Since last couple of years I've started experiencing pretty severe cutting pains in the left eyebrow region on plane landing. The strange thing is that it doesn't happen every time. I think it's like 50/50. One time it hurts like hell and the other time it's nothing at all.

A week ago I had it very bad on my way to a vacation. It hurt for 2 days after we landed. And on the way back it didn't hurt at all.

So I guess there must be some factors that affect this and some ways to prevent or at least minimize the probability and severity of the pain. I've heard that this could be related to stuffed nose. So, even though I had no noticeable cold, I tried to blow my nose when the plane started descending on the way back and that might be what helped. But it's hard to tell for sure since, as mentioned above, it didn't happen on every landing anyway. Maybe it just depends on the landing "style" (speed, etc.) and there's nothing I can do about it.

Any advice?

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    I would say it sounds like a sinus issue. I would see a doctor.
    – Beaker
    Sep 23, 2011 at 6:33
  • 1
    I don't think this is travel specific. You're better off asking on a health forum. I always seem to suffer from peeling skin on my fingers and palms when I travel but haven't asked about it here for the same reason. Sep 23, 2011 at 14:26
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    I had a similar pain when I flew with full sinuses. I find it's worse with short hops because the planes climb and descend much faster. In this case, it was ONT/PHX. In the US, Vicks Nasal Inhaler can help clear sinuses enough to get through the landing.
    – mkennedy
    Sep 23, 2011 at 15:36
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    hippietrail: I've never ever had these pains except for planes descending. And I don't own a plane, so I don't use planes for anything else but travel. That's why I'm asking here. Sep 24, 2011 at 7:28

4 Answers 4


It's probably the air pressure change causing pain from sinus pressure. Try blowing your nose before descent, and chewing gum or eating during descent.

Babies have a problem with this, too, although it's probably in the ears. That's why they cry during the descent.


This is almost certainly air pressure related.

It's also not a mysterious phenomenon at all. In particular the problem arises in scuba diving and has been solved*. No need to resort to folk remedies like gum and blowing your nose, the cause is known and the solutions are well documented.

Briefly: when a plane lands cabin pressure increases. The tubes that connect your sinuses to your nose and throat can be clogged, resulting in sub-atmospheric pressure in your sinuses, which is what causes the pain. If you can unclog the tubes (even momentarily) or force air through them the pain will go away.

Personally, I pinch my nose, close my mouth, and try to blow out. For the related ear pain, many people can train themselves to use "béance tubaire volontaire" (hold their eustachian tubes open), which is much gentler than other methods.

*scuba divers routinely experience pressure increases of several atmospheres, since a 10 meter dive under water increases pressure by one atmosphere (note that a landing plane can never experience a pressure increase in excess of 1 atm).

  • I wouldn't say the problem has been solved. Rather, underwater divers (and pilots) learn techniques to compensate and equilibrate pressure in the inner ear and sinuses.
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 23, 2014 at 13:54
  • A warning regarding that pinch-nose-blow - it can be painful and can cause dizziness especially if you are already suffering from a cold or other sinus issue. (personal experience). I found that chewing gum or sipping on / keeping ice chips in my mouth worked better. May 15, 2016 at 5:00

Cabin Pressurisation

This issue is most probably related to the increase of cabin pressure as the altitude of the plane decreases. This inevitably causes an increase of the pressure of the air trapped inside the inner ear and sinuses, which cause the squeezing, pushing, piercing sensation you mention. Various techniques exist allowing you to equalise the pressure in the inner ear and sinuses.

Yawning or Swallowing

As soon as the first signs of pressure-related discomfort in the inner ear and sinuses arise, you should try yawning or swallowing. Both movements contribute to a slight opening of the Eustachian tube, which can help in releasing pressure in the inner-ear and sinuses.

Valsalva Manoeuvre

If the pressure build up is too high for yawning and swallowing to be ineffective, several other techniques have been proven to be effective. The most common manoeuvre to compensate and equalise pressure in the inner ear and sinuses is the Valsalva manoeuvre (pinch your nose, close your mouth and blow). Whilst very effective, if performed incorrectly this manoeuvre comes with a set of possible serious consequences, including the increase of intraocular pressure which can lead to retinal detachment, as well as damage in the inner ear due to over-pressurisation, and various other cardiac-related problems.

Marcante-Odaglia or Frenzel Manoeuvre

One valid, and safer, alternative to Valsalva is the Frenzel Manoeuvre. This is performed as follows:

  1. Pinch your nose
  2. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth
  3. Swallow

The Frenzel manoeuvre is safer than Valsalva because it does not cause the same large increase of intraocular pressure. Moreover, this manoeuvre does not inhibit the venous return to the heart, which is the main cause of the cardiac problems related to the Valsalva manoeuvre.

  • I don't think any such list is complete without mentioning Voluntary Tubal Opening, or béance tubaire volontaire (BTV). It takes some training, but if you figure it out it's much more direct, not to mention more direct and safer than some of the other methods.
    – Shep
    Feb 24, 2016 at 21:21
  • @Shep edit the answer to include it then. ;)
    – JoErNanO
    Feb 24, 2016 at 21:54

Apparently this phenomenon is called "Airplane Headache" and scientist are looking into it. http://www.cnbc.com/id/47226552

Blowing my nose constantly on landing seems to be really helping. And using some nasal spray is another sure way to avoid this. At least for me.

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