Should pilots fly with a head cold?

CFI Kyle_Wright6 has posted an interesting question on the Ask a Flight Instructor website where he asked readers whether or not he should go flying with a student pilot while down with a slight cold:

Planning on doing steep spirals with my commercial student in a Cessna 172RG tomorrow morning.  Will be starting at approximately 4,000 ft. MSL.  Problem is I have a bit of a cold right now.  I’m not EXTREMELY congested but let’s just say I’m not exactly clear right now.  What do you think?  Weathers been garbage for days and I really need to take advantage of the absence of cloud cover.

Bob Watson responded by writing how he had some steep spirals from 9,500 to 3,500 feet with what he thought was a slight head cold and by the time he got to 3,500 feet, he thought his eye was going to pop right out of the socket. So he eased off the descent only to land in excruciating pain with only one eye functional and then it took half an hour for the sinus pressure to equalize. Bob added that his experience might not happen to someone else and he hopes it does not happen to him again.

Matthew Waugh then commented that “If you are careful and follow the guidelines from AOPA et. al. you can medicate away some of the issues with colds and altitudes.” However, he also added that pilots need to be VERY careful as you don’t want to take the wrong drug and then go flying.

Finally, let me add that perhaps a decade or more ago, I was on a commercial flight with a stop over on a route I had regularly flown and what Bob described had happened to me on both descents. That was in a large pressurized commercial aircraft so I can only imagine it being worst in a small general aviation aircraft. However, I can’t imagine taking any kind of sinus or cold medicine and then flying my own aircraft – even if its approved by the AOPA.

With that in mind, what would you suggest to Kyle? Also, have you ever experienced what Bob or I experienced while flying?

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