Answered by on Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Whether you should catch your flight depends on the severity of the cold you've caught. When you have a cold, the membranes of the nose and throat and the Eustachian tube (which connects the nose and throat to the middle ear) become congested and swollen. "This inhibits your normal capacity to equalize pressure between the ear and sinuses and the outside world," explains Scott Kessler, M.D., a New York City-based ear, nose, and throat specialist. When an airplane descends, often pressure is relieved when our ears pop or we blow our noses. A cold inhibits this ability. The more severe the cold, "the more likely pain and pressure will occur," says Dr. Kessler. Pain can be mild or, in severe cases, last several days. To relieve and reduce sinus and ear pressure during a flight, "take a decongestant like Sudafed about a half hour before the plane descends, and/or use a rapid-acting decongestant nasal spray like Afrin during the actual descent." The most important thing, he notes, is to "maintain hydration" by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol in flight. "The dry, recirculated air—potentially contaminated with germs from other passengers—contributes to the risk of increased infection and complications."