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Most people have felt the “popping” sensation while flying or changing elevation quickly, like driving through the mountains. Occasionally, the experience, called airplane ear, can cause intense pain, muffled hearing, or even ringing if the case is severe.
Beyond the dreaded airplane ear, flying is a notoriously loud experience, thanks to the plane’s engines. Planes typically fly with noise levels around 85dB—the level where continued exposure can cause hearing loss. So, learning how to protect your ears when flying is necessary to keep your hearing and protect yourself from pain.
Furthermore, when that’s combined with handling a child or a baby, the experience is even more difficult. Nobody wants their child suffering during a flight or getting hearing loss so young. So, many parents ask the questions how do I protect my babies’ ears when flying or do babies need ear protection for flying.
No matter the individual, their seat class, or their age, airplane ear and hearing damage can affect anyone on an airplane.
How Airplane Ear Happens
Ear pain results from having a difference in pressure in the inner ear compared to the environment. When the plane takes off, the air pressure inside the plane decreases quickly. Conversely, when the plane lands, the air pressure inside the plane cabin increases quickly. Because of this quick change in pressure, during both events, the ear may not be able to adjust to the pressure change. When the adjustment doesn’t occur quickly enough, feelings of discomfort or pain may be felt.
As the plane takes off, the air pressure inside the ear becomes much higher than the cabin’s air pressure. This results in the eardrum swelling. Until the Eustachian tube can equilibrate the pressure, the eardrum remains swollen and causes pain or discomfort. During landing, the cabin’s air pressure becomes greater than the pressure inside the ear. When this happens, the Eustachian tube flattens, thus causing discomfort.
If the case is moderate, individuals frequently experience moderate discomfort or pain, a sense of stuffiness, and sometimes slight and temporary hearing loss. Severe cases can cause individuals to experience vertigo, tinnitus, moderate hearing loss, and intense pain.
How Do You Protect Your Ears When Flying
To protect yourself from getting airplane ear, the first thing is to monitor your health before flying. Individuals who have a cold, hay fever, sinus infection, or ear infection have a greater risk of experienced airplane ear than others. If you’re wondering how to protect your ears when flying with a cold, if you must, the following tips should help resist the onset of airplane ear.
1. Stay Aware During Take-off and Landing
Take-off and landing make up the two main periods of the flight where airplane ear can occur. This is because of the quick change in air pressure. Staying awake during these times gives you the ability to implement the following prevention techniques.
2. Yawn and Swallow During Take-off and Landing
One of the most effective ways to fight the onset of airplane ear is to swallow during the ascent and descent. Both activities help engage the muscles that open your Eustachian tube. In practice, these activities will help reduce the difference in air pressure between your ears and the airplane cabin.
3. Chew Gum or Suck on a Candy
Many people find chewing on gum or sucking on a piece of candy to aid in ear pain. The practice essentially influences you to swallow more. By chewing on gum or sucking on candy, more saliva is made, which makes you swallow more often.
4. Practice the Valsalva Technique During Take-off and Landing
The Valsalva technique is when you gently blow out of your nose while pinching your nostrils shut. As you try to blow air out of your nose, you may feel your ears “pop”. That sensation is the pressure-equalizing. Repeat the action several times.
5. Use Filtered Ear Plugs
Filtered earplugs help equalize the pressure difference by slowing the shift of air pressure that enters and leaves your ear. Additionally, these may help block some of the sound coming into your ear, thereby protecting against damage from constant exposure.
Protecting Against Hearing Damage
The best option for protecting against hearing damage is to limit the amount of sound coming into your ears. Choosing a seat near the front of the plane, as it’s away from the engine, can reduce overall sound. Wearing earplugs or earmuffs will also protect the amount of sound coming into your ears. Reducing the amount of time you’re exposed to the loudness of a plane can go a long way to protecting your hearing.
How to Protect Infant Ears When Flying
Protecting your baby’s ears when flying is more difficult than protecting your own. You can’t speak to your baby to tell them to continually yawn and swallow during landing and take-off. Instead, you can give your baby a bottle. As soon as the plane is ready to take off, and land, giving your baby a bottle forces them to swallow continually. This swallowing will help equalize their ear pressure.
Additionally, if your child’s pediatrician says its okay, giving your child a decongestant or nasal spray may help to open their sinuses. This can assist in the flow of air into your child’s Eustachian tube, thereby reducing the pressure difference.
To protect your baby from ear damage from loud noises, consider using ear muffs. Earplugs, or other small items, may fall out too easily. Earmuffs, especially noise-canceling headphones, work well to protect your baby’s ears.
How to Protect Dogs Ears When Flying
Protecting your dog’s ears while flying is just as important as protecting your ears, as dogs’ ears are structured the same. Find a pair of dog ear protection flying muffs to strap on your dog to block sounds and protect from hearing loss.
To protect against ear pain or discomfort, give your dog a chew toy or dental bone to stimulate swallowing. This will help activate the Eustachian tube in your dog’s ears and reduce the chance of your dog getting ear pain.