Whether you love the adventure or hate the hassle, you can’t avoid air travel forever.  Eventually, you’ll find yourself buying a ticket and boarding a plane.  It’s inevitable.  Unfortunately, almost 20 percent of air passengers report cold-like symptoms within seven days of flying.  The good news is, you can avoid these sinus problems after air travel by taking care of yourself before, during, and after you fly.

Why Our Sinuses are Susceptible
There are a number of factors that add up to the perfect storm for your sinus cavity.

  • The low pressure, dry air, and reduced oxygen lead to impaired immune systems and inflamed sinus cavities.
  • Another problem is the confined space you’re forced to sit in for long periods of time. The airflow is limited, and you can’t get away from a sick neighbor.

It’s estimated that it takes less than ten minutes for infected droplets in the air to travel seven rows in front and behind someone who sneezes.  Because you’re all stuck in the plane together, your exposure time is greatly increased and the air is more saturated with infected droplets than outside air is.

Hydration is Key
Travelers have found that staying hydrated makes a huge difference when it comes to their sinuses.

  • Some experienced flyers suggest drinking between five and eight glasses of water before flying.  Continuing to drink water while on the plane can also help.
  • It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol, which cause dehydration at a faster rate.  Drinking hot herbal tea is an alternative to try, especially if you breathe in the steam to keep your sinuses moist.
  • Using a nasal saline solution before and after flying is another trick you might find helpful.
  • Flushing the nose with water or saline washes away allergens, and fungal and viral pathogens.  Rinsing the nasal cavity before flight can clear away anything harmful before you sit in dry air for hours.  Rinsing after your flight can remove anything you might have inhaled.

Reduce the Pressure
If you have to fly when you’re already struggling with sinus symptoms, you are in for a rough trip.  The changes in pressure can be very painful to congested sinuses.  Some of us have a hard time dealing with the changing pressure without being sick, but add sinus inflammation into the mix and your flight can be miserable.

  • Using a decongestant spray about two hours before your flight takes off is a trick you might try to reduce inflammation, especially if you already feel congested.
  • If you’re not afraid to look a little silly, you could also try the “modified valsalva” maneuver.  Whenever you’re dealing with pressure changes, use your thumb and forefinger to hold your nose closed while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon.  Then, breathe gently into your nose to pop your ears.  Trying the modified valsalva a few times an hour might make the pressure more bearable.

Eat Foods that Reduce Inflammation
In the seven or so days leading up to your flight you can try eating foods known to reduce inflammation:

  • Omega 3s, beans, nuts, and eggs
  • Tart cherries, berries, apples, and pears
  • Avocados, tomatoes, broccoli, and leafy greens
  • Turmeric spice, ginger, basil, or cayenne pepper

You can also try taking an herbal supplement that’s known to be an immune booster.  Echinacea, elderberry, beta-glucans, or ginseng might help keep your immune system stronger while flying.  Some travelers like to start an immune booster regiment a full fourteen days before they fly, while others wait until a week before the flight.

With some forethought, you can reduce your chance of dealing with sinus problems after air travel.  Some simple planning ahead can make your next flight the best one yet.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author: Michele Holincheck, FNP

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