Can Air Travel Make You Sick?

Does flying in an airplane lead to more colds and sinus infections?

This is a difficult question to answer scientifically. A group of John’s Hopkins University researchers investigated the association between airline flight and sinonasal symptoms. They studied flight attendants closely and compared the overall sinus health with the amount of time spent on the plane. They found a direct correlation between sinus symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and thick nasal discharge and the amount of days and hours flying on a plane.

Can Air Travel Make You Sick?

There are several reasons that flying in an airplane may have a negative influence on sinus health:

  • The air supply in an airplane cabin contains multiple contaminants that carry potential harm to the sinus region.
  • The air on an airplane dryer than average, which works against the natural cleaning and moisture of the sinus mucous membranes.
  • The changes in barometric pressure in the airplane cabin may also play a role in introducing bacteria into the sinuses.

The study does show an association between frequent air travel and sinus problems, but it does not provide the actual cause. Additional factors that potentially play a role include disrupted sleep cycle or exposure to new environments.

What to do if you are flying during cold and flu season?

  • Frequent nasal saline rinses, before and after air travel. This is effective to help clear unwanted pathogens and irritants from the sinuses.
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently, and avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Sanitize “high touch” areas around your seat, such as tray tables or seat armrests.
  • Avoid touching restroom surfaces.
  • Bring your own blanket or pillow.
  • Drink bottled water, since dehydration is common when flying and dryness can cause issues with your sinus health it is beneficial to have extra water with you.
  • Adequate rest and nutrition.

At Colorado ENT, we have helped hundreds of children with allergy issues improve their quality of life. call (719) 867-7800 to make an appointment today and let us help your child live life to its fullest!

Shargorodsky, J., Zheng, L., Stillman, F. A., Soong, A., Navas Acien, A., & Reh, D. (2016). The association between airline flight and sinonasal symptoms. International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology, 6(4), 437-444. https://doi.org/10.1002/alr.21647

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