Tips to Help Relieve Sinus Pressure While Traveling

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Release the Pressure: How to Relieve Sinus Pressure on Your Next Flight

When you have allergies or sinus pressure, ascending thousands of feet above the ground in a dry cabin can make you downright miserable. Whether the kids just brought a cold home from school, or you're one of the nearly 30 million people with chronic sinusitis, there are a few things you can do to make your ride through the sky more comfortable.

On the Ground

If you're struggling with sinus issues before your trip, do everything you can before leaving home to reduce your sinus pressure during your flight.

  • Take an over-the-counter decongestant before you leave home. This can reduce pressure by reducing swelling in your sinuses and making it easier and less painful to breathe while flying. Don't take aspirin to reduce your sinus pain. It can cause a potentially life-threatening reaction if you have nasal polyps and asthma along with your sinusitis. 
  • Take a hot, steamy shower. Steam helps loosen secretions and soothe sinus passages.
  • Strike a pose. Yoga poses such as a shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) and fish pose (Matsyasana) can help break up congestion and encourage drainage.
  • Use a neti pot or sinus rinse. A mild saline solution can help clear your sinuses and reduce inflammation.

In the Air

Bring an empty water bottle with you through security. Once you're beyond the security check, fill it at a drinking fountain and sip from it while in the air. The swallowing action will help relieve pressure. Chew gum or suck on hard candy during takeoff to help equalize ear and sinus pressure.

You might not be the only one in your family affected by sinus problems while flying. Babies and children are particularly sensitive to changes in air pressure that can cause sinus pain and ear pressure. Give babies a pacifier or bottle when taking off or landing, and let small children chew gum, eat peanut butter or suck on candy. The sucking and swallowing action will help clear their ears and sinuses. With this approach in mind, pack plenty of snacks and juice for your small children to enjoy while flying. The TSA makes exceptions to the 3-ounce liquid rule when it comes to nourishment for kids. Just keep in mind that any liquids will need to pass through X-ray or other screening.

After You Land

Dry airplane air can exacerbate tender sinuses and mucous membranes, especially if you have allergies or a virus like the common cold complicating things. Swollen membranes clog the Eustachian tubes that connect your inner ear with the back of your throat, building pressure in your sinuses and ears. Despite your best efforts, you may leave the plane with sinus pain, difficulty hearing or the sensation of your head feeling blocked. Here are a couple of things to try to relieve the pressure:

The Valsalva maneuver: Lightly pinch your nostrils shut, close your mouth and gently try to exhale through your blocked nostrils. Repeat until the pressure subsides, being careful not to exhale too forcefully, which can cause ear damage.

Rinse, repeat: When you get to your hotel, repeat your pre-flight efforts, including rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot or saline solution, taking a hot shower and assuming yoga poses for relief.