If you’ve ever been on a plane with a cold, then you might be familiar with the pain that you can get in your head when the plane lands.
This phenomenon is well known to flight attendants and is actually a major concern. I’ve had it a few times before but it usually goes away pretty quickly. That is until now.
I was deadheading home and we were on our final decent into the airport. Suddenly my head was filled with a sharp pain. “Oh Great.” I thought to myself as I started trying to pop my ears. The pain is usually caused by an imbalance in the air pressure in your sinuses or behind your ear drums and the de-pressurising aircraft cabin. Popping your ears helps to balance the pressure.
Unfortunately in my case popping my ears did nothing and the pain got worse. So bad in fact my eyes started watering and I needed to hold my head because I felt like it was going to explode. I’m pretty sure I made a horrible looking face as well. I’d never felt a pain so horrible.
By the time we were on the ground, the pressure had finally equalized. The pain was no longer excruciating, but it wasn’t gone either. After a little while it had dulled to a headache.
After some more time I figured it was just a headache, took an Advil, and didn’t think to much of it. Even with the Advil though, the pain never totally went away. I finally decided to see a doctor the next day when I realized I still had the same headache.
For Flight Attendants, seeing a doctor isn’t quite as easy as going to the local clinic. There are lots of prescription drugs out there that make it illegal for us to operate flights. Also being trapped in airplanes for 12 hours a day several days a week, there are a variety of illnesses and conditions that we are subject to which aren’t so common for the public at large. For this reason we’re supposed to see “Aviation Medical Professionals”. Doctors who are more familiar with these symptoms, and know what they can and cannot prescribe to operating flight crew.
For me, it’s quite a drive to the nearest AMP, but I finally decided to make the trek downtown to get checked out. It turned out I had a mild sinus infection. She wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic, and told me to take some Advil cold and sinus along with it to ease the pain. She also said that I won’t be able to fly for quite some time because it’ll make my symptoms much worse, and wrote me a note to give to my employer.
I can tell you I wasn’t happy being told I can’t fly. But at the same time I had a colleague who had similar symptoms. He was told not to fly, but chose to anyway. After the very next flight he called in sick because his ears started bleeding.
When you can’t equalize the pressure in your head, you run a serious risk of causing major damage. What I find scariest about this whole ordeal is that before the pain on decent, I had no symptoms at all. I had no idea what so ever that I had a sinus infection. Now I’m sitting at home, feeling better, but unable to come back to work until I finish my prescription.