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Can plane travel worsen tinnitus symptoms?

Reading Time: 5 minutes
"by " HearingLife
12/17/2019

If you’ve ever experienced buzzing, hissing or ringing in your ears, you are likely experiencing symptoms of tinnitus. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that more than 25 million Americans¹ experience this condition.

If you have tinnitus, traveling on a plane can be an uncomfortable experience. Many travelers are able to sit back and relax on flights. Tinnitus can make this very difficult to do, but can traveling by plane actually worsen tinnitus?

How does flying affect your ears?

You can't air travel without experiencing the change in air pressure. So, how does it impact your hearing? Changing air pressure can stress your middle ear and eardrum, and sometimes leads to a condition known as airplane ear. Symptoms of airplane ear typically include a feeling of fullness, discomfort or muffling of sounds. This can affect one or both of your ears, and the condition generally only lasts for a short time. If you continue to experience symptoms of airplane ear for more than a few hours after flying, we would suggest speaking to a hearing care professional.

You probably already know that airplanes are loud. A recent study documented that the median volume of an airplane cabin is 85 dB.² When you factor in the air pressure forcing your ears to adjust to the high altitude, it’s little wonder that your ears may be uncomfortable. If you have tinnitus, you may experience exacerbated symptoms during flights.

Whether or not noise will impact your tinnitus symptoms depends on the type of tinnitus you suffer from. Most tinnitus sufferers have what is known as high-frequency tinnitus. As the name would suggest, exposure to high-frequency sounds worsens the symptoms of tinnitus. As the frequency range of a typical jet engine is mid-frequency, the noise of an airplane is unlikely to worsen the symptoms for high-frequency tinnitus sufferers. However for those who have tinnitus that is exacerbated by mid-frequency noise or loud sounds, air travel can be uncomfortable.

Most air travelers are familiar with the experience of ears popping during the ascent and descent of an airplane. If you suffer from tinnitus, this natural popping of the ears can be a problem. The reason that your ears pop is actually your eustachian tube working as it is designed to. To equalize the pressure inside your middle ear, your eustachian tube releases a bubble of air.

If your eustachian tube is unable to equalize the pressure, the thin membrane of your eardrum is stretched unnaturally because of the vacuum that has been created inside your inner ear. This can distort sounds, and may sometimes be painful. The stretching of this membrane can also worsen symptoms of tinnitus.

The first step to preventing airplane tinnitus is understanding if you need hearing protection against altitude related tinnitus, sound related tinnitus, or both. Our team at HearingLife would be happy to discuss your tinnitus and advise on the most appropriate hearing protection. You can also try some of the below tips to alleviate your symptoms:

  • Travel with earmuffs or noise-canceling headphones. These will help protect your ears against the high volume of the jet engines. Take-off is when the noise from the engines are at their loudest, so you may only need the protection during that time.
  • Do not wear earplugs. They may worsen your tinnitus symptoms.
  • When selecting your seat, opt for one that’s far away from the engines.
  • Yawn and swallow during ascent and descent. This helps to open up your eustachian tubes, enabling them to equalize the pressure.
  • When possible, don’t fly if you’re congested. The flu or a cold can block your eustachian tubes, meaning it’s harder for them to equalize your ear pressure.

We don’t want your tinnitus symptoms to prevent you from flying. If you want to learn more about how we can help provide relief from the symptoms of tinnitus, get in touch today. Please contact us to schedule a complimentary hearing assessment with one of our hearing professionals today. 

 

 

¹nidcd.nih.gov/health/tinnitus Accessed December 17, 2019.

²ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29545611 Accessed December 17, 2019.