Few things are worse than being trapped in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the sky and breathing in recycled air—while also struggling with a cold. Flying when sick is a less-than-ideal situation we've all endured at one time or another. From stifling sneezes to choking on coughs, every cold symptom is made worse by the confined space of the plane and the displeased side-eyes from fellow passengers. Knowing this problem is all too common, Condé Nast Traveler broke down exactly what to know the next time you travel with a cold and the steps you should take, beyond first asking yourself, Should I even fly?
Even if your cold can be controlled by over-the-counter medications and you feel physically up for enduring the length of the flight, you could be putting yourself at risk for severe discomfort. "If you have allergies or a viral infection such as the common cold, your mucus membranes are inflamed and swollen," says William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventative medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. When cabin pressure drops after takeoff, your ears aren't able to equalize, and according to Jeffrey Linder, MD, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, this could result in blocked ears, hearing loss for days, and in extreme cases a ruptured eardrum. Here are a few tips from the pros:
Take a decongestant like Sudafed. An hour before takeoff, Linder advises taking a decongestant to help shrink swollen tissues and the swelling around your Eustachian tubes, helping your ears equalize. Chewing on gum anytime there's a change in cabin pressure is another quick trick.
Stay hydrated. Just like with any flight, it's especially important to keep hydrated when flying while sick. "This moisture will help prevent nasal secretions from drying, becoming uncomfortable and clogging up the Eustachian tube," says Schaffer.
Take a hot shower when you land. Once you reach your destination, a hot shower (and continued use of decongestants) can help you feel better. According to Linder, the steam from the shower "can soothe inflamed, angry mucus membranes."
Head to the comments to share your own stories of flying while sick, and if you're planning a trip, shop the things our editors never travel without.