As the holidays are drawing closer and you may be traveling by air to visit friends and relatives, Id like to talk to you about some of the health concerns associated with flying and what you can do to ensure that you can stay healthy and enjoy your trip.
Airplane Cabins – A Potential Breeding Ground for Illness
To begin with, air quality on most commercial air carriers is very dry, about 50% recirculated, and who knows how good, or how clean, the air filters are. You might wonder why not simply add a humidifier to the cabin air? Well, to do so would mean to increase the chances of bacteria, fungi and molds reproducing in that enclosed space that can lead to upper respiratory and other illnesses.
There can also be a higher level of ozone in cabin air which can affect infants, those with asthma, and the elderly in how they exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Breathing is typically more shallow in these passengers and oxygen intake while flying might be decreased. This could result in asthma attacks or a condition like hypoxia, a condition caused by lack of oxygen.
Even though these potential health concerns exist, there are some important things you can do to help keep you bug-free and breathing easy on your flight:
- Immunity boosters like Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, will keep your immune response high.
- Hydrate: Pre/during flight, drink water. Most airport waiting areas have bottled water available at food kiosks and on board. Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeinated drinks as they can dehydrate you.
- Using a saline nasal spray during your flight will keep your nasal passages moist and less irritated. Makes it harder for bugs to gain entry.
- Get enough sleep before you fly. Adequate rest will also help boost your immune response. And you can take short naps during your flight as well.
- Wash your hands with hot water and soap before boarding and bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry on that you can easily access.
- If you are immunodeficient with a chronic illness and must fly, you might consider wearing a HEPA filter face mask specially formulated to keep out viruses and bacteria. It could prevent you from starting off your holiday visit in the local ER.
- Those with special oxygen needs should check with your airline carrier. Federal Aviation rules prohibit you carrying your own oxygen tank on board. Airline carriers will provide passengers with oxygen for an extra fee.
Prolonged Sitting Poses Special Problems
For the past 10 years, medical research and the Federal Aviation Authority have been aware that air flight can contribute to the development of deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, in passengers from prolonged sitting during longer flights. However, a few simple things can prevent you from getting a blood clot:
- Walk to the lavatory several times to get your circulation moving.
- Do calf muscle stretches. Flex your toes toward, then away from you.
- Drinking water also helps prevent blood clots.
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives which contribute to circulation slowing.
- Shift your position several times to prevent blood pooling in legs.
- Consider wearing support hose during your flight.
Avoid Airplane Ear
Another potential health concern that can affect you while flying is a condition called barotrauma, or airplane ear. This occurs when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure in your environment are out of balance. You feel it by your ears popping at the start of your flight when your plane climbs and at the end of your flight when it descends. Some stuffiness may result in your ears with muffled hearing. Most people, however, experience only some momentary popping sensations which can alleviated by:
- Chewing gum, yawning, or even swallowing that will correct the air pressure difference your inner ear experiences.
Airplane ear, in some cases, can be more serious and require the attention of a physician. If you experience these symptoms, please see a doctor at your earliest convenience after flight:
- Severe pain and/or bleeding from the ear.
- Hearing loss and/or tinnitus, a ringing, in your ear.
- Vertigo, or a dizzy, spinning sensation.
While there are some real health concerns to be aware of associated with flying, for the most part it should be an enjoyable part of your travel that gives you a little extra time to read a book, talk to a fellow passenger, plan your destination activities, or even take a nap. Practicing the above flying health suggestions can help you have a comfortable and ailment free trip so you can arrive at your destination and back home again refreshed and healthy!