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Sinus Pain: Preventing Aerosinusitis on Your Next Flight

Air travel is a highly convenient and efficient mode of transportation that can bring distant places within easy reach. Based on this, for some people, it can be a painful and distressing experience owing to a medical condition called aerosinusitis.

Aerosinusitis is a common concern that can affect air travelers, scuba divers, and other individuals who are exposed to sudden and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure. It occurs when there is a significant difference between the air pressure inside the sinuses and the external atmospheric pressure. While aerosinusitis is not a serious condition in and of itself, it can potentially lead to a wide range of complications if left untreated for a long time.

Also read: Best Way to Clear Sinuses: 9 Home Remedies

What is Aerosinusitis?

Aerosinusitis, also referred to as sinus barotrauma, barosinusitis, or sinus squeeze, is a painful condition characterized by inflammation in the sinuses due to sudden and rapid changes in air pressure.

During the course of a flight, particularly during takeoff and landing, the cabin pressure can change rapidly. The drastic change in pressure can affect the air-filled cavities in your head – including your sinuses.

Under normal circumstances, your sinuses and ears can adjust and adapt to the changes in ambient pressure. If they are unable to do so due to an underlying condition or an anatomical abnormality, it can cause the mucous membranes lining your sinuses to swell, which can cause immense pain and discomfort.

During ascent, the air trapped inside your sinuses tends to expand, as a result of which the pressure inside your sinuses is lower than the external pressure. It’s commonly known as the reverse squeezing effect. The pressure exerted on the sensitive tissue lining your sinus walls can lead to nosebleeds and ear pain.

During descent, the air trapped inside your sinuses tends to contract, leading to a buildup of negative pressure. As a result, the pressure inside your sinuses is higher than the external pressure. It’s commonly known as the squeezing effect. It can cause your sinuses to fill with blood or fluid and cause severe pain and discomfort.

Common Symptoms of Sinus Squeeze

Sinus squeeze can cause a variety of symptoms due to the changes in air pressure affecting your sinuses. The symptoms can vary in intensity and might include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the face – particularly in the forehead, cheeks, and the area around your eyes
  • Sinus pressure fatigue headaches, often concentrated in the forehead region
  • Blockage or stuffiness in the nose, which can make it difficult for you to breathe through the nostrils
  • Coughing
  • Mild to severe pain and discomfort in the ears
  • A feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness – particularly during takeoff and landing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Mucus discharge from the nose

How to Avoid Aerosinusitis While Flying?

Here are some of the most effective aerosinusitis prevention tips that can help you prevent sinus pain, and discomfort while flying.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is an important preventive measure to avoid increased sinus pressure while flying. Here’s why hydration is vital:

Mucous Membrane Moisture: Adequate hydration helps keep your mucous membranes in the nasal passages and sinuses moist. Dry nasal passages are more susceptible to irritation and inflammation when exposed to changes in air pressure.

Mucociliary Clearance: Proper hydration supports the mucociliary clearance system, which is responsible for removing mucus and foreign particles from your airways. This system works more efficiently when the mucus is thin and less viscous, making it easier for your body to clear debris and adapt to pressure changes.

Thinner Mucus: Hydration can help thin out the mucus in your sinuses and nasal passages. Thin mucus is less likely to block the sinus passages, reducing the risk of barotrauma during changes in cabin pressure.

To stay hydrated and reduce the risk of aerosinusitis:

  • Drink water regularly before and during your flight.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to keep your nasal passages moist.
  • Consider using a humidifier in your home or hotel room before your flight to ensure your nasal passages are adequately hydrated.

Use a Saline Nasal Spray

Using a saline nasal spray is a helpful technique to prevent aerosinusitis when flying. Here’s how it can be effective:

Moisturizes Nasal Passages: Saline nasal sprays add moisture to the nasal passages, preventing them from drying out. Dry nasal passages are more prone to irritation when exposed to changes in air pressure during flight.

Clears Mucus: Saline sprays can help in thinning and loosening mucus in your nasal passages, making it easier to expel any excess mucus and reduce the risk of sinus blockages.

Promotes Comfort: Moist nasal passages are more comfortable and less likely to become inflamed when subjected to pressure changes, such as those experienced during takeoff and landing.

Here’s how to use saline nasal spray to prevent aerosinusitis:

  • Before the Flight: Use the saline nasal spray about 30 minutes before your flight to ensure your nasal passages are adequately moisturized.
  • During the Flight: If your flight is particularly long or if you notice nasal dryness during the flight, you can use the saline spray as needed. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific product you’re using.
  • After the Flight: After landing, using the saline nasal spray can help alleviate any discomfort or dryness that may have developed during the flight.

When using saline nasal spray, it is essential to follow the instructions on the product’s label and use it as directed. Typically, you will need to insert the nozzle into your nostril, tilt your head slightly forward, and gently squeeze the bottle while inhaling to distribute the saline spray.

Use Nasal Breathing

Nasal breathing is an effective technique to help avoid aerosinusitis during air travel, especially during changes in cabin pressure such as takeoff and landing. Nasal breathing encourages proper pressure equalization and helps maintain sinus and ear health. Here’s how to use nasal breathing to prevent aerosinusitis:

Breathe Through Your Nose: Whenever possible, breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Nasal breathing has several advantages:

  • It warms and humidifies the air, making it more comfortable to breathe.
  • It filters the air, removing particles and allergens.
  • It promotes proper pressure equalization between your nasal passages and the cabin environment.

Practice Deep, Slow Breaths: Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, focusing on steady and controlled inhalations and exhalations. This can help ensure your airways are open and your sinuses stay comfortable.

Use Nasal Strips: If you have a history of sinus issues or are concerned about aerosinusitis, you can consider using nasal strips. These adhesive strips help open your nasal passages, making it easier to breathe through your nose and maintain proper pressure balance.

Avoid Mouth Breathing: Try to avoid breathing through your mouth, as it can disrupt pressure equalization and potentially lead to sinus discomfort.

Try Earplugs or Noise-Canceling Headphones

Using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help reduce cabin noise and indirectly contribute to a more comfortable flying experience, potentially minimizing the impact of aerosinusitis. Here’s how these items can be beneficial:

Reducing Cabin Noise: The loud and constant noise within the aircraft cabin can contribute to stress and discomfort, which may indirectly affect your sinuses. Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help block out or reduce this noise, making the flight more pleasant.

Less Stress and Discomfort: By creating a quieter, more peaceful environment, you may experience less stress and physical tension during the flight. This can help you stay relaxed and may reduce the risk of sinus discomfort related to stress.

Improved Sleep: If you are more comfortable and less stressed, you may find it easier to rest during the flight. Getting adequate rest can positively impact your overall well-being, including your sinus health.

Avoiding Exposure to Loud Noises: Sudden loud noises, such as those during takeoff and landing, can contribute to aerosinusitis. Reducing noise exposure with earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help protect your ears and sinuses from these sudden auditory stressors.

To use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones effectively:

  • Choose comfortable earplugs that fit your ears well.
  • If using noise-canceling headphones, ensure they are fully charged and active.
  • Adjust the volume to a comfortable level, avoiding excessive noise levels that may contribute to stress.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings, especially during announcements or when the flight crew is addressing passengers.

Consult an ENT Specialist to Avoid Aerosinusitis

Here’s how involving a healthcare professional can help you avoid aerosinusitis during air travel:

Pre-Flight Evaluation: If you are prone to sinus problems or have experienced aerosinusitis before, schedule a pre-flight evaluation with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or a healthcare professional. They can assess your current sinus health and provide personalized advice and recommendations.

Treatment Options: A healthcare professional can discuss treatment options customized to your specific situation. This may include medications, nasal sprays, or other interventions to manage sinus congestion or inflammation.

Preventive Measures: An ENT doctor can advise you on specific preventive measures based on your health and medical history. This could include guidance on using decongestants, saline sprays, or other medications before and during your flight.

Flight Fitness: Ensure you are in good health before flying, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. Discuss your travel plans with your healthcare provider to confirm you are fit to fly, especially if you have had recent surgeries or medical procedures.

In-Flight Medications: If necessary, your healthcare professional can provide recommendations for in-flight medications or remedies to alleviate sinus discomfort. These may include medications to address congestion or inflammation.

Follow-Up: After your flight, if you experience any sinus discomfort or symptoms of aerosinusitis, it’s prudent to follow up with a dedicated ENT specialist for further evaluation and guidance on managing any issues that may have arisen during the flight.

Remember that seeking guidance from a healthcare professional is particularly important if you have a history of sinus problems, chronic sinusitis, sinus infection, upper respiratory infections, or any underlying medical conditions that could be exacerbated during air travel. Their expertise can help ensure you take appropriate measures to prevent aerosinusitis and travel safely and comfortably.

Aerosinusitis – When to See a Doctor?

If you experience sinus pressure and pain while flying, it is important to consult with an ENT doctor as soon as you can. There are many reasons why you should seek medical help in a timely manner.

  • Aerosinusitis – if left untreated – can lead to complications like recurrent or chronic sinusitis, sinus infections, and ear issues like barotrauma. By consulting with an ENT doctor in a timely manner, you can make sure your condition does not worsen and lead to long-term problems.
  • ENT doctors have extensive knowledge and experience in diagnosing sinus and ear-related problems. If you are experiencing sinus pressure and pain while flying, an ENT doctor can examine you and diagnose the underlying condition that is causing your problem. Proper diagnosis is the first and the most important step in ensuring you get the treatment you need.
  • Treating the underlying condition that is causing your sinus pain can not only alleviate your symptoms but improve your overall sinus health as well. Proper treatment can reduce inflammation, improve sinus drainage, and enhance your sinuses’ ability to equalize pressure when exposed to changes in atmospheric pressure. It can contribute to better sinus function and minimize the risk of sinus-related problems in the future.
  • An ENT doctor can assess your overall health and give you expert advice on how to avoid sinus pressure and pain in the future. If you are a frequent traveler, avid scuba diver, or someone who is prone to sinus-related issues, you can benefit greatly by following the doctor’s advice, as it can reduce the risk of recurrent sinus-related problems to a significant extent.
  • Lastly, chronic or recurrent episodes of aerosinusitis can make air travel an unpleasant experience for you and significantly diminish your quality of life. By treating the underlying condition, you can prevent sinus-related problems and regain control over your life, which can have a positive impact on your physical as well as mental well-being.

Aerosinusitis Treatment for Pain and Other Symptoms

A wide range of surgical treatments are available to treat aerosinusitis and the underlying conditions that cause sinus pain. These include turbinate reduction, concha bullosa resection, septoplasty, nasal polyp removal, ablation of septal swell bodies, and balloon sinuplasty.

These procedures are designed to address the root cause of your sinus pain, remove abnormal growths, correct anatomical abnormalities, and widen your sinuses. Depending on the underlying condition that is causing your sinus pain, your ENT doctor can choose the right procedure for you.

Also read: Why Do I Have Increased Sinus Pressure While Flying?

Do You Experience Sinus Pain While Flying? Get Expert Medical Care from the Best ENT Doctors in South Florida!

Sinus pressure and pain can turn air travel into a nightmare. More importantly, it can lead to a number of potentially serious complications if left untreated for a long time. That’s why timely medical intervention is so important with sinus pain.

At Florida Sinus & Snoring Specialists, we offer a host of medical and surgical treatments for aerosinusitis and other related conditions. Our treatments are minimally invasive, highly effective, and can provide permanent relief from sinus-related problems.

Our founder – Dr. Lee M. Mandel – is a pioneer in the field of otolaryngology and rhinologic surgery and is renowned for his unmatched knowledge of minimally invasive sinonasal surgical procedures. Under his guidance, our team has helped thousands of South Florida residents with their sinus, snoring, and sleeping problems over the years. We offer individualized treatments and comprehensive care and support at every step of your journey to recovery.

Take the first step in your journey towards sinus health today. Call us at 954-866-7148 or get in touch with us online to talk to one of our highly qualified South Florida ENT doctors.