Suffering from an aeroplane headache?

Travelling long distances can be stressful and uncomfortable. Lost baggage, delays and annoying fellow passengers are common irritations when flying. However, many of us will also experience the so-called 'aeroplane headache' as we jet off on our summer holidays. 

Because the air pressure in the aeroplane changes so rapidly, positive or negative pressures can build up in the sinuses if your body is unable to adapt quickly enough. This is made worse if the sinus drainage channels are obstructed. So if you are suffering from a cold, flu or sinus infection, then air travel can cause considerable discomfort or pain. In most instances, over-the-counter medications can provide relief. However, if you are suffering from severe congestion, it might be worth visiting your GP for prescription medication.

So what are your options if you fly regularly and are prone to sinus pain?

How to relieve sinus pressure during the flight

Take nasal decongestants before take off to reduce any swelling in the sinuses. This will help to maintain adequate airflow. As sinus pain is often worse on descent, use nasal decongestants again about 30-60 minutes before landing, as the effect is often short-lived. Steroid sprays in the nose can also help reduce swelling and improve sinus drainage. Over-the-counter salt water sprays can also help clear thick mucus.

One technique to relieve the pressure on descent is to close your mouth, hold your nose and exhale slowly. However, it is important to do this carefully, as it can cause damage to the sinuses and/or ears if done too vigorously.

Ensure that you drink plenty of water throughout the flight. The dry air on an aeroplane can dry out the nose and cause mucus to thicken. Painkillers can also be helpful.

Are there any other options for dealing with sinus pain caused by flying?

If you fly regularly or experience severe sinus pain that can persist for up to several days after the flight, then you may want to explore other options. The problem can be caused by even very small blockages in the nasal sinuses. ENT expert Mr Julian Hamann will first assess the nasal structure to determine what is causing the problem before offering treatment options.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that approximately 20 per cent of sinusitis patients do not successfully respond to medication long-term, so one option is a Balloon Sinuplasty, a non-invasive alternative to sinus surgery.

This procedure, offered by Mr Julian Hamann at his Kent-based ENT practice, gently opens up the sinuses, greatly improving airflow. A small, collapsed balloon is inserted through the nose into the sinus. Mr Hamann then slowly inflates the balloon. There is no removal of bone or tissue, as is the case with conventional sinus surgery, so recovery is quick and results soon apparent.

To learn more about the Balloon Sinuplasty procedure and other treatment options Mr Julian Hamann offers for the treatment of sinusitis, call 01892 740671 or email