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Flying with chronic sinusitis: the day I thought I was going to die


I'm not a doctor. This post is just a report of my personal experience and it's not medical advice. Flying with sinusitis or congested nose for whatever reason can be extremely dangerous and can lead to permanent damage. If you suffer from such conditions always check with your doctor before flying.

The plane flies over a group of islands that break the reflection of the sun on the North Sea. We flew over the city and its frozen canals, but we were too high. The pilot has announced he’s performing a larger turn to lose altitude. I close my eyes. I lay my head against the window to enjoy the heat. This is the moment I believe I’m dying.

A sudden stinging pain starts from my right eye up to the head. «A stroke», I think. I raise my arm to call a flight attendant, but it’s too late. The impact of the wheels touching the ground shakes the plane.

The aircraft leaves the runway. I’m almost crying. Flight assistants approach me, ask some questions and calm me down. There’s an emergency room in the terminal.

The doctor is a tall, blond woman, in her fifty. She performs several medical tests on me. Then she puts in my ear something that resembles a pen, and asks: «Do you suffer from sinusitis?»

After this incident, I had several medical checks, a CT scan of my head, and found out I suffer from chronic nonallergic sinusitis.

What is sinusitis

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, four pairs of air-filled cavities inside the face connected to the outside through the nose, which communicates with the Eustachian tubes allowing pressure equalization. If these connections are interrupted, due to bacterial proliferation or congestion, pressure can raise in the head, causing severe pain and even more serious conditions.

Sinusitis can be chronic, acute, caused by an allergy, a cold, or dental work. Furthermore, the dry and cool air inside an airplane could worsen the symptoms.

Flying with sinusitis is not only uncomfortable or painful but also severely hazardous. Dizziness, ear bleeding, hearing loss, or eardrum break are some of the potential dangers.

Flying with sinusitis, like flying with a cold, should be avoided. In my case, thanks to medical advice and several therapies, I learned to cope with chronic sinusitis. My upper respiratory tract is never perfectly open, flying is not as comfortable as in the past, but I take all the precautions to do it safely.

photo: pixabay

Keep the upper respiratory tract free

The most effective solution for my sinusitis is a long-term one. During the year, I undergo different treatments to reduce inflammation and keep my respiratory tract as free as possible: thermal therapy, nasal irrigations, inhaling steam from a bowl of warm water.

Shortly before and during the flight, I decongest my nose.

Once, I used farmaceutical decongestants that had the advantage to relieve my airways immediately but not without problems. First of all, there are side effects, of which some can be very severe.

A decongestant medicine can’t be used more than once within a few hours. Its effect is almost immediate, but its effectiveness is short. For a brief flight, when I need to decongest before the ascent, and during the descent, there’s not the time required for different applications.

Furthermore, there are legal problems. If a drug is legal in my country, it may not be in another. If a prescription isn’t required where I live, it may be required elsewhere. Thus, it’s necessary to verify import and transportation regulations for drugs both for the destination and the transit countries.

A saline spray is the most effective, cheap and natural solution. I buy saline solutions in a pharmacy or prepare them at home using sea salt and distilled water.

Another valid option for me is tiger balm. I rub it under my nose during the flight. Its balsamic effluents help to fluidify and free clogged nose. It’s a simple solution, but it’s not suitable for those who suffer from skin sensitivity: tiger balm is slightly irritating.

photo: pixabay

Physical maneuvers

In combination with decongestion, I use physical procedures. Essentially, I pop my ears. I close my mouth, pinch my nose shut and swallow, or I gently push the air out as if I wanted to blow up a balloon.

The increasing pressure makes the Eustachian tubes open, air reaches the ear and compensates for pressure difference.

Also yawning or chewing a hard candy sometimes help.


Hydration is important for various flying related problems and even more for sinusitis.

Hydration helps to keep the airways moist and fluidifies mucus.

Proper hydration means drinking water. Alcohol does not hydrate and can worsen sinusitis. Sugary drinks and coffee should also be avoided.

Do you suffer from sinusitis or other conditions while flying? How do you deal with them? I wait for your comments below!

By | 2017-09-05T22:16:27+00:00 September 4th, 2017|Categories: Editorials|2 Comments


  1. Birgit | Groove Is In The Heart 28 October, 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Oh my word! I can sooo relate to your post. I also suffer from chronic sinusitis (and chronic allergies). And I can also remember a handful of flights where it felt like my head was about to explode! Luckily over the years and many specialists later I have found a way to manage it much better with meds and doing things like steaming etc. And, when I fly I always drink LOTS of water (no alcohol), chew chewing gum on take off and as soon as air pressure starts to drop in preparation of landing and yes, I learned popping my ears – best advice ever! Thanks for your post. Few people understand how extremely painful this can be.

    • windbehindme 29 October, 2017 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to find out I’m not alone. I believe it’s important not to stop traveling if a doctor allows for it and learn how to cope with this condition, even if sometimes I feel quite weird with all my “rituals” before flying 🙂

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