An illustration of an airplane above the clouds

What Happens to Your Ears During a Flight?

Those moments during the beginning and end of a flight — you can’t hear yourself talk because your ears are plugged up from the pressure? That’s no fun! A question may pop into the minds of travelers — what’s going on inside my ears? Let’s explore what happens to your ears during flight.


Your Hearing Takes Flight

Can the unique situation of being in a pressurized tin can in the sky be harmful to your ears? The short answer to this question is maybe, or more precisely, only in rare occurrences. Most in-air ear problems, while they can feel pretty alarming, are quite temporary.

Thankfully, an out-of-the-ordinary pressure event would have to happen to cause permanent hearing loss, like the recent curious case of a “door plug” popping out of the plane mid-flight.

A study explains, “Changes in air pressure during flying can cause ear-drum pain and perforation, vertigo, and hearing loss.” Sounds scary, but the study goes on to say that, “… perforation is rare. Symptoms usually resolve spontaneously.” The muffled hearing you may experience during flight can cause alarm, but it is caused by a phenomenon known as barotrauma.


Understanding Barotrauma

Often blamed for potential hearing issues in flight (and lots of crying babies), ear barotrauma occurs when there’s a pressure difference between the inside and outside of the ear. The changing cabin pressure, during ascent and descent, can cause discomfort and affect the balance of pressure in the middle ear. This discomfort is usually temporary and doesn’t typically lead to permanent hearing loss in most cases.


Protective Mechanisms

Our ears are equipped with some serious anatomy that plays a crucial role in equalizing pressure — the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the throat. You can regulate pressure during takeoff and landing by yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum, preventing the discomfort associated with ear barotrauma.


Noise Levels in the Skies

How about the noise levels inside an aircraft? While the engines and ambient noise during a flight can be significant, they typically don’t reach levels that would cause permanent hearing damage. For the average traveler, the noise on a plane is not a significant hearing risk.


Preventive Measures for In-Flight Ear Comfort

For those prone to ear discomfort during flights, a few simple measures can enhance in-flight ear comfort:

  • Stay Hydrated

    Drinking plenty of water can help keep your nasal passages and throat moist, facilitating better pressure equalization.

  • Depressurizing Actions

    Swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum during takeoff and landing can help equalize pressure in the ears.


When to Seek Professional Help

While ear discomfort during flights is common and usually temporary, there are instances where professional help may be warranted:

  1. Persistent Pain: If you experience persistent ear pain or discomfort after a flight, it’s advisable to consult with an audiologist or health care professional.
  2. Sudden Hearing Loss: If you notice a sudden change in your hearing after flying, seek immediate medical attention. While rare, sudden hearing loss should not be ignored.

The notion that flying causes hearing loss is more myth than reality. Ear barotrauma and discomfort during flights are typically temporary and manageable. With a few simple preventive measures, you can ensure a comfortable and worry-free journey through the skies.

Your next vacation calls for clear skies and clear hearing!

Before your next flight, consult with your audiologist for tips on flying the friendly skies with your unique hearing needs. Contact us today!

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