If you have tinnitus, you might be worried that the noise on a flight will make it worse. Actually, most people find that the background noise in the plane means their tinnitus is hardly noticeable. Occasionally you might find your tinnitus getting louder during the journey. But this won’t last long, and there are things you can do to minimise this.

Engine noise

People with tinnitus aren’t usually disturbed by the engine’s noise. But if you are worried that it might make your tinnitus worse, reserve a seat near the front of the plane, where the engines aren’t as loud. Don’t use earplugs unless the background noise is unbearable, because blocking outside sounds might actually make you notice your tinnitus more. If you normally wear hearing aids, keep them in during the flight so that you won’t have to strain to hear. Straining can make tinnitus louder.

The plane’s descent

When the plane is descending, your ears might feel painful and your tinnitus may be louder. This is caused by the air pressure in the cabin becoming higher than the pressure within your ear. To help solve this, swallow, yawn, and move your jaw around by chewing gum or sucking on a sweet. Doing this will open the Eustachian tube in the middle part of your ear, allowing the air pressure in the ear to equalise with the pressure outside. You will know this has happened when you feel a “pop” in your ears.

Air pressure can’t equalise when your Eustachian tube is blocked. So if you have a cold or sinusitis, use a nasal decongestant to help open up your airways and tubes.

Coping with stress

Stress and anxiety can make tinnitus worse. If you find flying stressful, think about ways to calm you down. Listen to music, read a magazine, or watch a film during the flight. These will take your focus away from whatever is making you anxious. Relaxation and breathing exercises can also be very helpful, especially if you practice them before your flight. If you know you have a fear of flying, talk to your GP, who might suggest a small dose of tranquiliser. Some airlines, like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, offer courses to help people overcome their fears.

Flying and middle ear surgery

If you’ve recently had surgery on your middle ear, check with your ear specialist before booking a flight. You might need to avoid flying while your ear is still healing.