Can you go flying with Vertigo?

Many people ask me if they can go flying with vertigo. I cannot make that decision for you but I can share tips to get through the airport more comfortably. I have published three past blogs with helpful tips for flying with vertigo, travel tips for people with dizziness and vertigo, and strategies for getting through the airport.

In this blog, I share additional insights and information about managing dizziness, vertigo, and nausea in the airport due to sensory overload. I discovered these strategies by traveling with dizziness, vertigo and nausea to visit my family last month.

Sensory Overload in the Airport

Sensory overload can occur when your brain is receiving too much new input at once, such as loud music with a spinning disco ball. Overloading your senses with too much stimuli can exacerbate dizziness, vertigo, and nausea.

These feelings will become worse if the experience also triggers anxiety.

You may have to ride on elevators, escalators, and moving walkways. These moving platforms change the way the vestibular system is being stimulated, may cause a change in visual input or create a conflict between visual and vestibular input. That is why the experience may induce or increase existing discomfort.

There are a lot of people, smells, and sounds that are unfamiliar that can cause sensory overload.

The best way I have learned to deal with this, when flying with vertigo, is to try to shut out as much as possible and use strategies to manage what I cannot avoid.

Visually Complex Environment

The airport is a chaotic hustle and bustle environment, which creates “visual complex” surroundings similar to the supermarket. People are walking around in all different directions at different speeds, with almost no uniformity.

Sometimes I wear my polarized sunglasses in the airport if I am feeling visually triggered, to cut down on glare from the windows and tile floors.

Other strategies that I use are to keep my eyes straight ahead and avoid swiveling my head all around while I am walking through a busy airport.

Once I get to a seat at my departure gate, I try to keep my eyes focused on something that is directly on my lap.

I may even softly close my eyes to block out all the movement and colors in my peripheral vision.

An eye mask may be beneficial once you are on the plane. I do not recommend it for the airport since it increases the risk of someone stealing your belongings.

Once you are on the plane, try to position yourself so that you cannot see any other passenger’s television screen in your peripheral vision.

Reducing visual input when flying with vertigo is especially important if you are experiencing migraine-associated dizziness, vertigo, or nausea while traveling.

Constant Overhead Announcements

Inside an airport, you simply cannot avoid being constantly bombarded with overhead announcements. For some people with dizziness, vertigo, or sensory overload, the overhead announcements may exacerbate their discomfort.

These loud overhead announcements continue, although to a lesser extent, on the plane.

Some strategies that might help when flying with vertigo include wearing ear plugs or ear muffs to muffle the intensity of the sound. You an also use headphones to listen to soft music, ocean waves, or other relaxing audio recordings like nature sounds while you are traveling.

Reducing auditory input is especially helpful for reducing migraine-associated vertigo while traveling.

Travel Causes Dehydration

Dehydration is a common result of traveling. Dehydration can result in two specific problems related to dizziness and vertigo.

Sometimes dehydration can trigger an onset of BPPV vertigo. This is usually first felt while lying down or rolling over in bed, but can also cause imbalance while standing.

Dehydration can also cause orthostatic hypotension. This is when blood pressure drops with standing up and causes lightheadedness.

In order to minimize dehydration, I recommend that you avoid drinking alcohol in airport bars and on the plane. Alcohol can cause or worsen symptoms of dizziness and vertigo, and may interact with medications.

Low Blood Sugar Causes Dizziness

I also suggest that you pack healthy snacks to avoid low blood sugar when flying with vertigo.

On the Plane

Opt for a soft cervical collar neck brace instead of a Travel pillow for more support. You can purchase a soft cervical collar at most walk-in pharmacies.

During the flight, you may feel triggered by changes in cabin pressure, strong smells of body odor or perfume of neighbors, and turbulence. Any of these sensory stimuli could make you feel more dizzy, or they may not bother you at all.

Those sensory inputs may be especially magnified and unpleasant if you have a vestibular migraine.

For changes in cabin pressure, you can try to make sure to pop your ears by chewing candy or gum. Chewing and swallowing will help your Eustachian tube gape open to regulate the air pressure in your middle ear.

You can cover your nose with a scarf or handkerchief if your neighbor has on strong cologne or bad breath that is making you feel nauseous.

You can brace yourself with your arms on the armrests, and knees resting against the seat in front of you if you feel like you are losing your balance during any turbulence.

The most important thing is to stay calm so you do not escalate any true dizziness, vertigo, or nausea. Stress makes those uncomfortable symptoms feel worse and last longer than they would if you remain calm.

I was able to remain calm while I was traveling by focusing on what I wanted to share with you about the experience.


This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.

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