Do Headphones Help With Airplane Pressure?

by Alex.   Last Updated On August 10th, 2022.
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Flying can be a fun experience, but many air travelers do not like flying because of the airplane pressure that affects one or both ears. A change in the air pressure during flight may cause ear discomfort to a person. It does not last long, but there are a lot of air travelers who don’t like this discomfort and are trying out ways to deal with this issue.

While some experts suggest that headphones can effectively reduce the amount of pressure you feel, there is also some research that says they may not make a significant difference.

Whether headphones are helpful will come down to the individual, as some people find ‌they work great, while others do not experience any difference.

So before you check in for your next flight, let’s discuss if headphones help with airplane pressure.

Now let us begin.

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What causes airplane pressure while flying?

Discomfort while flying in an airplane or what others call airplane ear is common among adults and children. The primary cause of this discomfort is pressure changes.

The air pressure in the inner ear and the air pressure outside are usually the same, or at least the difference is too little to cause any discomfort.

The problem only happens when the change in altitude is so rapid (which is normal in air travel) that the pressure in the inner ear and the pressure outside do not have time to equalize. In medical terms, this is known as ear barotrauma.

When planes take off and begin their ascent, the air pressure inside the inner ear quickly surpasses the pressure outside. The tympanic membrane or eardrums will swell or be sucked inward, almost like a vacuum effect.

The Eustachian tube will flatten and‌ will need a bit of help from you to perform its job of providing air into the inner ear. During this time, the eardrum will not be able to vibrate, causing decreased hearing, muffled sounds, and discomfort.

girl wearing headphone sleeping on airplane

Why does protecting your ears during flights matter?

A person’s sense of hearing is a priceless ability that no one wants to lose. Thus, the need to protect our ears from any damage or injury is very important.

If our ears are exposed for extended periods to noise-polluted environments, it might cause permanent ear damage that could lead to hearing loss. So it is essential to protect our ears when we are in a noisy environment like airplanes.

At cruising altitude, the noise levels of airplane cabins can get up to 85 decibels (dB) which could also be much higher if the airplane is older. This is because aged engines give out loud, unpleasant sounds. Imagine sitting inside the plane cabin for hours! Extended exposure to noise can cause excruciating pain and discomfort in your ears.

Personally, to protect my ears from airplane cabin pressure and noise when I am traveling, I bring with me my Sony WH-1000XM3 which are noise-canceling headphones. In your case, you can use appropriate earplugs or any other noise-canceling headphones you prefer.

How do headphones help reduce airplane pressure?

How headphones help reduce airplane pressure is still being studied by experts, but it is believed that the sound waves produced from the headphones help open up the Eustachian tubes. These tubes regulate the air pressure in the ears, and when they are blocked, it can lead to discomfort.

This theory was first proposed over 50 years ago. Still, it was only recently that researchers from McGill University in Canada conducted a study to see if there was any merit to it. Their research was published in the journal of Ear and Hearing.

In this study, the researchers asked the participants to listen to music through headphones during the plane’s takeoff and landing. It was found in this study that the headphones helped open up the Eustachian tubes, which reduced the amount of pressure the participants felt. However, ‌the effect wore off after a few minutes, and it was not permanent.

So does this mean that you should pack your studying headphones with active noise cancellation on your next trip or use the headphones provided by the airlines? Well, not really; more research is still needed to determine if headphones effectively relieve airplane pressure. But it is something worth considering and trying if you’re struggling with airplane pressure discomfort during flights.

If you have the budget and you plan to purchase new over-ear headphones for your next flight, check out our buying guide. Be sure to pick noise canceling headphones as it helps block and filter cabin noise and reduces pressure on the eardrum. Noise-canceling headphones also prevent tinnitus (not help improve tinnitus).

During your flight, listen to calming and relaxing music to help minimize any stress you may feel. You can also watch a movie if you want to.

Bright sunlight trough airplane window with a glass of champagne on the desk in the business class. The luxury vacations in Mauritius can begin!

Swallowing Something or Yawning

Swallowing something or yawning opens up the Eustachian tube and allows air movement in the middle of the ear.

Doing this will help balance ear pressure by stimulating the muscles that block or obstruct the airflow in the Eustachian tube during takeoff – thus allowing the easy flow of air in the ear tunnel.

Chewing Gum

Chewing a piece of gum will help trigger the swallowing motion and help to enable the balancing of air pressure.

If traveling with kids, you can use a bottle to increase swallowing during descending, which will help reduce the ear pain caused by the change in air pressure.

Valsalva Maneuver

You can also use the Valsalva maneuver to protect your ears during takeoff and landing. The Valsalva maneuver is a technique that help changes the breathing pattern by systematically holding and releasing it.

This will help push air into the Eustachian tube and equalize the air pressure with the environment. Thus relieving the ear pain. The steps below will help you perform the Valsalva maneuver:

  1. Breathe in deeply while holding your breath for ten seconds.
  2. Start releasing the breath rapidly by breathing out.
  3. Start your regular breathing exercise.

Frenzel Maneuver

You can also try Frenzel Maneuver, a technique that brings air into the throat, closing the glottis, and then contracting the throat. To do this, gently blow against your pinched nostrils and swallow a couple of times.

Use Decongestants

You can use oral or nasal spray decongestants to dry up the mucus that might block the Eustachian tube. Take a decongestant an hour before landing and post-flight until your ears normalize.

Taking decongestants is only recommended for travelers with flu or cold. Keep in mind that taking decongestants is not the best idea for older people and that you should always seek medical advice before taking prescription medicines.

Using of Noise Cancelling Headphones

You can use over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation rather than plug-in earphones to listen to soothing music like classical music, pop music, or nature sounds, watch movies or block cabin noise.

Waking up at Least an Hour Before Landing

If you have a long fight, make sure to wake up at least an hour before landing. Waking up a few minutes before landing will not give you enough time to adjust to the situation.

Be Sure You are Healthy Before Taking a Flight

If you face health issues, things could worsen in some situations, as the discomfort caused by the airplane pressure can be hard to deal with.

If you have health issues, it is better to talk with your doctor or professional first before deciding to fly. On the other hand, if you are healthy, you will be able to cope with the situation and the pressure.

Why won’t my ear pop after a plane ride?

There are a few reasons why your ears pop after a plane ride. One possibility is that the Eustachian tubes are blocked or not working correctly.

Another possibility is that the flight was not long enough for the pressure to build up and cause discomfort.

If your ears don’t pop after a plane ride, there are a few things you can do to try to help. Swallowing, yawning, and chewing gum can all help.

Conclusion

To sum it up, headphones can help reduce the pressure you feel in your ears when flying, but they are not a permanent solution. If you want to try to prevent the pressure from building up in the first place, you can try chewing gum or doing the Valsalva maneuver.

If your ears are already feeling uncomfortable, using decongestants or waking up an hour before landing can help. Remember to talk to your doctor before flying if you have any health concerns.