22Jul2015

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What happens to our ears when we fly?

Posted on Jul 22, 2015

When it comes to taking a flight, whether it be a quick domestic trip or an epic long haul voyage abroad, there are plenty of things you'll need to consider before taking off. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, some 2.9 billion people travelled by plane in 2012 alone1.

One of the concerns that travellers can have whilst flying is the potential for discomfort in their ears, especially as the plane is taking off and landing. If you're looking to fly in the near future, here are a few things you should know about air travel and our ears. 

Popping under pressure 

Anyone who has flown will likely have experienced the 'popping' sensation in their ears at least once as the plane changed altitude. This popping is associated with the equalisation of the air pressure in our middle ear with that of the cabin. 

If you've read our recent blog on the effects of ear barotrauma, you'll know the Eustachian tube that links our middle ear with the air supply from our nose and throat plays an important part in equalising our internal pressure with the external environment. 

When the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, this equalisation cannot happen successfully, often resulting in pain or discomfort.

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) explains that when there is a pressure imbalance, it causes the eardrum to become stretched, preventing it from vibrating in response to sounds2. As a result, our hearing can appear to be muffled. 

If you have tinnitus, you may find that your symptoms are less noticeable with the constant sounds of the engine in the background. However, the BTA advises against wearing earplugs, as this could cause you tinnitus to become temporarily louder2

If you're interested in learning more about preserving your hearing , click here or call 1300 308 125 to book a FREE check-up with your local HEARINGLife clinic.

1International Civil Aviation Organisation, Annual Passenger Total Approaches 3 Billion According to ICAO 2012 Air Transport Results. Accessed July 16, 2015. Available here

2British Tinnitus Association, Flying and the ear. Accessed July 16, 2015. Available here.

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