How to protect your ears when flying

Keep your ears safe when flying: our tips for ultimate protection

There’s nothing quite like flying onboard a plane.

Cruising at 36,000 ft, with a new destination awaiting you, watching the land from above.

The majority of us will have to fly at some point during the course of our lifetime. Whether you’re a frequent flier for work, travel regularly to see family, or enjoy savoring the odd vacation away, plane travel is a huge part of experiencing the world.

And when you’re in the midst of all the chaos and excitement, it’s easy to forget one important thing: looking after your ears.

When traveling, they’re probably the last thing you tend to think about. But if and when you do run into problems, you’ll wish you had been more clued-up on how to take care of them.

The thing is, planes are loud. They’re also thousands of feet in the sky, which has the potential to cause your ears a whole host of issues.

So it’s important to understand how to look after them.

In this blog post we’re going to take a look at the causes of ear damage and pain, what helps ears on a plane, and how to protect your ears when flying.

First up, what causes ear damage when flying?

Let’s take a look.

Plane engine noise is louder than you think Plane engine noise is louder than you think

Engine noise is louder than you think

Can flying damage your ears? The answer is yes.

The noise of the engine during take-off and landing is loud. Noise levels can reach 105 decibels (dB). And if you take into account that 85 dB is the threshold level at which your hearing can be damaged over time, it’s something to take seriously.

What is potentially more surprising is that when you’re mid-air, the noise levels are still sitting at around 85 dB.

Imagine: the average lawn mower has dB levels between 80-85dB. It’s hard to imagine being subjected to that noise for hours on end. But when you’re flying, that’s exactly what’s happening.

If you add on top of that the inevitable cabin noise that you’ll experience: Loud and excited groups, the baby crying next to you, sudden announcements that abruptly wake you. Yep, it’s no surprise that you need to protect ears during flight.

Airplane ear: it’s a painful problem

You know the one. That awful pressure/pain feeling during take-off and landing.

It’s got a name and it’s called airplane ear (ear barotrauma). It happens when the air pressure in your middle ear and the pressure in the environment don’t match, which prevents your eardrum from vibrating normally.

There’s a narrow passage called the eustachian tube, which is responsible for regulating air pressure, and is connected to your middle ear.

When an airplane is climbing or landing, the air pressure changes at a sudden and rapid pace. So rapid that it means the eustachian tube can’t react fast enough, which brings on the symptoms of airplane ear.

Mild symptoms:

° Moderate pain in your ear
° Feeling of ‘fullness’ or ‘stuffiness’ in the ear
° Muffled hearing
° Slight to moderate hearing loss

Severe symptoms:

° Extreme pain
° Moderate to severe hearing loss
° Tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
° Vertigo (a spinning sensation)
° Bleeding from your ear


The good news is that airplane ear isn’t usually serious. You will rarely need medical attention and can use prevention and self-care to treat.

Long-term complications can happen usually when there’s an ongoing ear condition or if the ear is subjected to prolonged loud levels of noise.

Rare complications may include:

° Permanent hearing loss
° Ongoing (chronic) tinnitus

Once the damage to your ears is done, it is irreversible, but the thing to remember is that it can be prevented.

Here’s how to prevent ear pressure when flying:

Wear earplugs

People often wonder: should you wear earplugs on a plane?

Yes, you should. Not only is it 100% safe, but it’s necessary. Ear damage happens when your ears are subjected to prolonged exposure to noise over 70 dB or above. So considering that take-off and landing is 105 dB and cruising is at 85 dB, earplugs for flying can be invaluable to protecting your hearing

We’re not talking about the throwaway, yellow ones you usually find on a flight.

Invest in earplugs that have been specially designed to provide maximum protection for your ears.

They work to slowly equalize the pressure against your eardrum, easing discomfort and protecting the delicate parts of the ear.

They’ll also help to block out unwanted noise from other passengers when all you want to do is kick back and relax.

Pick your seat wisely

Fact: it’s noisier towards the back of the plane. Mainly due to the sound blast from the jet engines and propellers. It’s good to note that it’s also louder when you’re next to the window due to the rushing air from outside and being close to the propellers.

Find your ear-friendly seat from the middle to the top of the aircraft (anywhere in front of the wings is usually best) and somewhere along the aisle, giving you the best chance of having a comfortable flight.

Try noise-cancelling headphones

If media is more your thing, then noise-canceling headphones can be a great way to protect your ears and listen to music at the same time. They work by using a microphone that detects noise, and electronics that then kick in and create sounds that cancel out the noise around you.

All the while delivering high-quality sounds from music, video or audiobooks. If you’ve got a long flight, it’s the perfect way to pass the time.

Combat the pain and ear popping

Combat the pain of airplane ear by yawning, swallowing, or chewing. The idea is to open up the eustachian tube and equalize the pressure inside. So by chewing foods and gum, sucking on sweets, and continuously yawning, you can alleviate the symptoms greatly.

Hydrate when flying Hydrate when flying

Hydrate. And hydrate some more

Drink lots of fluids (not alcohol, sadly). Not only will it really help to keep you hydrated, it will also contribute to your overall feeling of wellbeing. The pressurized cabin has less oxygen than when you’re on the ground and can make you feel

groggy, tired, and dehydrated. The action of swallowing will also keep the air pressure in your ears equal to the air pressure on the outside of them.

Stay awake during take-off and landing

As tempting as it might be to drift off before take-off, especially if you’re tired after an early/late start, wait until you’re airborne.

If you’re asleep you won’t be able to actively do the things you need to do to equalize the pressure in your ears, such as yawning or swallowing.

Are some people at greater risk?

If you board with a pre-existing condition that blocks the eustachian tube, you could be at a higher risk for airplane ear.

These conditions can include:

° Hay fever
° Common cold
° Sinus infection
° Middle ear infection

How do plane staff deal with ear pressure on a plane? How do plane staff deal with ear pressure on a plane?

How do plane staff deal with ear pressure on a plane?

Staff in the aviation industry are at a high risk of ear damage and hearing loss.

The thing is, your flight may only last for a few hours, but pilots and flight attendants have to deal with the noise nearly every day.

Bearing in mind a jet engine can emit 160 dB of noise, and 85 dB is the dangerous level for prolonged high-level exposure, it’s no surprise that pilots and air staff often suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus, or some form of ear damage

For communication, it’s usual for pilots to wear a headset. But when they’re not, they try to combat ear damage by wearing earplugs. They’re ideal, as they work to filter out the unwanted noise and protect the ears, while being able to hear everything they need to hear.

Flight attendants aren’t usually allowed to wear earplugs in the air, as they might not hear passengers. But that doesn’t mean that they neglect their ears during landing and take-off. They can also take breaks near the front of the plane where the noise is quieter.

Children and ear pain

Any parent with a small child dreads take-off and landing. Children have a small eustachian tube, which means the pressure is more intense.

To help children:

° Encourage swallowing by giving them their bottle or pacifier. Children older than four can try drinking through a straw, or even blowing bubbles through it.

°Make sure you avoid decongestants – they aren’t recommended for young children.

Key takeaways

° Planes are loud, and flights can actually do more damage than you might think. So before you fly, it’s important to understand how to best protect your ears.

°Airplane ear is a painful problem that occurs during take-off or landing. There are ways to alleviate the pressure and combat it such as yawning, swallowing, chewing, or wearing earplugs.

° Aviation staff are at a higher risk due to the prolonged exposure they face. The new tech involved with earplugs like Loop Experience mean that they’ll still be able to hear everything crystal clear, just with added protection.

° Children have smaller eustachian tubes, so it’s likely to affect them more. Bottles, pacifiers and chewing gum (for the older ones) is likely to help.

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