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Healthy considerations during air travel

Air travel has become so commonplace, that many people think of it as routine as taking the bus was in years past. However, particularly on longer flights, air travel may pose some discomforts you should be aware of. The following are tips, which are especially useful for those traveling internationally, those who may be on airplanes for long periods of time, or passengers crossing multiple time zones.

Tips for making air travel more comfortable and more safe

  • Carry medications in your carry-on luggage and keep all medicines in their original bottles. Before you leave, discuss with your doctor whether you should change medication dosages, particularly if you will be crossing time zones and your eating and sleeping schedules will change when you reach your destination. Be sure to bring enough medications that will last longer than the planned trip in case you experience any delays along the way.  

  • If you have diabetes, epilepsy, or any other chronic condition which could require emergency medical attention, carry a notification and identification card with you. Have the name and phone number of your doctor with you, as well as a list with names and dosages of all your medications. Call the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at least 72 hours before your flight if you will need special assistance at security screening checkpoints. 

  • Be sure to drink plenty of nonalcoholic, decaffeinated beverages, and water to prevent dehydration. Remember, the air in airplanes is very dry.

Relieving pain in your ears during air travel

  • Try taking a decongestant or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication before you get on the airplane, particularly if you are suffering from a head cold or swollen sinuses. If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, you should not take decongestants without approval of your doctor.

  • Swallow often and chew gum during the flight, particularly during take-off and as the plane reduces altitude prior to landing. 

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Pinch your nostrils shut and breathe through your mouth; force air into the back of your nose as if trying to blow your nose.

Relieving motion sickness during air travel

  • Eat a light meal or snack before and during travel. Avoid alcoholic beverages.

  • Keep eyes fixed on the horizon and avoid rapid head movements. Sleep if you are able to.

  • Sit over the wing section of the airplane as this is the most stable.

  • Consult your physician regarding medication for motion sickness.

Other healthy tips to consider during air travel

  • Walk as often as it is safe to during the flight to prevent blood clots and select an aisle seat when possible. 

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • If you wear contact lenses, apply rewetting solution to your lenses frequently to combat the dryness of the air.

  • Stretch calf muscles while sitting.

  • Wear support stockings if you have problems with circulation.

  • Arrange for special meals ahead of time.

  • Arrange for a wheelchair, if needed, ahead of time.

Tips for preventing jet lag

Rapid travel across several time zones disturbs normal body rhythm and produces many physical and psychological stresses on the body. Commonly referred to as jet lag, the medical term is "circadian dysrhythmia," and while this rarely causes any severe problems, you may be uncomfortable for a few days before your body adjusts to your new time zone. The symptoms are usually worse when flying long distances in a west-to-east direction. 

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

The following are the most common symptoms of jet lag. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • General fatigue

  • Sleepiness during the day

  • Difficulty with normal sleeping patterns

  • Impaired mental ability and memory

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Gastrointestinal discomforts, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, or constipation

  • Reduced physical activity

The symptoms of jet lag may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a doctor for diagnosis.

How long does it take to recover from jet lag?

The rule of thumb is that generally for west-to-east trips, it takes one day to recover for each time zone you crossed. For east-to-west trips, one day is required for each one and a half time zones crossed.

Some people like to break up a long trip with a stopover to help themselves adjust to the new time zone to which they are traveling. It is also a good idea to build in an extra day or two of low-key activities to help compensate for jet lag.

Is there any way to prevent jet lag?

There is nothing that eliminates jet lag entirely. The following tips will, however, help to minimize its effects and help you to recover more quickly:

  • Drink plenty of beverages to keep yourself well-hydrated during your flight. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.

  • Eat smaller meals that are high in protein and low in fat before, during, and just after your flight.

  • Try going to bed earlier than usual for a few days before an eastbound flight; if flying westbound, stay up later than usual.

  • Set your watch to your destination during your flight to begin making the psychological adjustment to your new time zone.

  • If arriving early in the morning at your destination, sleep as much as you can during the flight, then try to make it through the day and go to bed early that evening. If arriving at your destination in the evening, plan to go to bed shortly after you arrive.

  • There are prescription medications available that may help you sleep. Talk with your doctor about the use of a sleep aid. 

What is important to know about aircraft disinsection?

If you are traveling internationally, you should be aware that, in some countries, aircraft passenger compartments are sprayed with insecticide while passengers are on board. This is done to prevent the importation of mosquitoes and other insects from one country to another. While the World Health Organization has determined these procedures to be safe, they may aggravate certain health conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and certain respiratory disorders.

Countries where disinsection generally takes place include those in Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, and the South Pacific regions. For more information about disinsection procedures, contact your travel agent or airline.

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