Why Air Travel Can Impact Your Sinus Health (And What You Can Do)

If you experience pain, pressure, and other uncomfortable sinus symptoms in flight, you already know air travel can have the potential to wreak havoc on your sinuses. Understanding the relationship between flying and your sinuses can help you prevent painful sinus symptoms and protect your sinus health while traveling. 

Whether you are a frequent flyer or just have travel plans in your future, read on below to learn more:  

Why can air travel have a negative influence on your sinus health?

Airplane cabin air supply, germs

On an airplane, the cabin air supply contains various contaminants that carry potential harm to the sinuses—and may play a role in introducing bacteria into the sinus cavities.

Of course, traveling also exposes you to more people, places, and surfaces—increasing the potential to come into contact with germs and viruses. People often get sick while traveling by transferring those germs and viruses from surfaces to their eyes, mouth, and nose. 

Dry airplane air

Airplane air is dryer than typical air. The low humidity of cabin air can inflame the sinus’s delicate mucous membranes. The lack of moisture can also disrupt their natural cleaning process—leaving you more vulnerable to infection.  This is because dry air decreases the flow of mucus in the nose and lets bacteria and viruses stick to the inside the nose—and the insufficient moisture diminishes your body’s ability to flush them out. 

Combined with the increased exposure to air contaminants—those who easily susceptible to sinus infection—and even those who aren’t—may find themselves landing with the onset of sinusitis. 

Cabin pressure 

The changes in barometric pressure that occur when flying can also be harmful to your sinuses, cause painful symptoms and contribute to your risk of infection.  During take-off and landing, changes in the air pressure inside the plane’s cabin affects the air inside and outside of your head—which normally, should be balanced. If your sinuses are congested, however, there will be an unbalanced amount of pressure. Not only can that be a very painful experience, but it can also increase nasal congestion, heighten allergies, worsen colds, and even trauma to the sinuses, if severe enough.

The failure of sinus or ear pressure to equalize with that of the cabin pressure, can also increase your susceptibility to infection and blockages of the Eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose). As a result (without preventative measures and if left untreated), you may develop tinnitus or “ringing of the ears,” vertigo, and other ear potentially serious problems. Yikes!

What can you do to protect your sinus health when you fly? 

While frequent air travel has the potential to lead to sinus problems, there are of course, other potential contributing factors. Those who already deal with sinus issues, in particular, may find flying makes things worse. 

Below are some tips to help prevent sinus problems and minimize the damaging effects flying can have on your health: 

  • Use a saline solution frequently—before, after, and even during—air travel to help maintain moisture in the nose, and clear pathogens and irritants from the sinus area 
  • If you experience sinus pressure during flights, using a decongestant spray before boarding and/or landing can help keep nasal passages clear; taking an oral decongestant before your flight can also be helpful (decongestants should be used cautiously, however, as they can also cause nasal dryness)
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently (and/or wash your hands), and avoid touching your face with your hands
  • Get adequate rest and nutrition
  • Drink plenty of water, and avoid caffeine and alcohol (which can dehydrate you) 
  • Complete the “Modified Valsalva” maneuver by closing your mouth and lightly pinching your nose shut—while swallowing and blowing into the nose (this exercise works to help equalize the pressure in one’s head, sinuses and ears during lift-off and landing)

If you are a frequent flyer and chronic sinusitis sufferer—or experience painful sinus issues while traveling—get checked out by a specialist and don’t put off treatment. 

Contact our office today. We’re happy to help. Find the relief you deserve, so you can be free to roam.