People on a plane. Traveling and Tinnitus.

We live in a mobile society. You may have family that lives halfway across the country or in another part of the world. Or maybe you just want to get away to somewhere exotic. You could spend a day or more in a car or months in a boat. Who wants to do that?

Often airplane travel is the only reasonable option for getting here to there. But If you have tinnitus, a simple plane trip can be uncomfortable.

When you understand how planes can impact tinnitus you can discuss ways to ease those symptoms and get back to enjoying your trip!

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom that can have many causes like:

  • Ear trauma
  • Tumor
  • Infection
  • Certain medications

The persistent ringing, humming, static or other sounds that people hear may be either subjective, meaning that only the person with the tinnitus can hear it, or objective. In the rare case of objective tinnitus, a doctor can insert an instrument that can actually “hear” the sound.

Either way, when flying, it can make relaxing difficult. It’s hard to hear the flight attendant or a travel companion. It may even be painful.

How Planes Worsen Tinnitus

Planes produce what tinnitus sufferers could consider the perfect storm. They’re loud plus the ascension and landing pressure changes require your inner ears to adjust to a new altitude quickly.

Sound-Exacerbated Symptoms

Whether or not the noise impacts your tinnitus will depend on the type of tinnitus you have. Most people have high-frequency tinnitus. Their symptoms get worse with high-frequency sounds. Jet engines function mostly at a mid-frequency range. Because of this, you may experience no worsening symptoms at all from the jet noise.

If however, you have tinnitus that is responsive to mid-frequency sounds or your tinnitus aggravates with any loud sound, then plane travel without planning may be uncomfortable.

Altitude- Exacerbated Symptoms

Most people are accustomed to their ears popping when they ascend and descend in an aircraft, but tinnitus sufferers find this much more of an ordeal.

Inside your middle ear, behind the eardrum, you have a eustachian tube. This tube is responsible for helping to keep the air behind the eardrum at the same pressure being experienced on the outside.

The eustachian tube works by releasing a bubble of air into the middle ear to equalize pressure. If the eustachian tube is blocked or not functioning well, it can’t do this.

If it doesn’t do its job, then a vacuum is created that “sucks” the eardrum’s thin membrane into the inner ear. This action stretches the delicate layer unnaturally, causing sounds to become even more distorted and, at times, causing pain.

How to Prevent Airplane Tinnitus

To prevent tinnitus, you will need to consider whether you need protection against sound-related tinnitus, altitude-related tinnitus or both. Then apply these strategies.

Sound-Related Symptoms

Bring and wear earplugs or sound-canceling earmuffs. You don’t have to wear them the whole flight. Most people only experience discomfort when engines are at their loudest. That’s during take-off.

Ask, in advance, to be seated away from the jets because of your health condition. This will be in the front of the plane.

Altitude-Related Symptoms

Yawn and swallow as you ascend. Any activity where you’re moving your jaw helps open up those eustachian tubes. They can better do their job. Some find that chewing gum helps as well.

Don’t fly congested. The eustachian tubes become clogged when you’re congested, and it can be painful in multiple ways. If you must fly, take a decongestant before flying to relieve these symptoms.

Bonus Travel Tips

Use healthy distractions. Reading, listening to music or watching a movie can help you ignore worsening tinnitus if other remedies aren’t working. Often conversation isn’t the best distraction. This may become frustrating if you can’t hear well because of the condition.

Relax before your flight. De-stressing can lower your blood pressure, which has been shown to lessen symptoms. Get a good night’s sleep. Do some yoga. Practice deep breathing. You’ll feel more relaxed and less prone to the effects of flying.

Wear your hearing aid during take-off. It might sound counterintuitive because it can make the sound seem louder, but even without your hearing aid, the sound waves are still entering your ear. At least, with the hearing aid, you have a better sound range, which will typically reduce symptoms.

If you’re still experiencing worsening symptoms while flying, speak to an audiologist. Get your hearing tested and discuss other relief options with your doctor.