Are you ready for your holiday? Are you prepared for a long trip? I have just completed two long flights to Europe and back. I am painfully aware of the issues that can pop up when flying. Some of my traveling companions included cramping, leg and ankle swelling, headache and sinus problems. Traveling long distances often involves extended periods of time of sitting in cramped spaces. Added to this your fellow travelers may sleep on you or be inconsiderate. The after effects of a long flight can impact on the quality of your trip.
During your typical day, you move often. Even if your job involves desk work, you can move around. Walking back and forth to the copier and lunch room requires muscular activation. This activity pumps blood and fluid from your limbs back to your heart.
When you are wedged into an airline seat and immobile, the fluid in your legs begins to build up. Inevitably, your legs start to swell and the pressure on your tissues increases. The fluid build up can lead to cramping. In some cases, severe conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can develop.
So apart from traveling in first class, what can you do to help prevent these side effects?
The most important thing to do is MOVE ABOUT.
Get up and walk the aisles. Do some stretches in the emergency rows. Regularly pump your feet up and down when seated. These tips will help keep the fluid in your legs pumping back to your heart.
Studies have shown that the risk of DVT is similar in long distance (greater than 4 hours) travel. The mode of transport doesn't appear to matter. The risks were the same for prolonged bus, train and flights. According to the research, the risk of DVT relates to immobility rather than the pressure changes of a cabin. This is an important message for all travelers including first and cattle class.
• A regular 10-minute walk every hour will help keep your muscles activated.
• Ankle pumps in sets of 15 once per hour. Particularly useful if your neighbour falls asleep and getting up is difficult.
Air Quality in the Plane Cabin
Air in aircraft cabins is carefully controlled. The air is filtered, pressurised, with humidity and temperature controlled. The air quality is monitored and adjusted as your flight progress. On some flights, the cabin may also be sprayed with anti-microbial. The sprays vary depending on the country you visit.
Controlled air quality can wreak havoc on the sensitive membranes of your sinuses and eyes. The results are red, itchy eyes, dry eyes, and dry sinuses. The lack of fresh air can make you more susceptible illness. Viruses and bacteria are floating around on the plane and when you land often make you unwell.
Cabin humidity is kept between 10-12%. That’s dryer than some deserts! This is due to cost (water is heavy to carry) and to minimise corrosion.
Keeping hydrated will help prevent
• jet lag,
• chapped lips and dry eyes, and
• can also help to avoid your sinuses drying out so quickly.
Pack SMART. You can bring these in your cabin bag
• Eye drops,
• saline sinus sprays, and
• making sure you have your asthma medication
• lip balm
• empty water bottle (helps you get through customs)
These tips can all contribute to improving your flight and prevent post flight consequences.
Following these basic steps can help make the start of your trip much more enjoyable. Prevent the end of the voyage being much worse than just the end of a holiday!
Written By Dr Jessica Cranfield