Cases of facial paralysis in air travellers, without relevant prior medical conditions, are believed to be rare, but researchers say they are also under-reported. The widespread popularity of airline travel makes familiarity with this condition important.

Facial paralysis in air travel is associated with barotrauma, which is physical damage to body tissues caused by a difference in pressure. Affected people find they have ‘facial weakness’ in one side of their face and also experience symptoms such as facial pain, facial numbness, ear discomfort, a sensation of pressure, and tinnitus. The effects are temporary and subside within a few hours, sometimes even while on the flight, once altitude is reduced.

A report published in The Journal of Laryngology & Otology looked at three case studies and previous research and concluded that more needs to be done to increase understanding and management of the condition.

In the case studies looked at by the report’s authors, ventilation tubes inserted in the eardrum under local anaesthetic had helped eliminate future facial paralysis during air travel in these particular people, who did not have other medical conditions that would have caused the paralysis. The case studies were from patients, both male and female of varying ages, who had experienced facial paralysis during air travel and reported it to their GPs on their return home. The cases were investigated in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, UK and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, UK.

The authors of the report said: “We would encourage the reporting of more cases in order to increase our understanding and management of this rare condition.”

‘Facial paralysis during air travel’ is published in the October issue of The Journal of Laryngology & Otology and is available online here

Comments

  1. I thought you might like to hear of my sons story.

    My son has just come back from a holiday abroad and suffered facial paralysis. This has happened the last 3 times now that he had had to take a flight. One side of his face becomes paralysed, his mouth droops down, so much so that he cannot take a drink, he cannot shut one eye, his mouth has a metal taste and his ears are in a lot of pain. It only lasts while in flight. When he lands his face goes back to normal but he finds it very frightening.

  2. I had recently experienced this kind of facial paralysis during a flight. I usually do not like air conditioning as I have a recurring sinus problem. I have filed a complaint against the plane operator but I do not expect much. Still the amount of air conditioning a person receives during flight should be controllable, as not everybody likes to have cold air non stop in their face.

  3. IN the last 10 years of flying I have had a facial paralysis(left side) attack 5 times. As soon as my ears pop , It gets normal. I have severe anxiety about this issue every time I fly and would like to know how to prevent this in future.

  4. I was on a short haul flight to Italy last weekend and experienced this very thing, my partner actually thought I was having a stroke due to the paralysis down the right side of my face, this was around 25 minutes after take off and while still in ascent. I also experienced severe pain in my right ear during this time. After around 10 minutes I had a loud pop in the ear and the paralysis suddenly dissipated.

    Concerned, we found a medical paper on the internet once we arrived at our destination which put our minds at rest a little but I’m still concerned for any future flights.

    I have had a large extraction in my top right jaw recently and not sure if it was associated with this.

  5. I have experienced the above 4 times now and have recorded the ordeal on my cellphone video.

  6. I have had the same experience the last two times I have been flying. I was told by my gp that it was due to an ear infection. However I have found lately that changes in air pressure when driving causes the same symptoms to a lesser extent. I have seen an ear specialist and he could not find any irregularitis.I am very nervous about future flights . Is there anything I can do to prevent this happening again

    Regards
    Brendan

  7. This has happened to me three times in the last few years. Same symptoms as everyone else: eye unable to shut, drooping mouth on one side. Very scary. Luckily on the last flight there was a physician aboard who calmed me down. After about 2 hours of pinching my nose and trying to blow air into my ears, I was able to “clear the line” and the paralysis went away. Still, though, concerned about the possibility of permanent damage to the nerve. Having mild right ear pain for almost 3 months following last incident.

  8. Hi,

    I’m 18 years old, and whilst on a short haul flight I experienced a metallic taste/numbness to the right side of my tongue followed by the right side of my face paralysing, both my eyes and mouth drooped and It felt under pressure. This was also followed by a tingling sensation to the right side of my face. The episode lasted a short while and I was taken to hospital for a suspected mini stroke however, the specialist did not believe it was a Stoke (probably due to my age and fitness) and I was left with the incident undiagnosed. it was a very frightening experience for me, and having read this I can see some similarities. If anyone has any idea if this sounds to be due to barotrauma I would be very grateful for some piece of mind.

    Thanks x

  9. I had a similar experience with the swelling of my upper lip and numbing of my upper teeth only on the left side of my face. As soon as we began the descent the symptoms immediatly went away. I would be intrestead in more information about the condition and if there are any means to prevent it.

  10. My son just had this happen on his flight. We went to the ER and all tests came back normal. His paralysis went away after four minutes. Doctors suggest using Afrin before a flight. He flew home and the paralysis did not happen again.

  11. That same thing has happened to me today in a two hour flight. ..45mns after the take off,I felt like I was having a stroke. ..My right side from eye to mouth was paralyzed. ..I could not drink or shut my right my eye. ..I was so scared…..I was about to notify the flight attendant about it….and that thing came back normal. …..thank Google.
    I am glad that I am not the only one experiencing that mysterous thing

  12. Ive just for of a plane about an hour ago and thought I would research what has just happened to me. My jaw felt like it was paralyzed on one side the pain in my ear was excruciating my throat felt like it was being stretched! This lasted around two hours I was on the verge of tears I’ve never felt pain like this. When my ears popped the pain subsided and I had a metallic taste in my mouth. This is the first time this has happened to me and hopefully the last. I’ll be visiting the GP first thing tomorrow.

  13. I have had numbness around my right ear and right side of the face combined with blocked ears. The numbness passes after a few hours, but the blocked ear often lasts for more than a day. I have had a sore spot inside my ear for years when I clean with a cotton bud. I always do this carefully being aware of damage that can happen, but there is like a sensitive pressure point inside the right ear. I try in flight to open and close my mouth and manipulate my ear by pushing and pulling and opening the ear more with my finger and this seems to alleviate or even prevent things happening, but I am wondering about my eustachian tubes being blocked. I also knowI have less hearing in my right ear and am sure all these symptons are related.

  14. My son aged 23 Years has now had temorary facial paralysis left side of his face on three occasions in the last two years. Waiting for his MRI to come in today.

  15. So glad I found a thread on this as I thought I was on my way out!!

    Coming back from Italy on a business trip I had excruciating pain in my ears and the back of my head, and then when I smiled, blinked or raised my eyebrows I noticed the whole of my right side of my face was paralysed!! I confirmed this by taking a sip of my coffee and it dribbled straight back out, I was amazed and freaked out at the same time. I walked to the toilet scratching my head literally to cover the drooping right side and then splashed water on my face to try wake myself up!!

    About 15 mins after I heard a loud squeal in my right ear which was obviously the pressure releasing and then my face started to come back!

    One of the scariest experiences of my life but after doing some digging its due to pressure build up in the middle of your ear and it hits a facial nerve causing ‘Unilateral Facial Paralysis’

    Its good to be alive!

  16. I have also suffered facial paralysis on the left side of my face 3 times while in flight. First started with lots of pressure in my ear associated with pain. Then the numbness and tingling in my face started . My mouth shifted completely from the left side to the right side of my face and my left eye would not close. I then got pain that shot down my neck into my arm. Everything being on the left side. The symptoms lasted until the plane was ready to land and because I no longer has symptoms I never received medical treatment. I went recently to and Ear, Nose & Throat specialist and had exams and an MRI of my head and sinus cavity because they thought my symptoms might have been due to a small tumor on the nerve but nothing was found . It was good news in one way but bad in another seeing as though since it happened a few times in a plane every since I have had very slight episodes on the ground that never went into a full blown episode. Its very concerning because I would love to travel but I am worried that what if it happens again , what if the facial paralysis stays permanently. This is very scary and I and my husband are very concerned .

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