Orbital Fractures and Air Travel

J Craniofac Surg. 2021 Jun 1;32(4):1625-1627. doi: 10.1097/SCS.0000000000007529.


Previous surveys indicate that the majority of clinicians recommend avoidance of air travel for a period of time following an acute orbital fracture. This advice has largely been based on the theoretical risk that in-flight pressure variation may exacerbate orbital emphysema and produce visual compromise, though no previous reviews have been conducted on the evidence underpinning this advice. The purpose of this study was, therefore, to conduct a systematic review of the literature pertaining to the safety of air travel in the setting of an acute orbital fracture. A systematic review of the OVID Medline database - and of cases referenced as providing evidence for adverse outcomes due to flying with an orbital fracture - was carried out.Two articles were identified from the literature with data specific to patients who undertook air travel following orbital fractures. A large case series identified no complications in patients exposed to both pressurized and unpressurized air travel, and only a single case report detailed an adverse outcome requiring intervention. The remainder of the articles that had previously been cited as evidence against air travel involved additional factors such as intra-ocular pathologies. There is, therefore, a paucity of evidence to support the conventional advice regarding avoidance of air travel, though clinicians should exclude the possibility of an associated intra-ocular injury, advise against nose-blowing in flight, and provide advice regarding alternative methods to the Valsalva maneuver for equalizing middle ear pressure in flight.

Level of evidence: IV.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Travel*
  • Humans
  • Orbital Diseases*
  • Orbital Fractures*
  • Subcutaneous Emphysema*
  • Travel