Bad Effects of Flying and Tips to Avoid Them

Bad Effects of Flying and Tips to Avoid Them

Flying on planes may put people at risk of deep vein thrombosis, dehydration and jet-lag. Here are some solutions to combat these bad effects of flying.

Although I love travelling, I dread flying on airplanes as I am very prone to getting blocked ears during take off and landing. It also annoys me greatly when those sitting in front of me recline their seats fully, eating into my limited legroom. On top of that, I am most afraid of catching an infection from a sick passenger near me – the chances of this happening exacerbated by poor air circulation in the plane.

While there are some effects of air travel that are unavoidable, there are others that we are able to control. Here are some problems you may encounter on a flight, and some travel tips and solutions to combat these problems.

Also Read: 16 Travel Essentials to Buy from Daiso Before a Vacation

1. Deep Vein Thrombosis (“Economy class syndrome”)

Being immobile for long periods of time is a known risk factor for pulmonary embolism, which can be potentially life-threatening. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the legs, causing pain and swelling. The clot may even detach from the vein and travel to reach internal organs such as the heart or lungs. Pulmonary embolism can lead to organ damage due to deprivation of oxygen and it may even result in death.

Take the case of Richard Carlson, a 45-year-old man, who had suddenly died of pulmonary embolism on a flight to New York. It was revealed that a blood clot released from his leg traveled to his lung as the plane began to descend.

Individuals with a higher risk for DVT:

  • Individuals with a medical history of blood clotting issues
  • Individuals who have varicose veins and are prone to leg swelling
  • Pregnant women and women on the pill or hormone replacement therapy
  • Individuals who are obese and the elderly
  • Individuals who have medical conditions that can affect blood circulation (cancer, stroke or vascular diseases)
  • Heavy smokers

The solution:

  • Take food that can improve blood circulation and help strengthen arteries. This include dark chocolate, blueberries, grapes, oranges, avocados, ginger, garlic, salmon and pumpkin seeds.
  • Pick the first-row seats where there is no one in front of you, or try to book seats near the emergency exits which usually have more room.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and consider wearing compression stockings (I bought a good pair for $100) if you are prone to clotting.
  • Get up to walk around the cabin at least once every hour. You can also perform simple stretching exercises at the back of the plane. Book the aisle seat if you don’t want to inconvenience the person sitting beside you with your movements.
  • Avoid crossing your legs, and avoid consumption of sedatives inflight which will cause you to be asleep (and hence be inactive).

2. Dehydration

The humidity in an airplane cabin is usually around 20%. Due to the dry air on board the plane, some people will experience dry eyes (which can cause problems for contact-lens wearers) and dry throat while flying. This dryness can also lead to infections. Beverages served inflight such as alcohol, coffee and tea also do not help the situation at all as they have a diuretic (frequent urination) effect.

The solution:

  • Hydrate well by drinking plenty of water throughout the flight, avoiding alcohol, coffee and tea, unless you can compensate with even more water.
  • Bring eye drops, lip balm and a good moisturiser.

3. Low cabin pressure

Aircraft cabins are pressurised, and this may put a strain on our bodies. The maximum pressure during a flight is still much lower than what you would experience at or near sea level. Research has shown that subjecting a person to this lowered pressure can reduce the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood (hypoxia). Hypoxia can cause dizziness and also increase the likelihood of blood clotting. Lower cabin pressure can also cause pain or discomfort in your ears (I often experience this) and swelling of legs in some people.

The solution:

  • If your ears are blocked, try swallowing your saliva, yawning or sucking on sweets.
  • Remove your shoes if your feet is swelling.

4. Uncomfortable position due to fully-reclined seat in front

Two recent inflight scuffles over shrinking legroom had caught my attention. In one case, a man on an American Airlines flight fought with a passenger who was trying to recline the seat in front of him. The man raised his voice, then followed the flight attendant to the back of the plane and grabbed the flight attendant’s arm, after the latter tried to intervene. Air marshals on board the plane had to restrain the troublemaker.

In another case, a passenger in a United Airlines flight was using the Knee Defender, a device that attaches itself to a passenger’s tray table and prevents the seat in front from reclining. A flight attendant requested that the man remove the prohibited gadget but he refused. This prompted the woman in front of him to turn around and throw a cup of water him. In both incidents, the planes had to divert and make an unscheduled landing at the nearest airport and the errant passengers were apprehended and not allowed to continue to their destinations. American budget airlines – Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air – had also removed the reclining mechanisms from their seats, leaving them permanently upright.

The solution:

  • If the person in front of you reclines his/her seat fully, keep calm and keep flying. After all, there is no point ruining your holiday plans over an uncomfortable flight.
  • If you’d like to recline your seats, just be polite by asking the person behind you if it’s okay first.
  • If you find that you are in a very uncomfortable position, inform the flight attendant and let them handle the situation.

5. Jet lag

Travelling across time zones can disrupt regular patterns of sleep and wakefulness. Common symptoms of jet lag include day-time sleepiness, night-time insomnia, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal problems or mild depression. A person traveling across several time zones will experience a temporary desynchronization between the new time zone and his or her internal  biological clock. Your body may feel that it is time to go to sleep while others are starting their day, or you may feel active when everyone around you is in la-la land. Fortunately, our internal biological clock is able to adapt in response to external cues (e.g. light) in the new environment. Generally, it is not advisable to take long day-time naps in the new place to promote a fruitful night-time sleep.

The solution:

To avoid jet lag, it is important to adapt yourself to the destination’s time zone while you are taking the flight there. The following suggestions might be useful:

  • Try to book day-time flights whenever possible.
  • As soon as you board the flight, reset your watch to the new time zone.
  • Sleep according to the time of the day at your destination. Let me give you an example. If I am flying on a 9 pm flight en route from Singapore to Paris (Paris is 6 hours behind Singapore time), I would try to keep myself awake first as it is only 3 pm in Paris now (and too early to be sleeping) and at least have my first meal in the plane. I would catch some sleep at around 9 pm Paris time or 3 am Singapore time to adjust my internal body clock.
  • Limit your sleep to no more than two hours immediately after arrival if you arrived at the destination during day-time and try to keep awake until night-time.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, as dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to adjust to the new routine.
  • As daylight can help to reset your internal body clock, it is advisable to take a morning walk when you wake up.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol and tobacco and heavy meals just before bed time.

Also Read: 19 Best Travel Apps and Inventions You Need On a Holiday

Happy travelling!

Contributed by Miss Chocoholic

About Author

Miss Chocoholic

Vet Leow is Miss Chocoholic, a Singaporean girl who has passion for food and travel. She makes it a point to learn some basic foreign language of the place she is traveling to so that she can converse with the locals and be immersed in their culture. She hopes to share her experience and useful tips to help fellow travelers. She is excited to learn new things, gain fresh perspectives and always looking forward to her next trip.


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