Flying with a Sinus Infection: Tips to Avoid Pain

Feb, 20, 2024

Being sick is never fun, and traveling while sick is even worse. While it is never ideal to be traveling with a sinus infection, sometimes there is no other option. If flights are non-refundable or you simply need to get somewhere, flying with a sinus infection might be your only choice.

I’ve been there several times. When I was younger, my family used to get sinus infections several times per year. As most people with frequent sinus problems know, sometimes an infection – especially a viral infection – just needs to run its course.

This post will cover everything you need to know before you fly with a sinus infection, including some tips I have learned over the years.

Sinus pain and airplanes aren’t a great combination, but there are several things you can do to make your flight as tolerable as possible. The good news is that as long as your doctor agrees, there’s a strong chance you won’t need to change any travel plans.

I am not a doctor, and this post does not provide medical advice. Rather, this post suggest strategies for flying with a sinus infection if your doctor gives you approval to fly.

sick man wiping nose with tissue paper

Is It Safe to Fly with a Sinus Infection?

As a general rule, it is relatively safe (although not recommended) for you to fly with a sinus infection if it is your only illness and you are in otherwise good health and as long as your doctors agrees. Pilots and flight attendants run into this issue frequently, as you might imagine. While it is always better to stay home than to board a flight with a sinus infection, you usually can fly if you have a real need to.

If you are an otherwise healthy individual, and your sinus infection is not contagious, you should be fine to fly. If you have any other ailments, like a fever, cough, or an ear infection in the middle ear or deeper, you may want to reconsider flying.

While the above is true for adults, the case with small children and babies may be different. A baby’s nasal cavity is significantly smaller than an adult’s, and several treatment options for adults aren’t recommended for children. The painful symptoms of a sinus infection may be worse for babies as a result.

Consult Your Doctor Before Flying with a Sinus Infection

While most people with a sinus infection can fly at little risk to themselves, you should always consult your doctor before boarding a plane while sick. Your doctor understands your unique health best, and they can properly recommend flying or staying home. The best way to know whether or not it is safe is by asking your primary care physician.

One of the biggest things that needs to be considered is the overall strength of your immune system and any other ailments or health conditions that you may have. Airplanes, while frequently sanitized, are cesspools for germs. This is because all of the air is recycled through the cabin several times throughout a given flight.

While airplanes now use great air purification systems because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still always a chance of getting sick onboard an airplane. In addition to that, there are rapid changes to an airplane’s cabin pressure during takeoff and landing, which can be rough on inflamed sinus cavities and cause dull ear pain to ring even more.

These recycled germs, the plane’s dry air, plus the air pressure changes that occur during takeoff and landing can really leave infected nasal passages in pain.

male doctor in white robe holding a stethoscope

Consider the Risk You Pose to Other Passengers Before Flying

You aren’t the only one to consider when you are thinking about flying with a sinus infection. There will likely be hundreds of other passengers onboard your flight to whom you don’t want to spread your sinus infection.

Generally speaking, sinus infections aren’t very contagious, if at all. If all you have is a sinus infection, you can likely fly without infecting any other passengers. However, if you have any other symptoms, the odds of infecting fellow passengers go up significantly.

That is because sinus infections are usually caused by another culprit. Most people who wind up with a sinus infection start out with a common cold or flu-like infection. If the immune system struggles to fight it off, other infections may take hold.

If your flu or cold symptoms have subsided, or if you never had them to begin with, you may no longer be contagious. In this case, you can fly without posing too great of a risk to other passengers.

In any case, it is best to take measures to protect other passengers. Frequently washing your hands, coughing and sneezing into your elbow, and potentially wearing a mask in tight spaces are all ways that can protect against the spread of your infection. If you want to be extra cautious, you can even get tested for common detectible infections before flying, like the flu.

woman in black long sleeve shirt sitting on airplane seat wearing a mask

Risks of Flying With a Sinus Infection

If you suspect you have a sinus infection, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor before traveling. While many people with sinus infections can safely travel as long as they mitigate symptoms, this isn’t the case for everyone. If someone has an underlying sinus issue or a different underlying condition, like high blood pressure, air travel may cause severe pain that requires medical attention.

The pressure difference that occurs from rapidly ascending to a high altitude while dealing with certain sinus conditions can be very painful and even damaging. When you have a sinus infection, each eustachian tube has a hard time acclimating to changes in external pressure. Your doctor is the best judge of whether or not you are at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

If you are feeling under the weather and are considering airplane travel, it’s important you get a diagnosis first. While you should visit with your doctor before an upcoming flight, sinus infection symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Ear pressure
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Severe sinus pressure
  • Facial pressure
  • A burning sensation at the back of the nose or top of the throat (post-nasal drip)
  • And more

Tips for Flying with a Sinus Infection

Whether you have an acute sinus infection or a form of chronic sinusitis, flying can be challenging. Luckily, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that help to alleviate the symptoms of sinus issues while flying! Depending on the person, some of these preventative measures may be more helpful than others, but they’re all worth trying.

a glass of orange juice and sliced oranges on a wooden table

1. Fill Up on Vitamin C for Several Days Prior to Flying

One of the best things you can do before flying with a sinus infection is to make sure your body’s stores of vitamin C are adequate. Your body stores vitamin C to use to fight against infections when needed. While many people think they can just gulp down an Emergen-C or a few glasses of orange juice before they leave for the airport, this isn’t the best approach.

Your body can only absorb so much vitamin C in a given day. While products like Emergen-C have their advantages, consuming 10x your daily recommended value of vitamin C in one sitting is actually very ineffective. Much of that will leave the body without ever being absorbed.

A better way to make sure your body has enough vitamin C before flying is to focus on ingesting a healthy amount every day for a week prior to flying. This consistency helps your body to absorb the vitamin more efficiently, and it can help to both fight your infection and prevent it from spreading.

2. Pack a Nasal Decongestant Spray

Nasal congestion tends to get much worse on airplanes because of the rapid changes in cabin pressure. This is why some perfectly healthy people even get congested on a long flight! If your sinus’ mucous membranes are already inflamed before flying, the additional pressure of the flight will probably make things worse.

Nasal sprays are one of the best tools available for temporary relief from sinus pain while flying. Some nasal sprays contain active medicinal ingredients, while others are just saline sprays. Both can be very effective at temporarily opening up the sinus passageways and facilitating easier breathing.

If you can’t get your hands on a nasal spray, you could make your own saline solution by mixing two teaspoons of non-iodized salt to a quart of distilled water. If you are flying, it’s best to use the spray about a half hour before takeoff so that the spray can kick in before your sinuses experience sharp changes in pressure. Saline rinses are a great way to maintain sinus health even when you aren’t sick, too!

3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

When fighting any illness, one of the best things that you can do is hydrate. Your body uses a lot of water when fighting off a sickness, and it’s very important you focus on drinking plenty of water each day leading up to your trip. Similar to vitamin C, it’s best to start hydrating several days in advance of your upcoming flight.

This is doubly important when it comes to air travel, as flying even when healthy can be very dehydrating. The dry air in aircraft cabins along with several other factors can easily dehydrate passengers. When you’re sick, it’s crucial that you drink as much water as you can.

three water bottles lying on their side

4. Pinch Your Nose and Blow Softly

One of the best ways to regulate the pressure in your sinuses and ears is the Valsalva Maneuver. This refers to the concept of blowing your nose softly while pinching both nostrils shut. This tactic forces your inner ear and sinuses to regulate against the external air pressure.

This method is considered safe as long as you blow softly. If you blow too hard, you risk potential harm to your eardrum. Severe cases may even lead to a ruptured ear drum.

Done cautiously, this is one of the best ways to alleviate pressure buildup while flying with a sinus infection.

5. Rest Up Before Flying

One of the best things you can do before any long trip is make sure that you are well-rested. Jet lag is much worse if you depart on short sleep, and this is even more true when you’re sick. Focus on getting adequate sleep several nights in a row before your trip, as well as sleeping on the plane.

6. Chew Gum on the Flight

When you have a sinus infection, your sinuses and eustachian tubes have a hard time regulating pressure. Swallowing and chewing are two motions that help your ears to regulate. Chewing gum naturally encourages both of these motions, which can help your ears to regulate more regularly throughout takeoff and landing.

This is also why many experts recommend feeding a baby during takeoff and landing. Their ears have a hard time regulating to the changing cabin pressure, and the suckling and swallowing motions help their ears to smoothly acclimate.

7. Opt for Direct Flights When Possible

When flying with a sinus infection, takeoff and landing are the biggest challenges. Once you reach cruising altitude, there is little to worry about until your final descent.

With that in mind, it makes sense to book direct flights whenever possible if you will be traveling with a sinus infection. Every layover adds an additional takeoff and landing for your body to deal with. This can be very taxing on your sick body, even if you are otherwise healthy.

If you get sick after booking your flights, and your itinerary has a layover, look into your airline’s flight change policy to see if you can switch to a direct flight. Many airlines allow free changes, which can be a big advantage when you’re sick.

Hopefully this post answered any questions you may have about flying with a sinus infection. If you have any further questions, let us know by dropping a comment below!



Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Paulina Soto

    May 9, 2024

    Really appreciated the tips on flying with a sinus infection. It’s reassuring to know what precautions to take and how to manage the discomfort. The advice on hydration, using a nasal spray, and consulting a doctor before flying is especially practical. Definitely a must-read for anyone facing this dilemma!

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.