During my 18-hour flight from JFK Airport to Cambodia, two thoughts entered my mind. The first thought was, ‘How in earth am I going to pass the time, crossing multiple time zones, in a cramped position within this massive Boeing 777-ER aircraft?!’ My immobilized and uncomfortable posture led to my second thought: ‘What can I do to prevent or at least minimize health risks while flying?’ While chapters can be written about this topic, I’ll focus on three key tips to staying healthy and safe while en route to your dreamy destination.
1. Clot Prevention. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can be a medical emergency if untreated, particularly if the clot travels to arteries in your lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism (PE; symptoms can include shortness of breath, rapid breathing and chest pain). DVTs can form in the pooled blood of our lower extremities during prolonged inactivity (think of long rides in cars, planes or trains). The best way to prevent DVTs is to walk up and down the aisles of the airplane every hour or so. If this isn’t practical (and it often isn’t when sitting in window or middle seats), then stretching, rotating and wiggling of your calves, ankles and toes, respectively, can help the blood circulate in your legs and prevent clots from forming.
2. Dehydration. Most people need to drink more water while on land. But when you’re 30,000 feet in the sky where the air is thinner and oxygen levels are lower, the need to hydrate is greater. When flying, drink plenty of water, and avoid alcoholic, caffeinated and sugary beverages – all of which can exacerbate dehydration. Select tea over coffee, and perhaps a club soda over a soft drink. Saline sprays can also moisten dried nasal passages, and saline eye drops can prevent contact lenses from drying out.
3. Medications and Medical Supplies. Be sure to pack any medical items in your carry-on luggage so they can be easily accessible during a long flight. Medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, etc.; assist devices (e.g. orthotics, canes, hearing aids); and oxygen tanks are just a few examples of medically-necessary items (inform the flight crew in advance about any oxygen sources).
Other important tasks to optimize health and safety during travel include immunizations and prophylaxis treatment specific to your destination and time of year (e.g. typhoid and hepatitis A/B vaccines; anti-malaria meds). Sunscreen, hat, hand sanitizer and first aid kits containing bandages and antiseptic solution are never bad ideas. As for keeping yourself occupied during long flights, I watched several movies, TV shows, read a book and typed in my iPad…anything to pass the time. Before you know it, you’ll hear the flight attendant announce, “Welcome to ‘Paradise’ where the local time is ‘Leisure-Time’!”