How does air travel affect sinuses?
Anytime you are traveling or sharing public spaces in areas in close proximity to others, the chances of catching a bacterial or viral infection are higher. Germs are more likely to spread in this kind of environment and certain allergens, like pet dander, could be present. Many take care when traveling on the subway, trains, buses, and planes to avoid germs by wearing face masks, taking multivitamins, or using hand sanitizer. While these can help in any mass transit situation, there are certain difficulties during air travel that are harder to avoid, such as close quarters, small cabin space, dry air, drastic altitude changes, and shared circulated air. These difficulties may make air travel particularly hard on your immune system, sinuses, and ears.
How does air travel affect ears and sinuses?
What do air travel, sinus infections, colds, and ear infections have in common? During air travel, the cabin pressure needed during ascent and descent can cause pain and pressure in the sinuses, face, and ears. Many have experienced “popping” in your ears or some other side effect of this cabin pressure while flying.
For those who have an existing ear infection, allergies, sinus infections, or congestion might experience added pain and pressure during air travel. Flying with a pre-existing ear infection or other ear, nose, or throat condition could even lead to complications in some cases. For this reason, many doctors will recommend avoiding air travel when experiencing a severe infection in the ears, nose, or throat.
What is airplane ear?
Airplane ear, also called barotrauma, aerotitis media, or barotitis media, is a condition characterized by stress on the eardrum and tissues within the eardrum during a flight. This usually occurs during the beginning or end of the flight, during the extreme altitude changes. The pressure changes that occur during this time cause rapid changes in the air pressure and balance of your ear, which can cause the condition. The condition can be triggered by the common cold, sinus infections, and ear infections, and in rare cases could lead to hearing loss or chronic tinnitus.
What are the symptoms of airplane ear?
The main symptoms that you might notice on a flight if you are experiencing airplane ear include:
- Pain or discomfort in your ear
- Stuffiness in the ear/clogged ears
- Inability to hear
- Tinnitus (ears ringing)
- Vertigo (dizziness)
- Ear bleeding
- Sinus headaches
Is it safe to fly with an ear infection or sinus infection?
Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid air travel when you are sick with an ear infection or sinus infection. Check with your doctor to learn more about when it is safe to travel and how to avoid complications when flying with an ear infection or sinusitis. Some of the ways you can avoid airplane ear and other discomforts associated with air travel and cabin pressure include:
- Use alternative travel or avoid travel when you have an ear infection or sinusitis
- Staying awake during flight takeoff and landing
- Using earplugs with filters to help equalize pressure
- Use decongestant spray
- Take allergy medication prior to the flight if you suffer from allergies
- Yawning and/or swallowing during flight takeoff and landing
If you are suffering from travel and flight ear, nose, and throat problems, the first step is to consult with a sleep health expert. Ear, nose, and throat specialists at eos sleep have extensive experience in treating ear, nose, and throat conditions as well as sleep-related problems. Call 212.873.6036 today or fill out the form on this page to schedule an appointment or to learn more about eos sleep treatment options.