Like a crying baby, flying with the flu is not pleasant for you or your fellow passengers. The air pressure combined with nasal congestion can cause a buildup in your sinus cavities and cause pain in your nasal passages, sinus pain, blockages in your eustachian tubes, ear pain, and hearing loss, among other symptoms. But when you have sinus pressure issues, flu-related or not, air travel can induce serious pain and potential complications. Doctors typically suggest you avoid flying with a sinus infection, but if you must fly with sinus issues use the following techniques before, during and after your flight to relieve the pressure and associated pain.
What Kind of Sinus Pressure Do You Have?
Treatment for sinus pressure issues during flying can depend on the cause of your individual pressure issues. If you have a cold, flu, ear or sinus infection, over-the-counter or prescription medications will do more to help your condition in-flight than simple physical pressure reduction. If you are prone to pressure issues during air travel, a long-lasting physical solution, such as chewing gum, steroids, or other longer lasting wellness treatment options might be the most appropriate mechanism for you. Check with your healthcare provider to assess the common causes and check your immune system before making any decisions about your sinus problems.
If you have pre-existing sinus pressure, take medications to decrease the pressure before your flight leaves. Over-the-counter decongestant pills or capsules reduce swelling in your sinuses, allowing more airflow. Sinus pressure during air travel occurs because the pressure outside your sinuses changes quicker than your body can equalize, and increased airflow allows your body to bring the two different pressure levels into sync more quickly. Start taking decongestants several days before your flight if possible, or at least a few hours in advance. Use nasal spray or drops to directly treat the area if you have less time available.
During the Flight
Sinus pressure grows worse during take-off, when the plane ascends and the cabin pressure level changes. Two easy physical actions, chewing and swallowing, can slowly relieve pressure as your sinuses equalize to the new cabin pressure. Bring chewing gum and a large bottle of water on the plane with you. Chew gum as the plane is taking off to provide constant attention to the pressure issue. Once the plane levels out, switch to your water bottle. Take large enough sips that you swallow powerfully. Request an extra water bottle or other drink from the flight attendant during beverage service so you maintain a consistent supply.
Even if you have kept your sinus pressure in check throughout the flight, the cabin pressure changes during landing can undo all of your hard work and cause the pain to return. A technique known as the "Valsalva maneuver" can cause instantaneous pressure relief, but it must be used carefully to avoid damaging your sinuses or ear drums. Close your mouth, hold your nose and try to exhale slowly. Repeat, always pushing the air towards your blocked nose slowly, until the pressure subsides to a manageable level.