If you have ever flown with a severe cold or sinus infection you will know that it can be very painful – you will probably be put off ever again flying with sinus problems. This is because the air pressure inside the cabin (which changes during ascent and descent) must be in equilibrium with the air pressure in the sinuses and the middle ear. Your sinus problem could have caused a blockage in the eustachian tube – and it is this which connects the back of the nose area to the middle ear and assists in keeping the pressure equal on each side of the eardrum.
If the eustachian tube has been blocked you might find that you have other symptoms apart from pain. The middle ear pressure changes can occasionally bring about vertigo (which is a feeling of spinning around), tinnitus (a ringing sensation in the ears) or loss of hearing. In a really severe case it has been known for the year drum to be perforated.
Sometimes a change in the air pressure in the aircraft can actually cause toothache, if you have a disease of the dental pulp. This is a rare condition which can occur when a disease tooth contains a small pocket of air and this is affected by the changes in barometric pressure in the cabin.
If you do have an active sinus-type infection, or ear infection, then most doctors would advise you not to fly.
However, if you do find yourself flying with sinus problems here are a few suggestions to provide some interim relief:
1) Swallowing frequently or chewing gum can help – especially during the ascent and descent phases.
2) Carry out the technique known as the Valsalva. You should hold your nose so it is closed and then attempt to breathe out with your mouth closed also. If the Valsalva has been carried out successfully you will probably hear a faint “popping” noise. This technique is used by many flight attendants and pilots, especially if they have had ear troubles in the past.
3) A new product developed by the Air Force for its pilots is available in pharmacies and can help with blockage of the Eustachian tubes. The product is called “ear planes”, which are earplugs with a small hole that slows down very fast changes in pressure and so prevents damage to the eardrum.
After your flight you will of course want to address the underlying sinusitis problem and you will find that there is a wealth of freely available information on the website shown below. This site specialises in advising people on natural remedies for sinus problems and will help you avoid the use of harsh drugs when you are faced with the prospect of flying with sinus problems.