As if it's not hard enough to deal with aggravated passengers day in and day out, flight attendants are also prone to sinus troubles. On the job, they're continually exposed to two powerful causes of sinus problems: changes in air pressure and exceptionally dry air.
Airplane cabins are pressurized to maintain comfortable oxygen levels even as the plane climbs past altitudes higher than Mt. Everest. But cabin pressure doesn't stay at sea level throughout the flight. For example, at 30,000 feet (9 kilometers) the air pressure in the cabin feels more like 7,000 feet (2 kilometers) [source: Larson]. That means when you're on the flight, the air pressure in the cabin changes dramatically — and then, unless you live way up in the mountains, the pressure at cruising altitude is not necessarily what your body is used to.
The difference between the air pressure in the cabin and the air pressure inside your ears and sinuses can cause discomfort in passengers and flight attendants alike. It even has a name — barotrauma. If you already have a cold or sinus congestion, those changes in pressure can aggravate sinus troubles, turning mild facial pressure into a painful headache. The good news is that sinus congestion and pressure can be treated with over-the-counter decongestants like SUDAFED® to keep the sinuses clearer, which should — fingers crossed — keep the pressure from building up too far [source: UPMC].
On the dry air front: Airplane cabin air is dryer than the Sahara Desert, with moisture content from 1 to 15 percent [source: Campbell]. Prolonged exposure to such a dry environment can inflame and block sinuses, even if you don't have an underlying cold.
A 2014 survey of flight attendants found that nearly 30 percent of them reported sinus congestion lasting five to seven days over the previous week — the most common health problem reported in the survey. More than half reported sinus problems that had required medical attention during the previous 12 months [source: McNeely et al].
Sinus Congestion Tips
Here is some information to help you with sinus congestion.