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Flying with a head cold - any tips?

(I debated whether to put this here or in Transportation)

I generally find flying with a head cold to be unpleasant at best, and sometimes downright painful if congestion is bad enough to make my ears hurt.

I'm at the tail end of a cold, and wondering if anyone has any special tricks to make myself more comfortable on the flight. Sudafed? Knock myself out with Benadryl? Just keep pounding water & OJ?

Rest assured I will be taking as many precautions as I can to avoid spreading my cold to others - I'll use alcohol wipes before I touch door handles and other communal things, and I'll keep my used kleenex safely tucked away in a bag so no one else accidentally comes into contact with it. Other precautions?

Posted by
352 posts

Ah yes, liquid rental. Sigh. I'll play it by ear. With any luck I'll fall asleep, though I am not good at sleeping on planes.

Just hope my husband doesn't start this cold soon.

Posted by
1625 posts

I caught a cold on our last trip to Europe. I take Emergen-C daily and used the day time/night time cold tablets (Purchased at a pharmacy in Italy) and they worked really well in drying me up and taking the fuzziness away from my head allowing me to press forward on my trip. I don't know if they will work on an airplane, but at least you have them should the husband catch your cold (Have him start taking Emergen-C now also). I don't know if Emergen-C does anything because we start taking it 10 days before any trip and I still got sick, but maybe it kept the cold to a couple of days rather than a week and it was a pretty mild cold and never went into my chest or ears.

Posted by
27039 posts

For the future--probably too late for this cold--I find that the US-style zinc lozenges, used at the first sign of a cold, really reduce the length and intensity of my colds. Unfortunately, they also significantly affect my sense of taste. But the trade-off is worth it to me. I'd suggest giving them a try next time, if you haven't already done so. I suspect that they don't work for everyone, but I swear by them because they basically eliminate the sneezing and sniffling during most of my colds. I think that would help with the ear situation when flying, but I haven't had to fly with a cold since I discovered Cold-Eeze and the generic equivalent.

I say "US-style" because I couldn't find the same type of product in Spain. The best they had clearly contained much less zinc. They provided a bit of throat-soothing but didn't seem to affect the progression of the cold.

Posted by
16144 posts

I would take Sudafed to reduce the congestion.

Posted by
368 posts

I flew home from Paris with a sinus infection a while back. I actually did not realize how bad it was until I took a short hop flight to Paris. The pain was well, let's just say..really bad. What I did was to start taking both a pain killer and a decongestant the night before I flew out of Paris and the first thing in the morning.That way by the time I got on the plane both were well in my system. I continue to take both at the prescribed intervals and managed to get home with little pain and discomfort. The key for me was to make sure I started both before I left.

Now I simply take Benadryl and knock myself out for the flight. :-)

Posted by
352 posts

I have the husband on Emergen-C just in case (store brand). Even if it does nothing it's cheap.

I will take some Sudafed about an hour before we take off and see what that does. Ibuprofen too.

I'll pack NyQuil/DayQuil liquigels for the husband and a big pack of gum for the both of us.

Thanks everyone!!

Posted by
2122 posts

In a similar situation, my doctor recommended taking a 12-hour Musinex (not Musinex-D) and a 12-hour Sudafed about an hour before boarding, and spraying my nose with Afrin once I was on the plane. Worked for me.

Posted by
2699 posts

Using a nasal decongestant such as Afrin can really help. Be cautious to just use it when you board, and not again, as you will get rebound congestion. Get some nasal saline spray as well which will counteract the dry air. That you can use as often as needed.

Posted by
2424 posts

Hall's cough drops for that inevitable tickle cough at the tail end of a cold. One of our fellow tour members on our last trip could have really used them as she coughed uncontrollably on the flights home. We usually travel with them (cold or not) and they have been a life saver. I take them the minute my throat feels scratchy and they seem to ward of a sore throat.

Posted by
5500 posts

I once had to fly with an ear infection and terribly congested sinuses. The ENT doctor advised that I use a nasal spray shortly before takeoff and prior to descent/landing to help with the equalization of pressure on ascent and descent. It helped somewhat.

Posted by
2736 posts

Sudafed, or equivalent. You cannot buy this Europe, fear of Walter White.

Last two trips I caught a cold near the end of the trip, and needed sudafed, which is what I normally start with to stop the drip and keep it from becoming a chest cold overnight. . We now carry them with, they take up little room. Were very lucky on the 2nd trip that a nurse was one of the other guests at the B and B and she graciously gave me some of her travel supply.

Posted by
287 posts

Nasal saline spray (or gel) works wonders. Also put a drop of peppermint oil under your nose. It helps to clear head congestion.

I don't know if you can get them where you are, but the "breathe-right" strips they sell in the US work great for me.

Posted by
12040 posts

I sympathise. I've flown with congestion twice, and the descent is not an experience I would like to ever repeat. Here are some tips to avoid the splitting ear pain, both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic.

Try to get hold of a nasal steroid, like nasonex or flonase at least two days before your flight. These can take about 24 hours to start to work. If you have some residual congestion on the day of the flight, make copious use of nasal saline flushes. If that doesn't work, go for broke, and try to dry everything up with a decongestant, like a medication containing pseudoephedrine (check the label to make sure this is the active ingredient- in much of the US, products marketed as "Sudofed" contain the much less effective drug phenylephrine) or afrin spray. These are not usually recommended in colds, because they tend to prolong the duration and have other side effects. But if they work, they will save you a very painful hour during airplane descent! Benadryl (diphenhydramine) will do nothing for the congestion unless it was caused by allergic rhinitis.

Non-pharm options. As you descend, if your ears start to hurt, try to mobilize some of the fluid out of the eustaschian tube by vigorously massaging the area of you head just anterior to the ear's tragus. You can also try the valsava maneuver- puff up your cheeks, pinch your nose and push out like you're blowing your nose. Keep trying every few seconds until the eustachian tube opens.

Posted by
1976 posts

If your husband gets a sore throat before the cold develops, bring some sore-throat drops. I caught a cold one day before my sister and I went home from Paris in April, and of course didn't have any sore-throat drops because I didn't plan on getting a cold! Coughing helps ease that kind of sore throat for me, so I drove my sister nuts until we landed in Newark and I finally bought a pack of Halls.

Posted by
630 posts

Hi Motorgirl, my suggestion is to get as much sleep before you start traveling. I like to knock myself out with Nyquil Severe (it's stronger than the regular Nyquil). It allows me to get a really good night sleep. For me, the best cure for a cold is sleep - and lots of it.

Good luck. Hopefully you will be cold-free by the time you reach your destination.