The Question: I’m supposed to get on a flight but I’m not feeling well. How do I know if I am too sick to fly?
The Answer: There’s a hard line in the sand when it comes to certain illnesses and traveling on an airplane. Sometimes it really is best to stay back.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends ditching a flight if you you have an illness that can quickly spread to another person, such as the flu. And symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting or high fever are also reasons to forgo traveling, says Timothy Lahey, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth College.
“There are some viruses that just go like wildfire through close quarters,” Lahey told HuffPost.
Some airlines will even check for passengers who are clearly sick and prevent them from boarding for the safety of fellow travelers, according to the CDC.
The sniffles are a different story. It’s less clear whether or not you should travel with a cold or cold-like symptoms, according to Erich Voigt, a clinical associate professor in the department of Otolaryngology at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“It’s very hard to predict, because some colds are mild and some can be the onset of a bad flu,” Voigt told HuffPost.
Signs of a common cold include a runny nose or congestion, a sore throat and a small cough. If your symptoms are mild and you feel well enough, Voigt says it’s probably fine to travel. But just make sure you practice proper hygiene: Washing your hands frequently and sneezing into the crook of your arm can reduce the spread of germs if you’re out and about.
However, if your cold includes an active ear infection or a stuffy nose to the point where you can’t breathe, consider those red flags that you should not fly, Voigt said.
Major congestion or an ear infection can jeopardize your own health further. These issues make regulating air pressure difficult for the eustachian tube (the body part that connects the nose to the ear and moves air in and out of your body). This could lead to ear pain or the ears filling with fluid or blood. In extreme cases, the eardrum could rupture, Voigt explained.
If you have no choice but to travel, Voigt suggests using a nasal decongestant spray approximately 30 minutes before take off. An oral medication that contains a decongestant could help as well, as long as you don’t have cardiovascular conditions or high blood pressure issues, he said.
Air-pressure regulating ear plugs can provide additional auxiliary support to the ear canal when you’re aboard a flight. And chewing gum or sucking on a lollipop can also help the eustachian tube open up and move air in and out of the ear, Voigt said.
Above all, fly responsibly by minimizing the spread of germs and taking care of yourself. Your health and your fellow travelers will thank you.
“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.