Stay healthy when flyingJun 01, 2020 02:48PM ● By Kimberly Blaker
Reduce your risk of discomfort, COVID-19 or a medical emergency
Each year there are 6,500 in-flight medical emergencies in the United States.
Fortunately, very few of those are deadly. Still, travelers can experience a host of less serious health issues and discomfort when flying, not to mention the high risk of being infected with COVID-19.
Many of these health risks and problems can be avoided, however, if travelers are aware of the risks and take precautions.
Prevent health risks associated with flying
The close proximity to others breathing the same air in such a confined space increases the risk of exposure. Before you buy your airline ticket, research the measures each airline is taking to reduce your risk for COVID-19 and choose the airline with the most stringent measures. When you fly, protect yourself and others by wearing a fitted cloth mask that has multiple layers for added protection. Also, carry a supply of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and use them often and as needed. Wash your hands immediately upon exiting the airplane.
The humidity level of airplanes is extremely low, usually under 10 percent. Combine this with the water loss caused by respiration, and passengers can become dehydrated enough to affect their health and mood. So drink plenty of water before, during and immediately following your flight.
When flying, several factors contribute to the risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot that can be life-threatening). Add tight clothes to the mix, and you could be in real trouble.
I experienced this myself on an international flight. My legs swelled up just a couple hours into the flight, which was aggravated by my skinny jeans. To reduce the restriction and prevent a blood clot, I had to slit the legs of my pants from top to bottom. So when flying, wear loose-fitting clothes, particularly on your lower extremities. Also, avoid high heels and tight shoes, which can also restrict blood flow.
Sitting too long
Similar to the problem with tight clothing, prolonged sitting also increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis. It's particularly problematic when flying because the cramped seats allow little room for movement.
Passengers should get up and move around after three to four hours in flight (sooner if you begin to experience swelling or discomfort), according to Dr. Fanancy Anzalone, an aerospace medicine physician. Anzalone says even flexing your legs in your seat by “pressing down on your heels and up with your toes” can help get your circulation moving.
Air pressure in your middle ear during the ascent and descent can make your ears feel clogged or even painful. Usually, chewing gum, yawning or swallowing relieves the pressure. But serious cases of airplane ear can lead to severe pain, hearing loss, vertigo, bleeding from the ear and more. In such cases, you'll need to see your doctor for treatment.
Several factors contribute to halitosis (bad breath) when flying: dehydration, skipping meals, illness, bad oral hygiene and eating certain foods. Consider avoiding fish, garlic, onions, coffee and alcohol before or during your flight.
Sitting still for long periods, dehydration and a change in schedule that conflicts with your regular bowel movements can all contribute to constipation when flying. To prevent that, eat something high in fiber about 12 hours before your flight. Also, adjust your routine on the day of travel so your bowels can move before you leave for the airport. You can also take a stool softener the day before your flight.
Dry skin and more
The dryer-than-the-desert air of airplane cabins contributes not only to dry skin, but also dry eyes, nostrils and lips. Start hydrating the day before your flight by drinking lots of water, and continue right on through your flight. Also, avoid salty foods before and during your flight, and carry lip and moisturizing lotion with you.
People with any type of lung condition, including but not limited to, COPD, emphysema, severe asthma or a lower respiratory infection are at higher risk of serious complications when flying. That's because oxygen in the air decreases at high altitudes. If you have any type of lung condition or even heart or circulatory conditions, consult with your physician before scheduling a flight. Flying is often not recommended for people with these conditions.
Generally, flying is safe for those with high blood pressure. Still, if you have high blood pressure, it’s always a good idea to take precautions. Get up and move around while in flight. Avoid salty snacks, alcohol and sedatives before and during your flight. Be sure to carry your blood pressure medication with you as well. If your hypertension is more serious, consult with your doctor before flying.
Colds, flus and viruses
When you have a cold or sinus infection, it increases the risk for middle ear pain caused by cabin pressure. As previously mentioned, airplane ear can cause a host of more severe symptoms. So if you’re sick, this may not be a good time to fly. If you do fly, follow the suggestions for airplane ear above.
Also, if you fly with one of these ailments—which are highly contagious—it puts other passengers at risk. This can be especially serious for passengers with weakened immune systems, certain health conditions and the elderly. Consider postponing your trip if possible.Read more travel stories.