invisible ear muffs on, and held a bottle of water to my ear.

travelling with an ear infection on a boatMy ear had actually started to swell, showing definite signs of infection. Thom took photos of both my ears to compare. I’m not sure if I was better or worse off knowing that my ear hole was slowly closing.

travelling with an ear infectionArriving back on the mainland, I asked at the dock where the closest chemist was. Who knew there was one right at the port, on the way to the bus we were about to catch. I walked in and went straight to the counter to ask for drops and pain relief. By this point it had now been 5 days since the inital water. The lady gave me drops for treating and preventing Swimmer’s Ear, which I later found out had no antibiotics in them.

Regardless, I got myself on a very strict application of drops every four hours. I was apprehensive about flying the next day, but determined to get home, and not have a repeat of Thailand again.

Travelling with an Ear Infection… and flying

My new friends on the islands had regaled me with stories of people they knew who’d flown with an ear infection, and their stories generally ended with burst ear drums and bleeding from the ear. Great. I refused to do any other research of possible outcomes. I was going home, and that was my only option.

Thom gave me one instruction prior to the airport: “Under no circumstances are you to volunteer information about your aching ear.”

Remembering back to the time I mentioned I’d had food poisoning and been removed from the plane, we did not want a repeat performance of that. I just needed to get myself back to New Zealand, and then I could get to the doctor.

I strategically timed the taking of my last codeine tablets prior to the flight. Even though I wasn’t going to say anything, I felt certain it was obvious. It felt like the swelling which had spread to the side of my face, was completely visible. You’ll probably look at the photo and wonder what I’m talking about… but there is a giant lump on my cheek, next to my ear.

flying - travelling with an ear infectionNow what I was expecting to be a painful flight, was surprisingly not. You see, despite my frequent travelling, I am still not well versed in the layout of the plane/seating numbers. Our tickets had assigned us seats 23A and 23B. As we boarded, I joked to the staff greeting us by asking “which way to First Class?” He chuckled, and informed me that yes, I’d be walking right through First Class in order to get to my seat.

We passed First Class, and then the more spacious seats, and entered Economy. Looking above, we realised we had arrived at seat 35. We were in fact seated back in the Space Seats! Whaaaat??! Not sure how that happened.

travelling with an ear infection - flyingWe had our own bin for our carry on baggage. I didn’t take advantage of the free drinks, because I was already on the codeine. But the foods was nice.

There was so much privacy, and space between the two of us, I actually had to lean over the wall in order to talk to Thom. We had more leg room than we knew what to do with. We had down pillows to cosy up to, and an endless supply of movies to watch. We were giddy with excitement, and a part of me was disappointed that our flight was only 2.5 hours. That part disappointed was NOT my sore ear.

Going up was better than going down. Perhaps it was the drugs wearing off, or just the change in pressure. I made it through Immigration and Customs in NZ with my invisible ear muffs, and I didn’t cry. Although I was useless if Thom tried to talk to me while I was walking ahead – I had no idea.

During the four hour car ride back up to the Far North, I noticed  suddenly my left ear was aching too. It had been my reliable, ‘good’ ear, and now it was only relatively better

I woke up at 4am on Monday morning like a child on Christmas morning.

“Is it time to go to the doctor yet?? Only 4 more hours…”

Bright and early Monday morning we were at the doctors office. A nurse saw me and said “woah…” as she looked in both my ears. She got the doctor to come look, and her reactions was also “woah!” as she stuck that crazy tool inside my ear. Feeling great about the situation now!

I’d also broken out into some hideous rash on my right upper arm, which was hideously itchy and painful, and was rocking quite a high fever as well, to go along with my now TWO ear infections.

The good news was, I was maxed out; I could not have any more infected ears than I already had. Four prescriptions and bloodwork later, I was asked to return the next day for a follow up. They sent me for more bloodwork again.
travelling with an ear infectionA week after getting the antibiotics, I returned to the medical centre to be checked out again. Still red and a bit oozy, I was put on a second round of antibiotics and they did a swab of my ear.

One more week has gone by and I’m still not convinced that it is back to 100%, so I’ll be seeing a doctor this afternoon to fully investigate. I may have to go on the waiting list for the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, who is currently on vacation until mid-March.

Perhaps waiting 6 days to see a doctor or do anything about the initial situation probably wasn’t a great idea, but what would you do when you’re on a pretty secluded island and travelling with an ear infection?

I know next time I go anywhere with snorkelling available, I will making sure I take my own drops though, that’s for sure. And I’ll likely have to wear blue-tac in my ears when in the water from now on.


I’d love to hear from you! Have you had any experiences travelling with an ear infection? Any tips or tricks for prevention or treating them when a doctor is not available? Share in the comments below.

  1. Oh you poor thing! I used to get ear infections all the time as a kid, but getting one while traveling as an adult? Sounds miserable. I was sick for three weeks in Beijing and it was just awful.

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