As anyone who’s flown with a congested head can tell you, it’s not fun. The changes in altitude and air pressure have the potential to not only be uncomfortable or even painful, but dangerous as well. Follow these tips to get through the flight.

Flying with a head cold is never fun.

Flying with a head cold is never fun. Photo by Pixabay

How to Survive Flying with a Head Cold

When I came down with a head cold right before I had to get on a plane, I needed some tips for flying with a head cold.

Along with doing everything that I could to try and get over the cold as quickly as possible (drinking fluids, taking Vitamin C, resting, etc.), I also began to research what my options were in order to make the flight as comfortable and safe as possible.

Seeking tips for flying with a head cold

I put up a plea for help on the TMOM Facebook page to see what I could learn about how to keep my head and ears clear for the flights. And yes, not going was an option that briefly flitted through my mind. But this trip had been set up for a while – and the tickets were nonrefundable, so flying with a head cold was the best option.


I received some great advice in response to my Facebook post (a plus for social media in helping to solve life’s little quandaries). What I learned there was also confirmed by a visit to our local pharmacist when I went to stock up on cold medicines. I’m not a doctor so I definitely recommend checking with one  (or whatever medical professional you trust) before you try any of these tips.

Here’s what worked for me:

  • I took a decongestant at least an hour before the flights. I’m not going to go into the specific brand (that’s a good question for the medical professional you trust), but it does help help keep your head from getting so plugged and congested. The one I used was a 12-hour decongestant, so I didn’t have to re-take it while I was traveling.
  • I also took an antihistamine to help dry up my still-running nose. And made sure that I had plenty of tissues on-hand – as well as a plastic baggie for the used tissuessince airplane seats don’t have handy garbage receptacles and I didn’t want to leave them lying around.
  • Per the suggestion of one of our amazing TravelingMom writers, I invested in a pair of Ear Planes. That’s an earplug made specifically for people flying with sensitive ears, or who have a cold, sinus problems or allergies. I do think these made the biggest difference in my case. It was such a relief to not have to feel the pressure in my head at all or have to constantly try to get my ears to pop to relieve it. I used the Ear Planes during both takeoffs and landings. I took them out in between since they did get uncomfortable after a while. And while it was definitely not the best way to travel with a preschooler (since they do also act as noise suppression ear plugs), I felt that the pressure and pain-free flights were definitely worth it. They also make a pediatric version for kids – something I was glad not to have to use this time around!
  • I drank plenty of fluids, Vitamin C and rest as best as I could. Flying may be stressful and uncomfortable in some ways, but it does force you to rest, at least physically. I made sure I had a full water bottle for both flights (purchased after we went through security, of course), so that I didn’t have to wait for the in-flight service – or have an uncovered glass of water on my tray with a squirmy 5-year-old in the seat next to me.

Few things are worse than flying with a head cold. It feels as though your head will explode. Follow these tips to help reduce the sinus pressure and get through the flight.Getting better

Thankfully I felt better by the time I headed home, so was able to dispense with the ear plugs during most of the second flight and landing. Within a couple of days after we got home, I was back to my usual self.

These are just general tips – again, please make sure that you talk to your doctor or another trusted medical professional before you fly with any kind of cold, allergy or sinus condition. Or if you’re under the weather in any way at all, since it can be very dangerous to fly if your condition is serious enough. And above all else, try to make sure to eat and drink enough healthy foods and get lots of rest so that you can avoid getting sick in the first place if possible!

What are your tips for flying with a head cold?