Tailwind / tinnitus

A good-news report and bad-news query for doctors in the group or others with relevant knowledge:

Good news: had my first-ever encounter with that desirable but elusive experience, the long trip with tailwinds both ways. Last Thursday went from the DC area to southern Louisiana; yesterday, back home. Ground speeds on all legs of the trip consistently in the 160s, sometimes higher. My fellow SR20 drivers will understand how unusual an occurrence this is. Since I’ve had dozens of trips with headwinds both ways, maybe I’m due for a few more of this sort.

Question: my wife was on this trip (to visit one of our kids). She has had tinnitus in one ear for several years – it was apparently antibiotic- induced, after a bad ear infection. She finds small-airplane trips to be very wearing on the ear that has the problem. We use the Lightspeed 20k headsets, and she has no trouble in the “good” ear. But with the bad one, she finds a significant increase in tinnitus for several days after a long trip in the Cirrus, along with pain in that ear.

Anyone with similar experience? More effective noise-blocking techniques you all have encountered? Thanks Jim F


Not an MD, just some suggestions. If it is noise induced, perhaps an earplug in that ear? The foam plugs allow some equalization, although I might remove it for a rapid descent. Or could it be antagonized by pressure changes; try a trip at low altitude?



I’m not a Doc, either, but have tinnitus in both ears. Hearing aids now help with my communication needs … plus, I can remove them when my wife starts yelling at me and/or when the grandkids show up.

As an anecdotal matter, since the hearing loss effects of tinnitus started (some 15 years ago), I have experienced no pain with the condition, even as the loss increases. Thus, I wonder if the pain your obviously better half is experiencing may be related to something other than the tinnitus itself.

On the other hand, I do recall that during my days in the military without hearing protection of any kind (40+ years ago), my presence on the various firing ranges produced ear pain that the Docs have told me probably began the tinnitus condition. If this is your wife’s condition, then additional hearing protection would be wise.

But from what you say, it may be that the bad ear infection damaged the tiny little hair-like inner ear structures that convert sound into nerve impulses that then communicate with the brain. If those little inner ear follicles are damaged, her pain may be caused by frequencies that are not well protected by the headset, and the loudness is literally beating the hell out of those already damaged follicles.

In any event, get her to a good ENT Doc for a full evaluation. There is a lot of science involved, and the help of a knowledgeable pro is needed. I recall reading in one of the aviation pubs that at least one of the leading headset manufacturers consults with both medical professionals and a hearing testing lab to help them with the design and testing of their headsets. Maybe they can provide guidance to the right Doc.

Good luck in your efforts.


Tinnitus of this degree is very difficult to treat but excess noise will make it worse and it is likely the drone of the continous airplane noise that is making the tinnutus and pain a bit worse. You need real good noise canceling to help deal with this. Not sure the Lightspeeds are up to the task but I have no direct experience with them. Others may want to comment.


I’m not a medical doctor, but will chip in anyway with some advice. Try Bose’s 30 day trial. They get $1000/headset for a reason. I used to love my LightSpeed 25XL’s, and now, when I have to wear them, I am not happy. If it will help, certainly it is worth it, right?

Jim, while I am an MD I’m a urologist so ears are not my forte. I took your question to an ENT specialist whom I respect and he told me that unilateral tinnitus was of concern and that if your wife has not had a recent full ENT evaluation she should. His comment was that antibiotic induced ear problems are usually bilateral although the tinnitus could be secondary to damage from the one sided infection.
People who have tinnitus can have an exacerbation with noise exposure but he really felt strongly that she should have a hearing evaluation and an MRI to rule out other issues like an acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor). If that is normal the only suggestion he has would be to use better ear protection. Perhaps adding foam plugs to the ANR headset might help.
Hope this information is useful.

Jerry Seckler

Your wife’s problems are probably not really noise related, but rather induced by pressure changes. The sinuses and middle ear don’t always drain well and then act in a manner similar to your vertical speed indicator with a clogged static port. She may try taking a decongestant, both oral and nasal (neosynephrine) a few hours before the flight, yawn during climbs and descents and crack you in the side of the head if you climb or descend too quickly. I think that tinnitus would be more of an inner ear problem and not likely to be affected by flight.

My wife appreciates (and therefore I appreciate!) all this helpful advice, from the medical to the headset-oriented. We’re exploring various solutions to the problem. Thanks, Jim F


I am an Otolarygologist (who reads Atlantic Monthly) and deal with people who struggle with tinnitus daily. If your wife believes that it is exacerbated by the flight noise, the first thing to do is add a plug (foam or fitted) to the (best) noise canceling headset. I would be diligent in trying to find some help for this as “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” (apologies to the AM editor) You can email me directly.


The new ear plugs that control the effects of rapid ascent/descent are available in some pharmacies, for sure in WalMart’s, for about $4 a pair. They work quite well. Since using them I’ve gone from an average of two ear infections per year for each of the last four years to zero infections.

I’m also a Bose believer. You can often get the Bose X headsets on eBay for less than $800, but even at $1,000 it’s worth it.

One other thing you get for your money is total customer support. I have a 3 year old Bose X that I just sent in to have a little clip on the battery box repaired. Not only did they take care of that, they completely refurbished the unit, putting in new earpads, cables, mic, etc. And it was in great shape when I sent it. No charge, of course. And they shipped it back FedEx Red.

I don’t buy their audio stuff. But they hit a home run with the headset.

That kind words Gordon!
These are the words that I would listen from our customers about our helmets…
Are you Bose’s shareholder? :slight_smile:

“e-Bay”: I read many times here about “e-Bay”; could share with me his web-site address? Thank.

Hi Maurizio,

The URL is http://www.ebay.com/.


Jim, I just read your post and the response from Jerry. He is indeed correct, unilateral tinnitus needs to be evaluated by your FMD and or an ENT. Mike Sr. AME

I thought most otolaryngologists would know how to spell their profession.