If you suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be concerned how flying will affect your ear health. Some people with these conditions do find flying can cause discomfort or temporarily worsen their hearing, but these changes usually only last for the duration of the flight and clear up once you are back on the ground. However, there are strategies you can put in place to minimize discomfort and improve your in-flight experience.
Tinnitus and Flight
Flying has different effects on individual tinnitus sufferers. Some people find on an aircraft, they are much less aware of their tinnitus because of the background noise of the plane’s engines and general sound of air flow.
Unfortunately, the extra noise can also work against you in the event you have to strain to hear conversation. Rather than struggle to hear, be sure to wear your hearing devices, just as you normally would.
Some people find the engine noise makes their tinnitus worse. If this is the case, when booking your seat try to select one in the forward of the cabin, ahead of the engine so the sound is minimized. You could also talk to your hearing healthcare professional before your flight, about relaxation techniques and noise-distraction strategies to take your mind off the tinnitus.
Hearing Loss and Flight
Discomfort in the ears during flight is caused by changes in air pressure. On the ground, the pressure in the ear canal is the same as in the middle ear. In flight, the external air pressure falls slightly, which means the pressure within the middle ear is relatively higher.
During takeoff this can cause an outward bowing of the eardrum and can be painful. The reverse is also true when the plane lands and the cabin pressure rises, making the eardrum bow inward, possibly causing a temporary worsening of any hearing problems.
Pressure is equalized through a small tube, the Eustachian tube, which links the middle ear to the throat. This tube is closed most of the time, but opens when you swallow or yawn (hence why your ears pop when you yawn at altitude).
If you suffer from hearing loss it is fine to wear your hearing aids as usual, but be sure to give your Eustachian tube plenty of opportunities to equalize the pressure. Do this by:
- Sucking sweets or chewing gum: Swallowing regularly helps to open the Eustachian tube.
- Be awake on takeoff and landing: The Eustachian tube is closed during sleep so be sure to wake for landing to allow it to open and equalize the pressure.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Swallowing pop those tubs open, and also prevents dehydration, but avoid alcohol.
- Consider TravelFit earplugs: Speak to your hearing care provider about special earplugs, which slow up the changes of air pressure across the eardrum.
Of course, if you are concerned about your hearing health and air travel, speak to your professional to put your mind at rest.