Skip to main content

How Flying Can Affect Your Hearing and Irritate Your Sinuses

How Flying Can Affect Your Hearing and Irritate Your Sinuses

As much as air travel has become an integral (and convenient!) part of modern life, there’s one aspect that’s anything but pleasant: ear and sinus problems while flying. For many passengers, the changes in cabin pressure, altitude, and air quality can lead to discomfort and even cause temporary hearing loss or precipitate a sinus infection.

At Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing in Houston, Texas, ENT specialist Dr. Conrad McCutcheon and licensed audiologist Dr. Marty Lippeatt are no strangers to hearing about cases where flying exacerbates pre-existing conditions or causes new problems related to hearing and sinus health. 

But what can you do about it? In this blog, we explore the ways flying affects these delicate systems and offer tips to mitigate potential problems.

Cabin pressure changes and hearing

With air travel comes rapid changes in pressure. As the aircraft ascends or descends, the pressure in the cabin fluctuates, and while this is normal, it can create imbalances in the air pressure within your middle ear. 

Your middle ear is connected to the back of your nose by the eustachian tube, which is responsible for equalizing the pressure on either side of your eardrums. However, during takeoff and landing, your eustachian tube may struggle to adjust swiftly, leading to symptoms such as:

Ear pain

A common complaint among flyers, ear pain or pressure can be due to unequal pressure between your middle ear and the cabin. Chewing (either food or gum), swallowing, or yawning can help open the eustachian tube and alleviate discomfort.

Temporary hearing loss

The imbalances in pressure may also cause temporary hearing loss. Some flyers report that their ears feel clogged. Hearing usually returns to normal once the pressure stabilizes, but if hearing loss persists, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Air quality and sinus irritation or infections

Airplane cabins are known for their dry air, which can lead to dehydration and irritation of your nasal passages and sinuses. The low humidity levels can cause your mucus membranes to dry out, making it difficult for your sinuses to drain properly. Consequently, you may experience:

Sinus congestion

Dry nasal passages can lead to congestion, making it uncomfortable for those with pre-existing sinus conditions, like sinusitis or allergies.

Sinus headaches

The combination of dry air and pressure changes may trigger sinus headaches, causing discomfort throughout the flight. 

Sinus squeeze

Sinus squeeze, also known as barosinusitis or aerosinusitis, refers to irritated sinuses while flying. As a result of the uneven air pressure, you may notice sinus pain, sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose.

Sinus infection

The confined space and recirculated air in the cabin can help the spread of airborne pathogens, increasing the risk of infection. Moreover, the dry air in the cabin can cause dehydration of the nasal passages, weakening your body's defense against germs. Changes in air pressure during take-off and landing can block the Eustachian tubes, leading to inflammation and infection as well.

Precautions and remedies while flying

To minimize the impact of flying on your hearing and sinuses, keep the following tips in mind:

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to combat the effects of dry cabin air. You can also keep your nasal passages hydrated and moist by using saline sprays such as Arm and Hammer Simply Saline or Arm and Hammer Simply Saline Extra Strength; these reduce irritation and congestion by keeping your nasal passages moist. Extra strength saline may provide an additional decongesting effect as well.

Avoid irritants

Avoid using irritants like alcohol and tobacco before and during your flight, as they can further exacerbate sinus issues.

Yawning and swallowing

Frequent yawning and swallowing during takeoff and landing can help equalize pressure in your ears. Keep a pack of gum in your carry-on bag so you’ll always have a piece within reach.

Valsalva maneuver 

Valsalva maneuver during takeoff and landing can also equalize pressure in your ears. Pinch your nostrils and keep your mouth shut. Then gently blow as if blowing your nose. Do this several times especially during descent.

Try pressure regulating earplugs

These earplugs gradually equalize the pressure against your eardrum during ascents and descents.

Get ready for your flight

Flying can indeed affect your hearing and irritate your sinuses, particularly due to the changes in cabin pressure and the dry air in airplane cabins. While most of the associated issues are temporary, individuals with chronic ear or sinus conditions should take extra precautions and consult with our team before traveling. 

By understanding these effects and following the recommended precautions, you can have a more comfortable and pleasant flying experience while safeguarding your hearing and sinus health.

If you’re planning a flight soon and you’re concerned about how your underlying sinus issues may impact your comfort on the flight, contact Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing by calling 281-822-3777. You can also request an appointment online.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Understanding the Different Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can make it difficult to communicate with friends and family, enjoy TV or the radio, or even perform well at work. The good news is that you can mitigate hearing loss, but it starts by pinpointing the type of hearing loss that you have.

Getting Used to Your Hearing Aids

Are you getting a new set of hearing aids? These sound-amplifying devices may come with a slight learning curve, but the end result is priceless. Read on as we provide our top tips for getting used to hearing aids. 

Why Do I Keep Getting Congested?

Are you frustrated with constant nasal congestion? While it’s one thing to have a stuffy nose with a passing cold, it’s another thing to constantly deal with it. Read on to explore five reasons you could be dealing with chronic congestion.

Recovering From Nasal Surgery: What to Expect

Regardless of which type of nasal surgery you need, it’s normal to wonder what your recovery journey entails. In this blog, we cover everything you can expect after your nasal surgery so you can be better prepared beforehand.

When to See a Specialist About Congestion

Is a stuffy nose keeping you from getting a good sleep? Are you tired of always blowing your nose? Nasal congestion is a common problem, but it’s one that can benefit from specialty care. Learn when it’s time to see a specialist about congestion.