Should You Protect Your Ears When Flying?

If you’ve ever flown before, then you know the uncomfortable sensation your ears get as the plane gains altitude. What causes that sensation? It happens because when you’re on the ground, air pressure on your eardrums is normal and even. However, there is less air pressure in the sky—say, at 30,000 feet. When we take off and rise into the air, the air pressure drops, which consequently, causes our eardrums to be pushed forward.

Swallowing relieves the sensation because the Eustachian tube in our ears connects to our throats. When we swallow, it releases air and makes the pressure even again. Of course, swallowing isn’t the only remedy for relief. Some people may chew gum, for example. These two things work for most people, but for others, air pressure changes bring on excruciating pain. If you’re one of those people, you should try earplugs. You can try a standard, simple pair, but it might be better to try earplugs designed for air travel.

But what about after the take-off and before the descent? Should you be worrying about your ears or your hearing then? The answer is yes. You should take particular care if you’re sitting near the engines and/or your flight is particularly long. Airplane engines reach volume levels that start at 85 decibels—around the threshold for hearing loss–and can reach as high as 100! If you’re sitting next to them for longer than four hours–what OSHA considers the “limit” for sound at those decibels–you should definitely protect your hearing.

The good news is, the solution might be as simple as earplugs. Keep those in after take-off, especially if you’re near the engines. Another solution is noise-canceling headphones, of course. And about headphones–you may want to turn up your music or other entertainment to drown out background noises, but that’s not a wise choice. After all, we’re trying to protect your hearing, not damage it. Traveling can be a wonderful experience, but it need not be a dangerous one.