How to Minimize Sinus Discomfort on Airplanes

Flying is frequently painful for me because I have very bad sinuses. The pressure changes in flight tend to make my ears, face and teeth hurt rather severely – to the point where I didn’t fly for ten years. Here are some tips that I use when I travel now to eliminate and minimize discomfort. If this is a serious issue for you though, you may want to speak to your doctor, as there are apparently prescription medications available to help with this issue; unfortunately, they and I don’t get along so well.

1. There is a product called “EarPlanes” that is available at Sharper Image, many online retailers and generally (but not always, so plan ahead) newsstands in the airport. These are small specially designed earplugs that make the pressure changes more gentle and should alleviate some of your discomfort. EarPlanes are cheap ($6 a pair), can be used a few times before needing replacement and allow you to hear normally (however, they make wearing many types of headphones impossible, so if you plan to listen to music during your flight, check them and your headphones out in advance. Ear bud headphones obviously will not work with them, and so you may want to consider larger, DJ-style headphones). They are also a small translucent blue and are not that noticeable and are available in both child and adult sizes.

2. If you don’t mind looking like a weirdo, this works to relieve in-flight sinus pressure (I originally got this tip from a flight attendant, so chances are they will actually know what you’re doing): Punch a hole into the bottom of a paper cup. Then, wet a towel with warm or hot water, squeeze the water out, and place in the bottom of the cup. Place cup over ears during landing and takeoff. You’ll need one for each ear. Yes, you will look like a freak, but it helps with the sinus pain.

3. Many medications that help with sinus discomfort are also extremely drying. If you choose to use a product like Triamenic (my personal recommendation) be sure to drink at least twice as much water as you normally would on the flight, or else you’ll still be uncomfortable.

4. Learn your pressure points. Holding your head down, and pressing under your cheekbones by your nose and along your neck by your ears can help clear blockages and minimize sinus pain during a flight.

5. Buy a pilot’s headset. I take flying lessons for small planes. The headsets used form a seal to minimize pressure discomforts while in the air. They will also help when flying in a commercial jet. Yes, you will look silly, but again, it works. To minimize the absurdity factor, use a screwdriver to remove the microphone extension.

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