Stay healthy at 35,000 feet with these healthy airplane travel tips.
Cramped airplane rides are no fun – and they aren’t very healthy, either. These tips offer several ways you can be proactive in your quest to stay healthy while traveling by plane.
1. Worried about blood clots?
There is some evidence that prolonged air travel of eight hours or more can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots. This slight but serious risk increases for people who have other risk factors for blood clots, such as obesity, cancer, varicose veins, having undergone hormone replacement therapies and having had recent surgery. Even being over age 40 puts you at a higher risk.
The reason for this increased risk is that the longer you are immobile, the more likely blood clots can form in the deep veins of your legs, causing swelling and pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several ways to combat these risks:
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- Extend your legs and flex your ankles when possible
- Get up to stretch your legs at least every hour
- Hold your knees to your chest for 10 intervals of 15 seconds each.
- Wear compression stockings
“There have been several studies that identify a risk of venous thrombosis occurring in flights over eight hours that range from 0–10 percent, with the higher rates occurring among people with risk factors such as a history of prior blood clots, active cancer and varicose veins,” said Casey O’Connell, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Some studies have demonstrated that knee-high, graded elastic compression stockings are effective in these higher risk patients for preventing venous blood clots during air travel.
“However, the use of aspirin for preventing venous blood clots in patients participating in air travel is not backed by any proven data points; in fact, aspirin can be associated with significant adverse side effects involving the gastrointestinal tract,” added Dr. O’Connell, who also is a hematologist at The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC. “In another study, aspirin was more likely to have been used by travelers who developed blood clots than by those who did not. Therefore, it is not considered a useful recommendation for air travel.”
2. Do your ears hurt?
Changing cabin pressure alters vibrations in the eardrum, which causes pain. Deep breaths, chewing gum or sucking on candy can alleviate some of the pressure. You also can try the Valsalva maneuver: Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils together, then blow gently. Repeat as needed, especially during landing, to equalize the pressure in your ears.
3. Are you prone to leg cramps?
The best remedy on an airplane for leg cramps and restless legs syndrome is activity. Request an aisle seat so that you can stretch your legs into the aisle when possible, but also so that you can get up at least every hour. Try massaging your calf muscles and stretching at the back of the plane. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can increase dehydration and cramping. Finally, carry a plastic bag to make an icepack that you can use on affected areas.
4. Afraid of lingering germs on a plane?
You should be. A 2014 study found that disease-causing bacteria like MRSA and E. coli can live in airplane cabins for up to a week. Seat pockets, rubber armrests and other porous surfaces harbor the most germs, but you are more likely to pick up bacteria from nonporous surfaces such as your tray table and the airline toilet seat. Use antibacterial wipes to disinfect your seating area and get your seasonal flu shot seven to 10 days before traveling to boost your body’s immunity.
5. Are you prone to headaches and runny noses?
Stay hydrated. Dehydration is known to cause headaches and can actually prolong migraines. Additionally, when your body is not sufficiently hydrated, your nose will begin to run to compensate.
6. Do you feel dizzy or lightheaded?
You can blame having a lower blood-oxygen level in airplanes for that. Avoid drinking, which inhibits your blood cells from effectively absorbing oxygen. You might also consider booking your flight on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has higher air pressure and humidity than other jets.
By Heidi Tyline King
If you have knee, hip or back pain that makes air travel difficult, make an appointment with one of our orthopaedic or spine specialists. To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.