Going on vacation is something most people long for, but what if it’s Australia that you are heading to? Chances are, if your destination is far from your usual place of residence, you will have to fly there. While it may sound like a good adventure, flying is associated with a range of health risks.
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Risk #1. Deep vein trombosis
Since flying to a distant destination implies a lot of sitting (if it’s economy-class flying, it’s also cramped), deep veins in legs may suffer. Limited mobility puts you at risk of deep vein trombosis. If a clot breaks off, it can be life-threatening, because clots can prevent blood from reaching the brain or other important organs. The risk is even higher if you have varicose veins.
To prevent flying from affecting your veins significantly, wear comfortable clothing, massage your legs (especially calf muscles), and try walking along the aisles to promote better blood circulation.
Risk #2. High blood pressure
Hypertension is another risk factor: if your blood pressure is within the normal range (i.e. less than 130/80), you should be okay. But if it is elevated and you take medications to manage the condition, it may become higher than usual due to less oxygen available in the cabin.
Do not forget to take your antihypertensive pills and avoid eating salty foods and drinking alcohol. If you are afraid of flying, try using some other techniques which can help you relax (such as deep breathing), because alcohol and sedatives can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Risk #3. Earache
Since flying means moving at a high altitude, it means you ears will not have enough time to get used to the outside pressure, which is different from the one on the ground. Earache is more likely to strike when landing or taking off (i.e. when altitude is changing very fast). Among the commonly used ways to equalize pressure are chewing gum, yawning, or drinking water. Hard candies can also be of help.
Risk #4. Dehydration
The air in cabins is the one from the outside – it is purified, so it is safe, but its humidity levels are far from the ones we are used to. It has 10-20% water content, compared to the 35-65% we usually breathe. This may lead to sore throat, dry nose, and itchy eyes. Drink more water while on board – by preventing dehydration, you can also reduce the risk of catching an illness from other passengers (it is easier for viruses and bacteria to spread when the air is dry).
Risk #5. Jet lag
Crossing time zones can lead to jet lag symptoms, ranging from nausea to constipation. These can also include diarrhea, anxiety, sleep loss, etc. The more time zones you travel through, the more pronounced the symptoms usually are. Some people are more susceptible to this side effect of flying than others, and it is nearly impossible to prevent it. You can try to adjust your sleep cycle beforehand to make it resemble the one you will have when you reach your destination, though.
Risk #6. Asthma attacks
If you have asthma, your symptoms may be exacerbated due to reduced air pressure in the cabin. If you take medications, your asthma is well-managed and there are no other conditions that may trigger attacks, your flight should be all right. However, if your asthma is severe, you should consult a doctor prior to flying. You will be able to undergo a fitness to fly assessment, which may include a walk test or even a hypoxic challenge test.
Should your test results suggest it may be difficult for you to breathe while on board, it is recommended to find out in whether oxygen is available to passengers in advance. Keep in mind that not all airlines provide it, and some of the ones that do can charge you for using it. Another tip is to carry your asthma medications in hand luggage – remember that it requires prior airline approval!