How flying affects our health

When we board a plane, we mainly think about the holidays, family visit or business trip ahead of us. Yet we rarely consider the impact that spending a few hours in an airplane cabin can have on our bodies. What can we do to have a comfortable flight? By Dra. Anna Caballé

Any time spent up in the sky –be it a short 2-hour flight within Europe or a long-haul flight across the Atlantic– can represent a change in our health. Crossing multiple time zones and feeling jet-lag (the alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms) are obvious signs, however, it is important to consider that the cabin pressure, the dry air inside planes and sitting on tight cabin seats also play a part in how well and comfortable we can feel during a flight.

Here are some guidelines to help make your trip as healthy and pleasant as possible:

Before the flight

* Try to get plenty of sleep the night before your flight

* Wear loose, comfortable clothing on the plane

* onsider taking a pair of ear plugs and a travel pillow

* Check the hand-luggage restrictions to make sure that your bag makes it on board

* If you have a history of travel sickness, ask your pharmacist for advice

* If you need to take medication, check beforehand if you can take it  abroad.

* Consult with your GP or Family Doctor if you have any diseases, are pregnant or have had recent surgeries that could pose a risk when flying

During the flight

* Drink plenty of water and other fluids to ensure you stay well hydrated.

* Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee or Coke, as they will make you thirstier.

* Consider wearing glasses instead of contact lenses. The dry air in the aircraft cabin can irritate your eyes  when using contact lenses.

* Move around! Sitting still can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis. Especially for long  lights, try to stretch your legs every 2 hours. Simple exercises can be done during the flight: make circular movements with ankles and wrists when seated, bend and straighten your legs, pressing the balls of your feet (the portion of sole between toes and arch) down hard against the floor.

* Avoid taking sleeping pills, as these can put you into a deep sleep, meaning you will not be able to move for a  long time.

* To help prevent jet lag, change your watch to the destination time zone   when you board the plane and try to get some sleep during the flight. Try to wake up an hour before landing, so that your ears have time to adjust to the descent.

* To avoid ear trouble due to changes in cabin pressure during take-off and landing, try yawning, swallowing, sucking a sweet or chewing gum.

Feeling sick during the flight?

Look ahead at a fixed point, such as the horizon; alternatively, close your eyes and breathe slowly while focusing on your breathing. Try to adjust your overhead air vent to get some ‘fresh’ air.  When travelling with children, try to distract them by talking, singing songs or listening to music (that can work for adults too). Keep on drinking water and breath again.

Finally, you should know that most planes are fitted with air filters that renew the cabin air every few minutes. There is no evidence that the air conditioning systems in planes spread infectious diseases. You are as likely to catch a common cold by simply sitting or standing near someone infected, as you are when using public transport or attending a busy concert venue. Make sure to wash your hands regularly during your trip, use your own water bottles and always carry tissues with you. Enjoy your trip!

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