Tinnitus and Flying - Things You Need to Know

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Flying with Tinnitus - Things to Know

Traveling via planes is sometimes the most beautiful part of vacationing, being able to be above the clouds, admire the gorgeous sunset/sunrise, and watch the tiny ships sail across the ocean. But for people suffering from tinnitus, it will be a different physical experience. Different factors while being in the air can cause more discomfort to them, and it will be more dreadful for them if their flight is more than 10 hours long. 

If you have tinnitus, understand how planes can impact it, apply the ways to ease your symptoms in-flight, and turn your flying experience into a pleasant one.

How does flying in an airplane affect hearing

There is a narrow passage in your ear called the eustachian tube that modulates the air pressure in your ear to the outside pressure. In the event of a take-off, landing, or even when the plane suddenly climbs/dives in mid-air, this can change the outside air pressure immediately and your eustachian tube is unable to respond in time. This results in pain and temporary loss of hearing or distorted hearing in the affected ear(s).

Ear clogged for a week after a flight

This happens if the eustachian tube is still blocked by the sudden change in air pressure during the flight, and sometimes fluid accumulates in the middle ear for a few days after the flight. If you are unable to release the built-up pressure (even after using home remedies) in your ears after a week or it is very uncomfortable, you should consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Does flying cause tinnitus

Generally, flying does not cause tinnitus and will not cause any long-term damage to hearing or tinnitus symptoms. If you are worried and want to prepare beforehand, we have listed some tips later in the article. 

What is sound-exacerbated tinnitus

This is when your tinnitus heightens in discomfort level due to the sounds made in-flight. 

How your ears react to surrounding noises will depend on the type of tinnitus you have. For example, patients suffering from high-frequency tinnitus will be very affected with high-frequency sounds. Jet engines usually function at a mid-frequency range so you may not experience any uncomfortable symptoms at all from the jet noise.

What is altitude-exacerbated tinnitus

This is when your tinnitus heightens in discomfort level due to the altitude in-flight. 

Most people are quite used to popping their ears when the plane takes off and lands, but many patients with tinnitus find this short process of relieving blocked ears much more of an ordeal. Inside your middle ear, behind the eardrum, you have an eustachian tube. This tube helps to maintain the air behind the eardrum at the same pressure as being experienced on the outside. When the altitude increases, the eustachian tube releases an air bubble into the middle ear to equalize the pressure. But if the tube is blocked or not functioning as normal, it is unable to release the bubble.

If it does not release the bubble, a vacuum is created that pulls the eardrum’s fragile membrane into the inner ear. This stretches the thin layer unnaturally, causing sounds to distort and sometimes, causing pain. This amplifies the ringing in the ear and especially for patients who suffer from a dull ringing, will find the noise much more obvious. 

How can I prevent airplane tinnitus

  • Avoid wearing earplugs: When you seal out the surrounding environment noise, the ringing/humming sounds caused by tinnitus will be amplified.
  • Yawn or swallow as much as possible: Since you will not be using earplugs to stop your ears from getting blocked, yawning or swallowing will allow air to enter the middle ear. This will successfully unblock your ear when the plane takes off.
  • Have a piece of sweet: It does not have to be anything in particular, you can even have a sugarless lozenge. This will help you in swallowing more often and assist in equalising the air pressure during take-off and descent. 
  • Try to arrange for a front seat: The engine noise is not as loud as it is in the middle to back seatings of the plane.
  • Distract yourself: Immerse yourself with in-flight entertainment such as movies or games, read a book, or solve sudoku and crossword puzzles. This will pull your mind away from the noise in your ears.
  • Stay awake during descent: It is important to stay awake during the time when the plane descends, your eustachian tube and ears cannot adjust/react well when you are sleeping to the pressure changes. 

Can I fly with tinnitus

Yes, you can still fly with tinnitus. 

Where to go for tinnitus relief in Malaysia 

If your ear is still blocked a week after your flight or you are experiencing discomfort due to ringing, humming and/or buzzing in your ears, The Listening Lab is here for you. You can always book an appointment and consult our hearing professionals for tinnitus relief or anything ear/hearing related today.