On a recent flight, I noticed that my hearing was better when there was an imbalance in pressure between my inner and outer ear. After yawning, my hearing would worsen. Or rather, the noise of the aeroplane became more prominent, making it more difficult to hear the words in the film I was watching.

I'm someone who cannot filter out extraneous noises very well, so background noise is particularly problematic for me.

Is there a scientific understanding of this effect, and are there any treatments based on it?


I've read that medical science recognises the opposite of the effect I experienced: a worsening of hearing. But since I'm talking about an improvement, I don't think that answers my question.


I've also read something about the effect of pressure on frequency response of the components of the inner ear, and phase change. I don't understand the implications of phase on these components (though I do understand what phase means), so I can only draw from this that I might be experiencing an improvement above 1kHz.


From Wikipedia, I learn that narrow band telephony transmits frequencies up to 3.4kHz, and so perhaps the improvements above 1kHz explain the improved ability to follow dialogue.


None of these, however, indicate that ear pressure is recognised as a means to improving hearing. It may be because harmful side effects are more likely, but I'm still curious.

  • The effects of atmospheric pressure on hearing are well understood and there is a wealth of information on the topic available. Recommend that you learn what the eustachian tube is, what it does, and how it affects hearing. You're mistaking an improvement in hearing for a decline.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 2 at 0:39
  • 1
    My suggestion is to look at the effect on the frequency response of the middle-ear as a result of of the imbalance of pressure. Commented May 2 at 8:14
  • "None of these, however, indicate that ear pressure is recognised as a means to improving hearing." -- normalizing pressure between the middle ear and the atmosphere is definitely recognized as improving hearing. Think about what happens if the pressure in your middle ear is significantly different than outside air. Your ear drum is going to either be pushed inward by the greater outside pressure or pushed outward by the greater middle ear pressure. Either way, the ear drum becomes less responsive and thereby conducts sound more poorly.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 8 at 14:58


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