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Flying with congestion

Flying with congestion
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Is it safe to fly with a stuffy nose or a head cold?

Congestion is uncomfortable at the best of times, leaving you feeling run down, tired and definitely not at your best. Changes in pressure during air travel can cause pain and discomfort and most travellers will want to avoid this.

Why is congestion painful during air travel?

Your body’s ability to deal with pressure change is impeded when you have congestion caused by a head cold. Inflammation stops your ears from popping in response to changes in pressure.

Air travel involves some steep pressure changes during take-off and landing, and you cannot find relief by getting off the plane mid-flight! So flying with a sinus or ear infection can be painful, and it may even leave you with a temporarily damaged eardrum or temporary hearing loss.

Should I change my flight if I have a sinus infection?

If you are not sure if you are going to be okay flying because of sinus pressure or an ear infection, seek medical advice and get a doctor’s note. You can show this to your airline and it may be possible to change your flight. Your doctor can also provide advice on relieving the symptoms of congestion during your flight.

Flying with a cold may expose your fellow passengers to the virus that caused it. If you can’t cancel or change your flight, to reduce the chances of spreading your cold to others, bring plenty of tissues to contain your respiratory droplets, avoid touching your face as far as possible and clean your hand often.

How can I relieve sinus pressure while flying?

Taking decongestants and staying well hydrated will all help with sinus pressure in-flight. Sucking or chewing hard candy during take-off and landing may help, too, as can nasal sprays. You can get advice from a pharmacist about specific products that will relieve congestion during your flight.

After you land, if you are still uncomfortable, a hot steamy shower can help, and continue taking decongestants, too.

If the effects of ear or sinus pain during your flight persist, speak to a healthcare professional. We have some information about getting medical help at your destination.

What other steps can I take to protect my health while travelling?

When travelling, you may be exposed to pathogens and health risks that are not present in Canada. So getting some advice from a travel health nurse or pharmacist makes a lot of sense. We recommend making a travel health appointment six to eight weeks before you travel to get up-to-date advice on the health risks you are likely to encounter while travelling.

Your travel health adviser may also recommend getting vaccinated against diseases like hepatitis A,Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever if that’s appropriate.

To make an appointment at one of our travel health clinics, go to our clinics page and select the city nearest you. We have plenty of appointments in our convenient city-centre locations, and we can provide travel health advice at the start and end of the day so you don’t have to take time off work.