5 Ways to Protect Your Ears While Flying
If you’re anything like me, when you’re about to embark on a vacation, you spend more time preparing your luggage than you do preparing yourself. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that when I arrive at my destination, I’m tired, dehydrated, hungry, and, in the very worst cases, in pain. We may normally shrug such pain off, but travel experts and doctors suggest that in order to protect one of our most vital senses—our hearing—we need to be proactive about protecting our ears while in flight. Whether you’ve experienced that all-too-common ear pop when descending from altitude or raised your headphones to unsafe levels to drown out engine noise, keep reading for my top five tips on protecting your hearing during air travel.
1. Ear Plugs
Planes can be noisy! At cruising altitudes, noise levels reach roughly 85 decibels. While everyday conversation happens at roughly 60 decibels, exposure to sound of 100 decibels or higher for more than 15 minutes per day can cause hearing problems. Thus, you may want to consider hearing protection on your next flight, especially during takeoff and landing. I recommend EarPlanes ear plugs, which protect your ears both from excessive sound and from changes in air pressure. And when choosing your seat, be sure to avoid the noisiest areas of the cabin: the back and areas near the propellers.
2. Noise-Canceling Headphones
We’ve all been tempted to turn up the sound on our personal devices to drown out engine noise or the crying child in our row. In an 85-decibel environment, listeners tend to raise their volume to dangerously high levels of 93+ decibels.
To combat the need to raise the volume on your device, consider noise-canceling earphones, which drown out background sounds in noisy environments, enabling you to hear clearly at much safer decibel levels.
3. Using Your Mouth
Fliers can develop what is commonly known as “airplane ear” during flight, especially during ascent or descent. When environmental air pressure changes, it puts stress on eardrums and middle ear tissues, causing an imbalance in pressure that leads to ear pain and decreased hearing. If you suffer from allergies or have a cold, you’re more likely to develop airplane ear in flight. To combat this, it’s important to stay awake during takeoff and landing. Try forcing air through your eustachian tubes by using your mouth in some way: yawn, swallow, suck on candy, or chew gum.
4. Valsalva Maneuver
In more severe cases of airplane ear, fliers may need to use the Valsalva maneuver to get their ears to “pop,” releasing the sense of fullness they feel. To perform the maneuver, pinch your nostrils closed while also keeping your mouth closed. Then, gently blow, as if you were blowing your nose. You may need to repeat the maneuver several times before you achieve success. (Please note that this maneuver is not recommended for those suffering from allergies or cold, as it can lead to ear infection.)
While you should try to avoid air travel during severe sinus infection, ear infections or nasal congestion, you can be proactive about taking medications prior to air travel to maximize the openness of your eustachian tubes. Try an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray or oral decongestant pill about an hour before landing. Or if you suffer from allergies, time your dosage to be about an hour prior to takeoff.
Since hearing loss accumulates over a lifetime, protecting your ears during each and every flight is important to their long-term health. That way you can truly take in all of the sights—and sounds—you encounter on your travels. Wherever your travels take you, I’m wishing you the pleasures of immersing yourself in the soundscape.