Posted by: Korry | March 13, 2012

Flying Sick

You know that scratchy feeling you get right in the back of your throat just before you come down with a cold? Well, I started to feel that awful feeling this past Friday as I got ready to head to the airport to begin a 3-day trip with layovers in San Francisco and Chicago.

The unfortunate thing for me was that I figured that scratchy feeling had less to do with the start of a cold and a lot more to do with the fact that my wife and I had spent the previous four days ripping and tearing our kitchen and family room apart in a pretty massive renovation of an incredibly outdated decor. Dust was flying everywhere as we removed old carpeting and disassembled the subfloor so that we could install a better and beefier subfloor for the tile we’ll be laying next week. 

Surely that must have been the cause of my scratchy throat, right? Oh how wrong I was.

While the flight to San Francisco was uneventful, it was day two that proved to be the start of what would end up being a very miserable three-day trip. My cough quickly worsened. My nose started to get congested. And by the end of the trip, I was just hopeful we could land without my head exploding from the pressure!

If there’s one thing that is almost unbearable in an airplane (especially a pressurized jet) it’s a head cold. I’m guessing you may have experienced something like this yourself. You have a little sniffle and think, “I feel fine. I’d be a fool to cancel my trip just because of a little head cold.”

I used to think that way, but not now. After flying quite a few trips over the years while battling a measly little head cold, I can assure you that head colds are actually one of the worst illnesses to have while on a plane. Why??? Because when your sinuses get congested, they can’t easily adjust to the pressure changes as the airplane climbs and descends. Instead, the air in your sinuses becomes trapped and the pressure can increase leading to sometimes unbearable levels of pain. This is a major reason as to why babies and infants cry on planes since they don’t know how to clear their ears. In fact, many people claim that a true sinus block (not just an ear block…painful as they may be) can feel as though someone is hitting your forehead with an ice pick. That’s right…an ice pick.

Awesome, right? Actually, it gets worse.

If the pressure cannot equalize and it gets bad enough, you can even suffer a ruptured ear drum…and nothing is worse than the guy next to you, already scrunched into a middle seat, tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to please wipe the blood dripping from your ear. (Whoa, Korry…that went just a bit too far!!)

For me, thankfully I was able to clear my ears on my final flights of the trip. If that was today, I doubt I’d be so lucky as my little head cold has degenerated into a full-blown disaster of a cold. Ugh. I HATE being sick.

So what can you do if you must fly with a head cold? For starters, do everything in your power to minimize the number of flights you must take. See if you can get a direct flight even if it means driving a few hours as opposed to connecting. Each time you go up and down, the plane pressurizes and depressurizes and your ear and sinus canals have to be cleared. If they become blocked, you may feel like you’re deaf or be in tremendous pain. By the way, descent is the worst due to the pressure increasing in the cabin so it’s incredibly important to keep clearing your ears all the way down to touchdown.

And what are the best techniques for clearing your ears? Well it basically comes down to moving your jaw in such a way as to open the tiny canals in your head to provide a path for the trapped air to escape. For some people, yawning or chewing gum works. For others, swallowing accomplishes the same motion. I have my own technique that is similar but I have not the foggiest idea how to describe it here. I basically open my mouth almost as wide as I can and try to move my ears without touching them. Yes, I look just as ridiculous as it sounds. But you know what? It’s what works for me so that’s all that matters.

If all else fails, you can use the valsalva maneuver which is basically when you hold your nose while simultaneously trying to blow through your nose. You need to be really careful when doing this though. If you blow too hard, you can damage your ears. You’ll know you’ve done it right when your ears start to clear. It is a glorious feeling indeed!

To sum up, all I’ll say is you’re not a wimp if you don’t feel like flying with a head cold. As for me, it’s time to drink some more NyQuil. God bless NyQuil. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing that will let me sleep tonight. I just hope I’ll be awake from the NyQuil-induced coma in time to write Thursday’s blog!

What techniques have you found that work for keeping your ears clear while flying with a head cold?

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  1. […] over it all! And while I have woken up from the NyQuil-induced coma I mentioned Tuesday, I unfortunately don’t have the energy to put together a coherent and well thought out blog, […]

  2. […] catching up on home projects and hopefully just resting up (especially from the unbelievable head cold I had last week that is still nagging me a […]

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