Flying with a Sinus Infection: Tips to Avoid Pain

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The inside of a plane creates conditions that can negatively impact your health while airborne. For instance, the air can dry your throat and nose, making traveling stressful for those with sinus problems. If you’re flying with a sinus infection, here are the top tips to manage it.

Understanding Sinus Infections

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, happens when the tissue lining the sinuses becomes swollen because of an inflammatory response, such as when you get infected with a virus. While it’s not a serious condition — and rarely becomes life-threatening — the painful symptoms can get worse. Since the inner ear can’t keep up with the air pressure changes in the cabin, mild symptoms can become more painful.

If you get a sinus infection on the day of your flight, consider changing your travel plans and rebooking for another day. What are the reasons? Sinus pain can get unbearable.

Complications of Flying With a Sinus Infection

The best course of action to prevent complications is to avoid traveling by plane. If alternate vehicles are an option, travel by train or bus. While it may take longer, you reduce the risk of severe sinus pain. If you must travel, there are possible health consequences.

1. Worsening Symptoms

The following are common symptoms of sinus infection:

  • Nasal congestion and discharge
  • Pain in the sinus cavities that feels like pressure behind the eyes
  • Toothache
  • Fever
  • Sore throat and postnasal drip
  • Headache
  • Cough that gets worse at night
  • Bad breath or loss of smell

After flying, there’s the possibility of these symptoms increasing in severity.

2. Ear or Sinus Barotrauma

You may develop ear or sinus barotrauma, ear pain that’s also known as airplane ear, which is a type of ear damage. It can cause sinus pain that can lead to lifelong hearing loss if there’s an existing problem with the eustachian tube.

Preparing for a Painless Flight

The following tips are the things you can do to reduce the discomfort of sinus infection or severe sinus pressure while flying:

1. Visit Your Doctor

Sinus issues share many symptoms with the common cold, flu, and allergy, so people sometimes mistake it for a different condition. Meet with your care provider to get a correct diagnosis and advice on whether it’s safe to fly. Ask what treatment or strategies are available to reduce painful symptoms for an upcoming flight. They may provide an OTC pain reliever or a prescription medication.

2. Use a Nasal Decongestant

Sinusitis often gets better on its own. However, many use decongestants to relieve the symptoms. You can get these over the counter medications in pill or spray form at a local pharmacy. They help reduce the inflammation in the nasal passages, unstuff the nose so you can breathe better and provide temporary relief. You should only take the pills for a week and use the spray for three days. If the infection doesn’t improve, visit your doctor for a check-up. You may have more serious sinus conditions.

3. Chew Mint Gum

Movements in areas around the sinus, such as the jaw and throat, can help drain the pressure in the sinuses. In addition, chewing relieves tension and massages the gums much better than a closed mouth for extended periods. Bring some mint gum and chew them during the flight. The good news is mint also helps to soothe irritation and makes breathing easier.

4. Drink Enough Water

The dry air inside aircraft cabins lacks moisture. Your nose and throat can feel dry and worsen sinus infection. The best way to moisturize your throat and avoid aggravating symptoms is to drink plenty of water on a long flight. Bring an empty water bottle you can fill after the security check and take this on your carry-on to stay replenished.

5. Get Enough Sleep

One way to improve sinus health while flying is to get enough shuteye the night before the trip. Plan your rest time around your schedule to get as much uninterrupted sleep as possible before your flight. Sleep is vital for your immune system. Get to bed early and ensure your environment is conducive to sleep.

flying with a sinus infection
Courtesy Unsplash

Post-Flight Care

You must continue treatment after you arrive at your destination to recover from sinusitis. Take your medications or use nasal sprays to soothe symptoms. In addition, get enough rest to regain your health. Avoid doing any stressful activity that may worsen sinus infection.

Finally, call your doctor to schedule a follow-up checkup if necessary. Many cases of sinusitis heal with medication and rest, but consult your care provider if it doesn’t improve and get proper medical attention.

Practice Self-Care When Flying With a Sinus Infection

It’s best to avoid flying with a sinus infection. Otherwise, be ready with your self-care kit, like a bottle of water, nasal spray, mint-flavored gum and prescriptions. These things will make flying less painful and troublesome.

About the Author

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Beth Rush

Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor and Content Manager at Body+Mind.

Body+Mind features articles about diet, fitness, mental health, parenting and health care.




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