Flying With Tinnitus: 8 Tips To Travel Safely And Stress-Free

person with tinnitus on airplane

While travel is often a highlight of the holidays, many people who experience tinnitus may find themselves anxious at the thought of taking to the skies this season. Between the background hum of airplane engines and the impact of inflight air pressure changes, tinnitus sufferers often fear that flying will exacerbate the already frustrating ringing in the ears. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons to relax and enjoy the ride. But before we share tips for safe holiday travel, let’s answer some of the biggest questions that arise regarding air travel and tinnitus.

Does Airplane Pressure Affect Tinnitus?

Most of us have experienced the momentary discomfort that changes in air pressure can have on our ears, usually in the form of ears popping during take-off and landing. This popping sensation is a product of the Eustachian Tubes. Designed to protect the middle ear, these tubes help to maintain equal pressure on both sides of the eardrum. When pressure changes (like during air travel or swimming), Eustachian tubes open to release a tiny bubble of air into the middle ear to reestablish equilibrium and thus relieve pain. For tinnitus sufferers, the pain can be more intense and even severe. That’s because people who experience tinnitus often notice sounds more acutely and may find the period before the pressure equalizes – when you’ve probably noticed a kind of distortion of sounds – to be especially uncomfortable. 

Check out our latest video for more insights on traveling with tinnitus.

Is It Safe To Fly With Tinnitus?

Rest assured, however, despite the occasional, usually fleeting pain of air pressure equalization, tinnitus sufferers are safe to travel. In fact, it’s extremely unusual for people who experience tinnitus to have serious symptoms while flying. Some even find air travel quite enjoyable, as the background hum can dull tinnitus-related ringing, as well as provide an opportunity to engage in sound therapy.

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That said, stay cognizant of changes in your tinnitus, as well as any increase in stress levels. Heightened anxiety about traveling only increases the likelihood of flare-ups. And if you’re accustomed to wearing hearing aids, make sure you stick to your routine and maintain usual use unless otherwise advised by your clinician.

When Should I Avoid Flying With Tinnitus?

Although it’s perfectly safe for tinnitus sufferers to fly, it’s important to be mindful of any sudden or worsening symptoms in the days prior to a trip. If you find that you’re experiencing a high level of stress or anxiety about the trip, talk with your physician about ways to minimize the apprehension. Stress and tinnitus typically go hand-in-hand; by reducing the former, you’re likely to see immediate relief in the latter. 

Tips For A Stress-Free Flight

Knowing that the travel itself is safe, here are a few tips to nurture some self-care in the air. 

1. Invest in musician’s earplugs.

Better quality earbuds or plugs are useful for maintaining appropriate levels of attenuation, and can help reduce overall sound levels and changes in pressure during ascent and descent. 

2. Relish the white noise.

The sound of an airplane during flight is an example of a white noise – the presence of many varying frequencies at the same intensity. Many individuals share that the noise actually helps their tinnitus during a flight. You can also use ear-level devices (like tinnitus maskers, earbuds, or bone conduction headphones) to take advantage of sound therapy during the journey.

3. Relax.

Practice a deep relaxation breathing exercise before, during, and after the flight, especially if you feel yourself getting anxious. You can also try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), guided imagery, mindfulness and meditation, or simply stretching. And if you find the stress of the airport bothersome, duck into one of the many massage shops or yoga rooms that are popular airports nationwide. It’s a bit of zen in the midst of the chaos.

4. Hydrate.

Surprisingly, simply staying hydrated can go a long way to keeping the noise at bay. And hydration doesn’t mean alcohol. Although it’s easy to grab an extra glass of wine at an airport bar or during a flight to calm nerves, it’s wise to avoid alcohol and salty snacks, including the free pretzels and chips that are common on flights. Sodium and alcohol can intensify symptoms. 

5. Try sound therapy.

To reduce contrast from ambient plane noise, be sure to put on your ear-level maskers, headphones, or other music devices once you’re off the plane to minimize tinnitus perception.

6. Plan ahead.

A well-packed toolkit is a great resource. Include a portable sound machine, musician’s earplugs, sleep bands, and any other items that help you feel prepared. Bonus: great planning can also go a long way to easing general stress, which can, in turn, minimize symptoms. 

7. Fly healthy.

While most of us are now far more conscientious of traveling when we have any communicable symptoms, be sure to avoid air travel if you have symptoms of a cold or respiratory infection. Even minor illnesses can impact our Eustachian tubes and ear congestion, making an episode of tinnitus both more likely and more uncomfortable. 

8. Tune out.

There are so few times in our daily lives when we have the opportunity to truly disconnect from email and obligations. During the flight, connect to entertainment options. Listen to the inflight music or watch a movie. These simple activities can help take your focus off tinnitus and get lost in mindless enjoyment. 

You’ll be at your destination before you know it. 

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