Health Risks While Flying
The pressurized, low humidity, air environment in an airplane increases the risk of sinus infections, colds, flu, ear pain, jet lag and blood clots.
The humidity in this environment can drop to 10% or lower, thus drying out the mucus of the nose and throat which cripples this natural defense system.
Whereas, alcohol, soda and other caffeinated drinks can dry you out, regular sipping of water throughout the flight can partially offset the effects of the very low humidity on board and support your natural immune system.
Also several studies have shown that taking vitamin C and Vitamin D (1000 mg and 5000 IU daily) before, during and after your travel may be very protective against catching colds or flu.
Because our natural immune system is compromised transmission of germs and viruses is easier when in flight, therefore simple hand washing can go a long way in protecting yourself from these germs and viruses. Wash your hands before in flight meals and snacks and after the flight as well.
Carry a small (within allowable size regulation, 3 ounces or smaller) bottle of a germ-killing mouthwash (preferable without alcohol in it) in your carry on and use it during the flight for additional protection and moisturizing of the throat.
Obviously, a cold or flu can put a crimp on enjoying your vacation but a blood clot is far more serious. The sitting in place for many hours while on a plane decreases blood flow and the use of your muscles which help keep blood moving in the veins. This can lead to the formation of a clot in susceptible people.
To reduce the risk of clotting:
- Get out of your seat and walk around when possible
- Flex your ankles and calves
- If at a bulkhead, push against it
- Drink water
- Don’t cross legs for a prolonged period of time
Avoiding Ear and Sinus Pain When Flying
Changing air pressure during ascent and descent of the airplane can disrupt the pressure balance between the inner and outer portions of the ear and cause pain. To prevent this from happening: .
Before the flight takes off ask your flight attendant to give you a bottle of water and during take-off take frequent small sips of water or juice.
If you can’t get water or juice start chewing a piece of gum or candy and swallow frequently. Swallowing (particularly while holding the nose closed) frequently or yawning during ascent and descent helps equalize pressure and reduce or eliminate pain.*
* For babies, breastfeeding or a pacifier is helpful.
So in summary, to make your next trip memorable for the best of reasons:
1- Check with your health insurance carrier to understand your coverage when traveling.
2- Drink water to protect against infection of cold and flu.
3- Swallow (while holding the nose), suck on candy or sip water during ascent and descent to avoid ear and sinus pain.
4- Take Vitamin C and Vitamin D before, during and after your trip for your immune system.
5- Wash your hands before airplane meals and snacks and after the flight.
6- Walk around, don’t cross legs for prolonged periods of time, flex ankles and calves to prevent blood clots.
I hope you have found this advice helpful and plan to use it the next time you travel.
The best of health to you,
Curt Hendrix, M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S