During take-off and landing the aircraft cabin pressure suddenly decreases. The air in our middle ear is of relatively high pressure and passes down the Eustachian tube (connecting to the back of the nose). This tube is responsible for equalising the pressure and our ears normally ‘pop’ when that happens. If the ears fail to pop during a flight it may signify a Eustachian tube blockage possibly due to a cold, sinus infection or a nasal allergy. This may also cause sounds to appear muffled and in extreme cases pain may occur.
Hearing and Tinnitus
Some people are worried that the noise of the engines will damage their hearing or exacerbate their tinnitus. To avoid this it is recommended to seat in front of the wing, or to use soft earplugs. If the sound level is not a problem, do not use earplugs, as blocking outside sounds may make tinnitus appear to be louder temporarily.
In some cases, changes of pressure do have small and temporary effects on tinnitus, like change the pitch or fluctuate loudness. Most tinnitus sufferers do not experience these effects, and it must be stressed that, if they do occur, they are only temporary. Relaxation and breathing exercises can also be helpful to relieve the stress that tinnitus may bring.
Tips and Advice for a smooth flight
- Unless needed, avoid using earplugs as you seal out background noise, making tinnitus more pronounced.
- Prefer to sit at the front where the engine noise is quieter.
- Swallow and yawn as much as possible to open the Eustachian tube and allow air to enter the middle ear, the ears to pop and the pressure to equalise.
- Sucking a sweet, drinking water or chewing gum encourages swallowing and helps with equalisation.
- If you can, stay awake during descent. Your ears do not adjust as well when you are asleep.
- Avoid flying if you have a cold or respiratory infection as it may be more difficult for your Eustachian tube to function.
- Using nasal decongestants may help keep those airways and tubes open for better pressure release.
- Wear your hearing aids to hear better during the flight.
- Entertain yourself and listen to music or watch a film to focus away from your tinnitus. Relax, avoid stress so that your tinnitus is minimised during the flight.