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Flying with dizziness and vertigo

26 February 2010 15 Comments
Does the thought of flying leave you cold? Chris Martin-Bahr/Science Photo Library

Does the thought of flying leave you cold? Chris Martin-Bahr/Science Photo Library

Many people with vertigo and dizziness comment to me that flying fills them with dread. Flying is particularly bad for the vertigo and dizziness sufferer for several reasons.   But with a bit of knowledge you can minimize the negative effects.

The first reason flying is so bad is that you get low oxygen levels in the plane because of the lower cabin pressures. The brain is very susceptible to low oxygen, and the balance parts can be even more so.  If you already have a weak balance system, this can make it worse.

Secondly people often get dehydrated when flying, this also affects the balance areas. This can be compounded by drinking alcohol, which makes the dehydration worse, and it toxic to the brain as well.

Thirdly, in the plane you are subject to a large amount of constant movement for the length of the flight, and it is not a type of movement you are normally exposed to.  This input to the brain can fatigue it, particularly when you take into account the other factors mentioned above. It should (hopefully) recover in time. It may be a few hours for some, days or weeks for others and some may never fully get over it.

To minimise any problems, do regular slow deep breathing on the flight, drink lots of water and don’t drink alcohol. To help you recover, we are developing a home self-help programme for vertigo and dizziness.  We’ll post more details in the future.

So what have been your experiences in flying?  Have you found any things you can do to minimise the effects?  Let us know by using the comments section below.


  • Michael Henderson said:

    thanks for the information as I will be taking a 4 hour flight shortly and was worried about it.

    Also was trying to register for your news letter All I get is a blank page .Have any info on how i can get the news letter

  • drmatt (author) said:

    Hi Michael, thanks for your comment. Sorry about the newsletter subscription, I am not sure what happened, but I have added you to the list this morning so you should start getting our newsletter soon.

  • Angela said:

    So glad to have found this article. I get vertigo symptoms every time I make a lengthy flight. I didn’t realize it was treatable. I’m going to look into this with my doctor.

  • alison griggs said:

    I suffer with vertigo after flying usually comes on a day or two after the fligh but found ear plugs on the flight helped. Usually only got it for a day or less but didn’t wear any ear plugs when I flew in September this time I have had vertigo on and off daily since which is three months. Have been to ENT but they just told me the exercises I am doing which were given to me by another sufferer is all they can do. I have to fly again in may and I am dreading it. Is there any further advice you can offer. Thanks

  • patricia said:

    Hi, I am a chronic vertigo sufferer. I have avoided flying for many years but I do not want to keep holding my family back from nice vacations and so on. Your article terrified me when it said I may never recover from worsening symptoms; is that so? and how likely is that? please answer.

  • Jeannette gwynne said:

    I have a sinus issue and mild vertigo. I was prescribed a zpack and am on day 3. I have some improvement but still feel off balance after sudden movements. I have to fly in 3 days. I’m concerned I’m going to make it worse. If I still feel dizzy by the flight should I not go?

  • pat white said:

    does it help to sleep on the plane and or take a antihistimine

  • Victora said:

    I have been experiencing dizziness for about three weeks now. Mostly when sitting up after laying down or standing up after laying down or sitting down. It is enough that it throws my balance off. I have been flying 2x per week with 2 days in between. I am curious if the flying could be the cause of it. I use to have to take Benadryl because I would have ear pain but have not had that issue in 6 months. I have been flying weekly for 3 months now.

  • drmatt (author) said:

    Hi Victoria, sounds like BPPV which is usually treated easily with the Epley manoeuvre.

  • drmatt (author) said:

    Not really Pat.

  • drmatt (author) said:

    It’s hard to say Jeannette. Some people find it gets worse with flying, other people find it makes no difference.

  • Angie said:

    I got injured while on vacation in another country. I am terrified of flying home. I’ve had vertigo in the past and know the symptoms but never had to fly with it. I have antibiotics for my other injuries as well as other medications. Will earplugs help?

  • drmatt (author) said:

    Hi Angie, they probably won’t make much difference unfortunately. Are you able to see a doctor to get some stematil medication to help you get home?

  • Sam said:

    I am learning how to fly and i get dizziness when doing certain manourves and especially when the instructors do sudden rash manourves. I experience symptoms of dizziness, nauseas and at times vomiting depending on the G-forces experienced.

    I have temporarily stopped flying – because i couldn’t simply go through this as after the last lesson, i was experience the symptoms above including headache – almost like hung over for 2 days. I simply can’t go through this anymore.

    The instructors keep saying it will go away as i get accustomed to the flying

    Can someone kindly make me understand if this is normal (to me its not) and if there is an explanation please?


  • drmatt (author) said:

    Hi Sam, It depends. You may have a subclinical vestibular disorder, i.e. a problem with your balance system that is normally symptom free. If that’s the case then vestibular rehabilitation may help your system cope better with the flying.

    Otherwise you just may not be able to cope with these types of manoeuvres. Probably not what you want to hear, but not all of us can cope with things like that…

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