8 Tips For Flying With A Cold

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Flying with a cold can be a downright excruciating experience. Due to altitude changes and increased pressure, even flying when you’re not sick can have side effects on your ears and sinuses. Being a regular traveler that always seems to come down with a sinus infection the day before departure I’ve had experience with these issues a while, and I think I’ve curated a very helpful list of tips for flying with a cold that will make a painful plane ride a little more pleasant for you.

If you have a bad sinus infection, doctors will recommend you to either cancel or change your travel plans until it clears up, but let’s be real, this isn’t always something you can or want to do. So, if you absolutely have to fly, instead of suffering through takeoff and landing, try some of my following techniques for preventing and dealing with plugged ears and the other typical symptoms of flying with a cold.

8 Ways to Save Your Ears When Flying with a Cold

 

Helpful Tips For Flying With A Cold

8. Take an over-the-counter decongestant

About 20 minutes before you take off and descend, take a decongestant. This will open up your sinus tubes and help prevent or alleviate the pain. Over the counter, decongestants can be a modern miracle for those really horrible colds that seem to seal off your entire head but be careful with how much and how often you use these. Decongestants can’t cure your ailment, but they do help alleviate symptoms. Remember that the ingredients in these can also be harmful if you used too heavily or too often, but in small doses, these can make flying with a cold much easier.

7. Always pack gum and or chewy candy 

Not only will gum keep your breath smelling delicious but chomping on something chewy will help your ears pop when flying. If you don’t have gum you can also try a chewy candy, this also tends to help. As long as you have something that will produce more saliva in your mouth and you remember to swallow more, this will help to pop your ears in the air and alleviate the pressure.

6. Sip on Water

If you don’t have any gum or candy, taking sips of water continuously can also help your ears pop. The trick is to keep swallowing to increase the likelihood your ears popping in a gentle way. If you try too aggressively you could end up irritating your ear canal and sinuses further. Especially when you’re flying with a cold or a sinus infection, it’s important to try and pop your ears very gently.

5. Yawn or Gently Blow

If you start to feel the sensation of your ears filling, try forcing yourself to yawn. This can help exercise the muscles necessary to pop your ears while flying. If this doesn’t work gently blow while pinching your nose, this should also help reduce any pressure that’s built up in your ears. Just be sure to not do this too hard as it can rupture your eardrum and cause a much more serious issue you’ll have to deal with.

4. Use a Neti Pot  

Every day for at least a week before your flight, rinse your nasal passage using a neti pot. The neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from the nasal cavity and has been used for centuries. All you do is add about 1/2 teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt to enough warm water to fill your neti pot and pour the water into each nostril.

3. Don’t Sleep During Take off or Landing

If you’re asleep during takeoff and landing, you will not be able to equalize the pressure in your head which could lead to pressure build-up in your sinuses. Make sure to set an alarm so that you wake up before ascent or descent. You can also ask a flight attendant to wake you up if you don’t have an alarm.

2. Hold a Cup of Napkins Soaked in Hot Water to Your Ears

Yes, you will look ridiculous, but this may be my favourite technique of all. Ask one of the flight attendants to give you a cup of hot water along with several napkins. Take those napkins and soaked them in the hot water. Place the cup up to the ear that is plugged (use two cups if both are plugged), cover and hold it tight. I also find it even more soothing to take the hot wet napkin out of the cup and hold it directly over the ear while tilting that ear close to your shoulder. This feels great and can help reduce head and ear irritation if you’re feeling that sinus pressure while flying with a cold.

1. Don’t Stress!

I remember the first time I dealt with horrible pressure build up in my ears and they would not pop for days! This can be a traumatizing experience because you think that they will never clear up and you will go through life feeling like you have cotton balls in your ears. Although it can be scary, try to remain calm. Your ears will pop eventually pop and it will like you’ve had a mini orgasm. If however, your ears haven’t popped in 24 hours, I would recommend seeing a doctor who can either pop them for you or give you antibiotics to help clear up those sinuses.

Did you enjoy my tips for flying with a cold and helping your ears to safely and gently pop? Share your thoughts and stories below.

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25 Comments

  1. December 1, 2018 / 5:06 pm

    I am definitely going to try the cups with warm napkins! I flew this year with a horrible ear infection! I had water build up in my middle ear and couldn’t pop my ears for five days prior to my flight. I was on two different antibiotics, sinus decongestant, allergy meds… you name it and nothing worked! I had to fly home though I had no choice and I had to take 2 flights to get home. I got through the first flight with pain but no major issues by my second flight descent was AWFUL! I had so much pain landing and my ear was so full I felt like I was under water. I had that feeling for five days after my flight! It was sooooo awful! It wasn’t till I decided to work out a little one day on the stationary bike that it decided to open up a little. I’m now flying again tomorrow with minor ear irritation and I have PTSD and cannot calm my nerves! I feel better having the cup trick up my sleeve to try! Thank you!

  2. November 23, 2017 / 9:00 am

    Hey Kristen! I had an unforgettable experience of not having my ears pop for days. It was horrible, I thought that my hearing will never come back to normal. Thanks to the bag of gum my friend gave me. Now every time I have to travel I always have with me a pack of gum and my reliable sleeping earplugs.

    • November 26, 2017 / 2:33 pm

      I’m sorry you had a horrible experience. I understand how painful it is. I’m glad you found something that works!

      • December 3, 2017 / 10:17 pm

        It was like a cotton ball was left inside my ears, I was hard of hearing for days. Thought I’d totally lose my hearing sense. It was crazy.

  3. July 5, 2017 / 2:26 am

    Hey Kristen,

    These are some awesome tips, thanks for that.

    I always find that I can pop my ears by plugging my nose and leaning forward, or tilting the plugged ear upwards, then creating pressure to clear my sinuses.

    Although I do find that your top of yawning, breathe, swallow works quite good as well.
    DoctEar recently posted..Howard Leight Impact Pro Earmuff Review 2017My Profile

  4. Lori
    February 21, 2017 / 12:33 am

    I have actually had my eardrums rupture while flying with a cold. Very painful and I still have trouble with them years later when flying. I can’t take a decongestant pill because of medication that I am on so I use a decongestant nasal spray instead. I have used the ear planes for years and rather than cups with napkins and hot water a flight attendant once told me to try the disposable hot packs that you put in your mitts in the winter time. I use them all the time now along with the ear planes, nasal spray and gum chewing. Even with all these things, my ears still give me trouble when I fly but it would be a lot worse if I didn’t use them and I don’t care how ridiculous I look.

  5. Lori Dundas
    February 21, 2017 / 12:29 am

    I have actually had my eardrums rupture while flying with a cold. Very painful and I still have trouble with them years later when flying. I can’t take a decongestant pill because of medication that I am on so I use a decongestant nasal spray instead. I have used the ear planes for years and rather than cups with napkins and hot water a flight attendant once told me to try the disposable hot packs that you put in your mitts in the winter time. I use them all the time now along with the ear planes, nasal spray and gum chewing. Even with all these things, my ears still give me trouble when I fly but it would be a lot worse if I didn’t use them and I don’t care how ridiculous I look.

  6. Jenna
    March 4, 2016 / 2:23 pm

    I’m flying in couple of days and this post was just what I needed. I don’t actually have a cold, but I do have a runny nose. I really really hope that my ears stay fine.

    I’m anxious about the take off, actually have been since I was a kid. The first time I ever flew in a plane I had a cold and my ears reacted, badly. They just wouldn’t pop at all and the entire flight was torture. Think all of those kids that cry the entire flight, I was that kid. The pain was horrible and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m not afraid of flying but I absolutely abhorr take off’s and landings, I am always expecting it to be painful.

  7. December 22, 2015 / 3:10 pm

    I’v never been flying with a cold. But I always have problem with my ears in a plane. Probably it’s awful feeling. Your tips sound useful and look cute 🙂

    • December 26, 2015 / 9:25 am

      Have you tried any of the techniques I’ve mentioned? The decongestants combined with the hot cups are the best.

      • December 28, 2015 / 9:48 am

        Usually I just chewy candy and yawn or blow. Your technique sounds helpful, I\’ll try it next time 🙂 I\’ll have fun )

        • January 2, 2016 / 8:54 am

          That’s worked for me too, but lately I’ve had a lot more issues with my ears and these techniques have been quite helpful. Whatever works just as long as no one is pain 🙂

  8. November 21, 2015 / 6:20 am

    LOL ! The excruciating pain that you can get is I think akin to childbirth 🙁 I doubled up on medications on my last trip, using Mucinex AND Nyquil and it worked to perfection. Love the video !

    • November 24, 2015 / 9:50 am

      Glad you enjoyed the video! I doubled up last time and was fine as well. Thank goodness!

  9. November 17, 2015 / 12:52 am

    In general I think my ears hurt more than other passengers but on my last trip I had a cold as well and it was hell! I thought my ears would explode the minute we started losing altitude and my ears wouldn't pop and I couldn't hear well for 2 days :S

    • November 29, 2015 / 1:05 am

      Oh man I feel your pain! It’s the worst. You actually feel like you’re ears will never be the same again or you’ll go deaf. So scary. What have you been doing to help your ears? Have you tried any of the techniques I’ve mentioned? Do any of them work for you?
      Kristen Sarah recently posted..10 Obscene Hand Gestures Around the WorldMy Profile

  10. November 12, 2015 / 1:25 am

    My ears are incredibly sensitive to this! When I go on a plane it can take up to 14 days for my ears to get back to normal, literally. I found these things called “earplanes” before going on a big trip in 2005, and they saved me! They are like little ear plugs and when I take them out after my flight my ears are totally normal! You can get them at a Walgreens or other drugstore for around $15, and I’ve even seen them in airports lately. They are inexpensive, but one of the most valuable things I travel with!

    • November 15, 2015 / 10:22 pm

      I’ve been told by quite a few people about these earplugs now. I haven’t tried them myself yet but I am very curious to. I’m going to get a set for my next flight. Thanks for your suggestion!

  11. November 10, 2015 / 11:03 am

    Oh, it sucks flying with a cold! The cups against your ears definitely work, I don’t even care how ridiculous it looks haha!
    Rianne recently posted..Tanji Fishing VillageMy Profile

    • November 10, 2015 / 2:04 pm

      It really does. It’s so soothing. I’m so glad I discovered that technique when I did. It was a life savour. Do you have problems with your ears often?

    • November 10, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      Oh no! How long did it last for? Are you feeling better now?