Cramped seats, flight delays, questionable layovers…airplane flights can have their own special set of “challenges.” But the pain that comes from flying with a sinus infection? That can be excruciating.
As a general rule, docs will tell you to avoid flying while you have a sinus infection. What’s the problem? Pressure. When your flight ascends and descends, air pressure changes rapidly, and your sinuses and middle ear have to adjust.
Adjustments can’t happen properly when certain sicknesses, such as sinus infections, block your body’s mechanisms to help equalize pressure. The result: uncomfortable, painful pressure that can make your head feel like it’s about to pop. In the worst cases, when pressure changes frequently in a short time — like with multiple layovers — the eardrum can actually rupture.
If it’s unavoidable and you have to fly, there are a few measures to help tackle pressure problems both before the flight and once you’re airborne.
From Dr. Robert Pincus: “Using Afrin nasal spray (oxymetazoline . 1/2%) 2 sprays in each nostril 1-2 hours before landing can help lessen the chance of the pressure change on landing causing sinus and ear pain.”
- Decongestants and expectorants. Medicines like Mucinex (guaifenesin) can help control the excess mucous that blocks sinuses. Check with your doc about which OTC products might be helpful — each brand and formula can affect symptoms differently.
- Pain relievers. A simple OTC medicine can help alleviate discomfort.
- The Valsalva maneuver. The what? In the Valsalva maneuver, you gently hold your nose closed while trying to exhale through a closed mouth. (You might hear a quick popping sound.) Just be sure not to exhale too hard, or you can damage your eardrums.
- Water. Airplane air tends to be dry. Dry sinuses mean more problems for you. Good old H2O can help keep your sinuses hydrated and functioning properly.
- Gum. Chewing gum (or swallowing frequently) can help provide relief from painful pressure. A pacifier can offer similar benefits for babies.
If you have specific questions about flying with a sinus infection — or if you’re wondering whether you’re well enough to fly — give us a call. Each case is unique, and we’d be happy to help you assess the situation before you take to the skies.