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Air Travel and Health

Avoid illness on your flight

Flying is the safest form of transportation. However, air travel does present a unique environment that can sometimes stress you out. To stay healthy and comfortable on your flight, try these tips.

Quick tips for healthy air travel

Get some rest before you fly. In the days before your departure, be sure to get plenty of sleep. No matter how comfy your seat is, it can be hard to get to sleep on airplanes and your own bed will provide a more restful sleep.

Drink plenty of water and juice, since the airplane environment is dry. Humidity levels on the plane can drop below ten percent and cause ailments from dry skin to dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which just dry you out further.

Move around the cabin. Maintaining good blood circulation during air travel can help you avoid discomfort and rare, yet potentially serious, diseases like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). This circulatory disorder can be life-threatening, so it’s worth learning about. Getting up and walking when the fasten seatbelts sign goes off helps prevent DVT.

Prevent motion sickness. If you’re prone to car sickness, consider medication for your flight and don’t do a lot of reading. Consult your doctor prior to taking anything new. This goes for over the counter stuff, too. Luckily, there are a lot of options that really do work for air travelers, such as travel sickness wrist bands.

Air travel health concerns – jet lag

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is a very common health issue resulting from long-haul flights. The primary symptoms are dizziness, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, and the inability to perform simple, everyday functions.

Who gets jet lag?

Surveys suggest that more than 90 percent of passengers on long flights get jet lag. However, children under the age of three seem to be nearly immune. If you’re a creature of habit and you’re planning long-haul flights, it helps to learn about jet lag.

What causes jet lag?

Flying across multiple time zones is the main culprit. Jet lag seems to be worse on east-bound air travel than on west-bound. However, even north-south flights can cause pretty tough jet lag due to the unique stresses of the airplane environment.

How do you combat jet lag?

One of the most important ways to reduce jet lag is to be fully prepared for your flight so you can relax and enjoy your trip. Quality sleep during and before your flight is important, if you can manage it.

To reduce jet lag, and make the plane ride smoother, drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine, get exercise, and avoid in-flight motion sickness.

Air travel health concerns – Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

What is DVT?

DVT is arguably the most serious health risk to air travel, although it remains quite rare. DVT occurs when the blood changes from a liquid to a solid state and produces a clot. The most common veins affected are those of the legs and pelvis. DVT is not always dangerous, but if the clot becomes large enough, the effects can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of DVT?

One ankle being far more swollen than the other can be a symptom of DVT. However, finding that both ankles are a bit swollen is pretty common on long flights, and not necessarily cause for alarm.

Localized pain or tenderness within a calf or thigh muscle is a possible symptom of DVT, and more serious symptoms are the onset of a cough, increased heart rate, breathlessness, chest pain, or palpitations.

Who is at risk from DVT?

Passengers on long-haul flights are at greater risk of getting blood clots or DVT. However, DVT can be an issue for travelers on other types of long journeys, not just air travelers. In fact, anyone who remains relatively inactive may increase their risk. The following factors may contribute to a higher risk of DVT during air travel:

  • Smoking
  • Age (over 40)
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • Weight
  • Having had the condition before
  • Having undergone major surgery recently

What causes DVT during air travel?

Two main factors contribute to the incidence of DVT on airline flights. First is the low humidity level. When you become dehydrated, blood thickens and is more prone to clotting. Second is a lower level of physical activity. Because there are limited opportunities to move around on planes, circulation is reduced. Cramped seating may cause pressure points on the legs that slow blood flow locally, which can increase the chances of clotting.

Quick tips to avoid DVT

Arrive early at the check-in desk and try to get a seat with additional leg-room, such as a bulkhead – the partition that divides a plane into different sections – or an emergency row seat. Note that children and passengers with disabilities will not be seated in exit rows.

  • When sitting, move your ankles around – point and flex. Sounds silly, but it helps.
  • Don’t take sleeping pills that knock you out for hours and leave you motionless.
  • Ask your doctor if you should wear support hose to improve circulation.
  • Avoid sitting with your legs crossed and avoid clothes that are too restrictive.
  • Ask your doctor about aspirin before air travel, as it can prevent blood clotting.

The only way to fully enjoy your trip is to make sure that you remain healthy and safe. Be aware of the health issues that can come about as a result of flying and do what you can to avoid them.

Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.