Hey everyone,

This weekend I went to Florida for a gig and getting off the flight I think I experienced a bit of ear fatigue and tinnitus (I really hope it wasn't tinnitus) where I went and relaxed in a hotel room after the flight which was pretty quiet and I heard some sort of ringing in my ears (not really a tone or discernible pitch or frequency, just a general pressure)

Does anyone else experience this? And if so, is there a trick or tip you can give me for how I can alleviate this because I usually walk off a plane and have to get to mixing within a few hours afterwards. I'm trying to work out how I can have a day or two to get settled in and used to the time change, but this is not always the case.

Also, I'd be interested in seeing what the actual dB SPL of a plane is because 12 hours or more of that might not be too good for your ears...



I read a blog post a while back which touched on SPL in aircraft... come to think of it, it was a post by Andrew! http://www.soundplusdesign.com/?p=3155. Andrew found around 89db I think, and I've seen similar and even higher figures quoted elsewhere.

Ever since then I've made sure I wear earplugs on flights, and it really does make a difference. It's crazy to think that we take care to avoid damaging sound levels at gigs and during mixing, and then sit in such a loud environment for hours on end without thinking about it!

I hate to think what SPL movies must be played back at over cheap airline headphones, to be heard over the engine noise!

  • Ha! Little did I know when writing that post that I'd still be in SA 1,5 years later... May 31 '11 at 7:13
  • Thanks a lot, James! And thanks for the blog post, @Andrew!
    – Utopia
    May 31 '11 at 17:28

I can't recommend the Etymotic ER-4s enough. They are in-ears, but provide substantial noise protection, even when you are not listening to something. The big benefit is that they come with an adapter that allows you to plug them into the headphone jacks on the plane and use them instead of the junk the airlines provide.

Etymotic EB-15 earplugs are even better, as they protect your ears from constant high SPL while still allowing you to hear normally. They also include an option to boost quieter sounds, which is great for reducing the constant drone of the plane while allowing you to have a normal conversation with the person next to you.

The only problem with Etymotic products is that they are extremely expensive. Personally though, I think it is a justified expense, comparable to a singer insuring their voice. However, the air pressure regulating earplugs recommended by Andrew look like a really good cost-effective compromise.

  • Thanks a lot, Bluesman. They are a little spendy for me right at the moment but I'll note this for the future.
    – Utopia
    May 31 '11 at 17:30

As James & NoiseJockey say, the mix of air-pressure changes and expose to loud SPL aren't a superb combination, although I'd think it's more to do with the change of altitude than the loudness.

I've spent a big part of my life with sinus issues, and I've felt my ear drums and sinuses on the verge of imploding many times! A friend of mine actually burst his ear drum while flying with a cold. Scary!

potential solution?

I fly a lot for work and pleasure. Just skydiving alone, I used drop 12000ft in under a minute, and repeat that 10 times/day. So I feel like I have come up with a solution that works for me...

  • I use air pressure regulating ear plugs such as these! They actually changed my life! I usually don't get pain or that blocked feeling for hours/days after. They don't attenuate sound, they just prevent fast shifts in air pressure to push against your drum quicker than you're naturally able to decompress. You need to use them mainly on the descent and maybe on the ascent if you're in pain. During the rest of the flight you can use normal earplugs for your protection/comfort.

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  • As an emergency, I also got an ENT to prescribe me some mega-hardcore decongestion nose sprays that I keep in my travel bag. So I can take it if I'm congested - and BOOM! I'm all clear in no time.
  • Wow - awesome idea. I'm ordering a few pairs of these immediately! Any recommendations on real ear plugs? Or do you use headphones? I hear that Dr. Dre's Beatz headphones are great.
    – Utopia
    May 31 '11 at 17:29
  • @Andrew, I was just wondering about that. Earplugs during ascent/descent forcing the trapped air through the tympanic membrane because it can't get through the foam. These things are amazing.
    – g.a.harry
    May 31 '11 at 18:39

I'd recommend seeing your doctor or a specialist! Of course, that won't keep me from offering some over-the-counter ideas... ;-)

If it's just an exposure-to-high-SPL issue, though, a pair of Etymotics or similar high-quality earplugs, as James has suggested, is probably a wise investment. Try it first with el cheapo foamies, though, just to see what happens.

Consider, too, if it's physiologically connected to your sinuses or other pressure building in Ye Olde Skull due to the pressure differentials involved in flying. I've had a number of horrifically painful, week-long ear infections from plane travel in the winter, when I am fighting off colds, and using it the day I travel has been great. Be aware that over-the-counter nasal sprays are not supposed to be used for more than three days in a row, so be careful. If you think this might be the issue, though, please do see your doctor or an eye/ear/nose/throat specialist...I'm no doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

  • Thanks a lot, NoiseJ. I went through the same thing travelling to Hawaii - very painful 6 hours. When you say "using it the day I travel" what is "it" referring to? A specific type of nasal spray?
    – Utopia
    May 31 '11 at 17:31
  • Like Andrew, I've been prescribed a cortico-steroid nasal spray for daily use, but my doctor recommended 24-hour non-drip Afrin as an over-the-counter thing to take additionally on air travel days. It's the Afrin that I use before flights. Since using this double-barreled regimen, so far so good. Took losing 80% of my hearing in one ear, 20% in the other, and huge pain to finally get something done about it... May 31 '11 at 19:35

The problem is normally due to pressure differences between the inner and outer ear. Simple chewing can help, but some people can experience severe pain. Decongestants help, the best is actually sea water which you can use regularly without causing damage.


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