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Could sleeping on a flight make you deaf?

Wednesday 27th September 2017
Falling asleep during flight take-off and landing could seriously damage a persons hearing, according to new research. Image: kasto80 via iStock
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People who fall asleep while travelling by plane could be putting themselves at risk of hearing loss, according to a new study.

Research carried out by scientists at Harvard Medical School in the US have warned that sleeping while flying could seriously damage the ears.

As a result, audiologists treating patients for apparently unexplained hearing loss may want to ask them whether they have fallen asleep while flying recently, as this could be behind their new deafness, the study suggests.

Dramatic changes in altitude on a flight can often make flight passengers' ears feel like they are about to pop, but researchers have found that if these altitude shifts occur while a traveller is sleeping, their hearing could be damaged beyond repair.

Usually, passengers can yawn or suck on sweets to stop their ears from popping, but they cannot do this if they are sleeping, increasing their risk of hearing function decline.

Speaking to the Daily Express, pharmacist Angela Chambers explained: "A quick change in altitude affects the air pressure in the ear. This leads to a vacuum in the eustachian tubes, which makes the ears feel blocked and sound dull."

Forced yawning or swallowing opens the eustachian tube in the ear canal, easing the pressure caused by a change in altitude, preventing long-term hearing damage.

However, falling asleep at these crucial moments can cause the eustachian tube to become blocked, leading to a condition known as ear barotrauma, according to information from health information site MedlinePlus. This can be painful, lead to a persistent ringing in the ears and can make everything sound muffled for a while after the flight.

These altitude shifts are most common while a plane is taking off and shortly before it lands, so audiologists advising patients on how to prevent further hearing damage while flying should recommend that they try to stay awake at the start and end of each flight in order to safeguard their hearing for longer.

Written by James Puckle

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