Do Airplanes Trigger Tinnitus?

By Shari Eberts

I am lucky enough to have mostly mild tinnitus. Sometimes I have flare-ups and lately I have been experiencing a day of tinnitus after any air travel. This is a problem for me since I love to travel, and most of the places I like to travel to require an airplane ride. So what’s a weary hard-of-hearing traveler to do? It became clear to me that proper ear protection on the airplane is key.

My post-airplane tinnitus flare-ups have been occurring for the last several months and are usually accompanied by a reduced ability to hear. Even for someone with typical-hearing, it can be a challenge getting off the plane at a new destination, navigating the baggage claim, the rental car agency, and perhaps customs, all with two children in tow. But with a tinnitus flare-up and reduced hearing, it is even more challenging.

For me, I believe the issue is the sustained level of noise on the airplane; according to my iPhone decibel reader app, the interior of a plane is very loud—anywhere from 80 to 95 decibels, depending on the flight. Once in the air, the sound is like white noise and is easy to forget about or ignore, but it is constant, and can be damaging to our hearing. The rule of thumb is that prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss—and that damage can be permanent.

Here are some workarounds that I have found; I hope they work for you as they do for me:

  1. When I get on the plane I shut my hearing aids off, so they act as earplugs. This can be a challenge if I need to communicate during the flight because almost all sound is blocked, preventing me from hearing. While sometimes I must turn them on, I try to keep my aids off for the entire flight, from prior to takeoff until we have reached the gate.

  2. I try to reserve a seat on the aisle and as far away from the engines as possible. Sometimes this is not possible without paying extra for a special seat, but when possible, I do so.

  3. I wear a hooded sweatshirt or jacket on the plane for an additional barrier to the noise. It helps prevent the tinnitus and the effect of reduced hearing.

These activities have helped a little bit, but have not fully eliminated the issue. I am still searching for solutions until there is a cure. Please share your tips with us in the comment box below.

This post originally appeared on the blog Living With Hearing Loss on March 25, 2015. The author, Shari Eberts, is the chair of HHF's Board of Directors.

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