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October 1st, 2018 | Ask an AudiologistGeneral | by Mike Prangley

Ask an Audiologist: Is it Dangerous to Drive With The Car Windows Rolled Down?

Ask an Audiologist

Hello! Today, I was driving around 55 mph in my friend’s SUV and she rolled down the drivers side rear window for a few seconds. Immediately, my ears felt weird and the whole car seemed to vibrate along with my ears. I’ve read a little online about Helmholtz Resonance but I can’t find anything about if it’s dangerous to the ears. I am very paranoid about my hearing and I always worry about loud noises doing acoustic damage. Should I be worried?

Audiologist Response

Hi there, this is a great question.

You know when you take an open Coke, or beer, bottle and you blow into it, it makes a certain sound back based on the weight of the bottle (plus how much liquid is inside) and its physical size. When you were in the car and the window was rolled down, it is akin to being inside the bottle itself. The air through the open window compressed the air in the vehicle and you felt some of that reverberation/vibration. It is annoying, but typically harmless. It happens all the time in vehicles because essentially, they are an enclosed space, like a bottle with a cap on it. If the window is rolled down, but you are stationary, nothing happens, same as bottle. When you blow across the top of the bottle it makes that other sound, same as when you were in the car. The rate of speed at which the air was blowing across the window will cause a different sound (more vibration the faster you are going as there is more air compression). Really depends on how much the air rushing in to the vehicle compresses the air already inside of the vehicle. More air is trying to rush in, than out. I’ve read that some people can get headaches if they leave one window down too long. The easiest way to alleviate this pressure is by opening a second window on the other side, or closing the original window. Now, no air is being compressed and you will not experience that same vibration. When the window is rolled down, some people also experience a pressure sensation similar to going up in an air plane. The air pressure inside the vehicle just changed dramatically with the window rolling down and the Eustachian tube may not react fast enough to this change.

I really hope this makes sense. If you have any other questions, or would like further explanation, please contact me directly.

Mike Prangley is an Audiologist registered with CASLPO working for Hearing Solutions. Currently, Mike sees patients at the Masonville Place Hearing Solutions clinic in London, Ontario.

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