I am lucky enough to have mostly mild tinnitus so far. You can read about that here. But sometimes, I have flare-ups, and lately I have been noticing an interesting pattern. I seem to have at least a day of tinnitus flare after any air travel. This is a problem for me since I LOVE to travel, and most of the places I like to travel require an airplane ride. So what’s a weary hard-of-hearing traveler to do? NOT stop traveling, for one. But a renewed emphasis on ear protection on the airplane is key.
These post-airplane tinnitus flare-ups have been occurring for the last several months and are usually accompanied by a reduced ability to hear generally. Even for someone with normal 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 can be hell.
I think the issue is the sustained level of noise on the airplane. I have clocked it on my iPhone decibel reader app and 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 even on a short flight, this 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.
I have tried a couple of workarounds.
1. My hearing aids fit deep inside my ear canal, so when I get on the plane I shut them off — not sleep mode, but totally off so they act as earplugs. This can be a challenge if I need to communicate during the flight because I cannot hear a thing! Almost all sound is blocked. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to turn the sound back on and off several times during the flight to talk to the flight attendant or a seat mate, but I try to keep the sound off for the entire flight, from prior to take-off until we have reached the gate.
2. I try to reserve a seat on the aisle (farther from the outside noise) and as far away from the engines as possible. Sometimes this is not possible without paying for a special type of seat, which I don’t like to do, but if it is possible, I do so.
3. I wear a hooded sweatshirt or jacket on the plane for an additional barrier to the noise. Yes, I kind of look like a dork, but if it helps prevent the tinnitus and reduced hearing, it is worth it.
These activities have helped a little bit, but have not eliminated the issue. I am still searching for solutions.
Readers, do airplanes trigger your tinnitus? What workarounds do you use?