Flying with tinnitus

Simple tips for a smooth landing

It’s that time of the year here in the UK when the kids start to break up from school and families head off on holiday. Thanks to Covid, this summer holiday will be the first time many of us have been on a plane for a few years.

If you’re a bit apprehensive about how your tinnitus will behave when you fly, then you are far from alone. So I’ve put together some simple tips to help you have a relaxing flight.

Reduce as much stress as you can

Catching a flight can be super-stressful at the best of times. What, with finishing up work, packing at the last minute and getting up at stupid o’clock to catch the flight. It’s no wonder we need to lay on a beach for two weeks. And we know how badly stress and worry can affect our tinnitus, don’t we?!

So plan ahead to reduce your stress:

  • Make lists. I resisted this for years, but finally knuckled down and made a list of everything all members of the family needed (i.e. stuff that we really couldn’t do without). Every time we go away it saves hours of anxiety and scribbling down things I have just remembered at 3am!
  • Pack as much as you can in the week before you’re travelling.
    Don’t worry about forgetting something. As long as you have passports and medication, chances are you can pick up anything you need at your destination.
  • Check in online before you fly.
  • Arrive super-early if you’re flying from the UK. Right now a shortage of airport staff means the queues for security are really long. If you accept this, and factor it into your travel plans, you’ll be much less stressed during check-in.
  • Subscribe to any alerts or app from your airline which can provide instant updates on changes to flight times or departure gates.

Tinnitus at take-off

If you’re worried about the effect of the engine noise on your tinnitus choose seats between the cockpit and the wings so you are in front of the engines.

You might be tempted to use ear plugs that reduce the sound of the engines during take-off. That’s understandable but avoid using ear defenders or plugs that block all noise from entering your ears. They will simply make your tinnitus more noticeable. Instead use ear devices that filter out some of the sound. That way you can remain aware of safety announcements, and chat with your travelling companions. I use Earpeace ear plugs. Some people find Calmer ear devices from Flare Audio helpful or Loop Earplugs.

Tinnitus when flying

Make sure you download your favourite masking noises onto your phone or mp3 player so you can use them even if there is no Wi-Fi. The same goes for any films you might want to watch (especially if you’re going on a cheap flight in Europe where you have to make your own entertainment). Audiobooks are another great option. For all of these, remember to be aware of your volume settings. Use noise-cancelling headphones if you have them so the audio from the device you’re using doesn’t have to compete with the ambient noise of the plane and passengers.

And a reminder – flying is very dehydrating. Remember to keep drinking water, especially if you decide to start your holiday early with a few beers. Tinnitus + a hangover is not a great combination (at least in my experience!).

Tinnitus when landing

It’s very common to feel some ear discomfort when the airplane descends towards your destination, especially if you have a cold or hayfever. You may also notice your hearing becomes muffled. Both are due to the differences between the air pressure in the cabin and the air pressure in your middle ear which occur as the plane descends. There are many tried and tested tactics to help manage these pressure changes. Here are some:

  1. Make sure you’re awake when the plane starts to descend so you can take action to improve your experience.
  2. Swallow and move your jaw around – chewing sweets or gum helps.
  3. Use a nasal decongestant (anyone remember being offered Karvol capsules to break into hot water and inhale?).
  4. Use the Valsalva manoeuvre – gently blow out of your nose while pinching your nose shut. As you try to blow air out of your nose, you may feel your ears “pop.” You might need to repeat it a few times to get the benefit.
  5. Keep calm if you notice your tinnitus getting a little worse. It’s nothing to worry about and will be temporary.

Wherever you’re heading to this summer, I hope these tips help you enjoy your flight!

For more ways to enjoy a great life with tinnitus, join a tinnitus course. Group courses start in September. 1-2-1 courses start at your convenience.