When you fly on a plane, there are some conditions that are more common. Find out if you are at risk of them and what you can do to avoid them.
Jet lag is a condition which affects people who have had a disrupted sleep pattern when their body changes sleep patterns. Although sometimes it is unavoidable on long-haul or transatlantic flights, there are certain steps you can follow to reduce the symptoms of jet lag:
Before you travel, ensure you are well-rested and relaxed, trying to gradually enter the sleep pattern of your new destination. For example, if your new destination is in a later time zone, try to go to bed later and wake up later before you travel. You should also avoid excessive exercise, eating large meals and drinking alcohol and caffeine.
On your flight, you can ensure you stay well hydrated, by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol. Although high-quality sleep is not always possible when flying, you can stay rested with eye masks or earplugs. However, you should only sleep if you would be sleeping at that time in your destination. Avoid caffeine as this will make the effects of jet lag worse.
Once you arrive at your destination, try to fit your sleep schedule into the new times of your destination as much as possible. Do this by avoiding sleeping during the day, and setting an alarm in the mornings to avoid oversleeping. Going outside in the natural light during the day will also help your body adjust to the new timezone. If your trip is for less than 3 days, it may be beneficial to not adjust your body during this time, and stay on home time to avoid having to adjust your body clock twice.
Jet lag is natural to experience, and doesn’t usually require any medication or medical attention. The symptoms, which include difficulty sleeping, tiredness, concentration and indigestion, will usually disappear after a few days once your body has gotten used to the times of the new destination. Passengers can also choose to fly on a more modern plane, such as the Airbus A380 which has mood lighting which is reported to minimise jet lag.
Due to the air filtering systems on planes, and harsh air conditioning systems, your skin can sometimes feel the dehydrating effects of flying. There are certain things you can do to minimise these effects:
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the clotting of blood within a deep vein in the body, usually in the legs. This usually occurs when sedentary for large periods of time, which restricts the flow of blood in the legs, such as when travelling by plane. People are not usually at risk on short-haul flights, but instead on longer-haul of flights of eight hours or more.
Although anyone is at risk of developing a DVT, people with the following conditions are at an increased risk of developing a DVT:
- History of DVT, pulmonary embolism, or having a stroke (read more advice about flying after a stroke here)
- Increasing age
- Medical conditions such as cancer or heart failure
- Overweight or obesity
- Recently undergone surgery (read more advice about flying after surgery here)
If you are affected by any of these conditions, or are worried about your risk regarding DVT, you should seek your GP or doctor’s advice before travelling to check you are safe to fly.
When travelling, you can follow some simple steps to reduce the risk of developing DVT on a plane:
- Visit your GP. Don’t leave this to the last minute, as you may need to obtain medication or flight compression socks.
- Wear flight socks. These work by keeping the blood flowing in your legs, preventing clotting and swelling. These must be fitted and worn correctly as this could increase risk of DVT.
- Drink plenty of water on your flight, and avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.
- Walk around the plane whenever possible, and do some anti-DVT exercises to get blood circulating around your body.
Ear Pain and Pressure
Why do you get ear pain when flying?
Ear pain when flying is normal and affects most people, but some cases can be more severe and more painful. It happens due to the rapid changes in altitude when flying, which changes the pressure in your ear. Although your ears would normally adjust to the changes in pressure, it happens too quickly, at a rate your ears can’t adjust to. This can cause discomfort and pain in some people, with some people reporting muffled hearing or stuffiness in ears.
Tips to correct and prevent ear pressure building up:
- When you feel pressure building up, usually during take off and landing, you can yawn and swallow to prevent release the pressure. Try having a sweet, or chewing gum to aid the swallowing process.
- Avoid sleeping during take off and landing, as you will not be able to release the pressure gently with swallowing or yawning.
- Use the Valsalva manoeuvre when you feel the pressure changing. This is where you blow through your nose, keeping your mouth shut and pinching your nose to equalise pressure in your ears.
Babies and children are more subject to the pain and discomfort from not being able to relieve the built up pressure inside their ears, as they are unable to follow the above steps to reduce the pressure. Tips for helping them relieve pain and pressure include giving them a drink of water or a sweet to encourage swallowing, try encourage them to yawn, and keep them awake for takeoff and landing. For more information about flying with children, read this page.
Common Colds, Germs and viruses
To avoid catching common colds or viruses in planes, you can follow these tips to avoid the likelihood of catching one:
- Eat healthy to keep your immune system ready to fight off bacteria. You can bring your own food and drink onto the plane with you, if you adhere to the airline and country rules for carrying food and drink. Alternatively, you can pre-order a healthy airline meal if you are on a longer journey and want a hot meal.
- Come prepared with anti-bacterial wipes so that you can wipe down your immediate area on the plane, including seats and tray tables. Make sure they are permitted on your flight. Read more about what items are prohibited on a plane here.
- Get plenty of sleep as lack of sleep can weaken your immune system.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your nose, mouth and eyes and keep your hands clean by washing them regularly.
Flying with a bad back
Having a bad back can be uncomfortable and painful at the best of times, and going on a plane can often make it worse because you are sitting in confined spaces for a long period of time. There are some things that you can do to alleviate any aches or pains you have when flying with a bad back:
- Ask your doctor for advice and assistance
- Contact the airline to see if there’s anything they can do to help such as assistance in carrying luggage, priority boarding or even wheelchair assistance
- Choose the time of your flight wisely if you can to select quieter flights, where there is more likely to be spare seats where you can stretch out on. Red-eye flights are often cheaper than other flights, and are often less busy than other flights later in the day
- Bring any over-the-counter medications that you may need with you. It may be best to take medication before you board your flight so that it has time to work before the flight departs. However, it is best to follow a health professional’s advice on how and when to take it. You can learn more about flying with medication here
- It is good to have pillows or a roll behind your back to provide support during longer flights. If you are on a long-haul flight, there will often be pillows available, which you can request from the flight attendant. Alternatively, if your baggage allowance allows, you can bring a neck pillow or back support with you in your hand luggage
- Consider pre-selecting your seat so that you can choose a seat which suits you. If you know it will help being next to the window so you have something to lean on, choose that, or if you know you’ll want to be up and moving around the plane during the flight then consider getting an aisle seat (where you’ll also have more leg room in the aisle)
- Because staying in the same stationary position for long periods of time adds stress to the spine, it is a good idea to move around during your flight. If there is enough room in the plane, consider doing some stretches to ease the stiffness in your back