Air travel is generally not hazardous to health but can cause unpleasant side effects. Here’s how to mitigate them.
The air, poorer in oxygen, can cause drowsiness or headaches
In addition to airport crowds and all the stress, traveling at high altitude has real effects on the body. Although the barometric pressure is adjusted to prevent airsickness, you may feel drowsy or have a headache. “The reduced oxygen pressure on board is equivalent to that found on land between 1800 and 2400 meters above sea level, in Mexico City,” said Dr. Paulo Alves, global medical director for health and safety services. airline security from MedAire. “The oxygen pressure decreases in part and leads to a slight hypoxia (decrease in oxygen) which can cause headaches in more fragile people. » A study from the United Kingdom has shown that the oxygen level of passengers decreases by 4%, which can have consequences for people with heart or lung problems. To prevent headaches, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Sitting in a confined space for hours affects all blood circulation: your feet and ankles can swell. The risk of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot is also known to increase when the blood circulates less well, as is the case on an airplane. “In this sitting position, the veins of the legs are compressed and the blood circulation is slowed down there”, specifies Dr. Alves. Even if you are advised to get up and walk around the plane, beware of the crowding if too many people are deciding at the same time, especially since this becomes a risk factor in the event of turbulence.
“The average traveler who has no risk factors should practice simple ankle movements (rotations, flexions and extensions) often in their seat,” he advises. Risk factors for DVT include obesity, pregnancy and post-pregnancy, taking oral contraceptives, being over 40, or having a chronic illness. “People at risk of DVT would benefit from wearing compression stockings and, if their risk is high, taking blood thinners,” he says. See your doctor if you have risk factors while traveling by air.
You can become dehydrated
The air we breathe on board the plane comes from outside and it is very dry at this altitude. “Its humidity is below 10%,” says Dr. Quay Snyder, president and CEO of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS). “Dehydration can lead to a feeling of fatigue, especially if it is accompanied by a drop in pressure in the plane. Chronic illnesses and medications can accentuate this feeling. The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of water even before boarding. Buy yourself a bottle of water before boarding. (Tap water in toilets is not safe to drink.) The Aerospace Medical Association recommends putting eye drops to relieve dry eyes.
Changes in pressure can make you bloated
You can’t imagine how much flatulence people get on board an airplane. Studies have shown that flatulence increases in the air. The Aerospace Medical Association claims that the gases produced by our body can increase by 25%. “Physics tells us that gases tend to expand inversely to pressure,” explains Dr. Alves. Consequently, the more the plane gains altitude and the more the external pressure decreases, the more the gas locked up in your body will expand. »
This includes intestinal gas that causes bloating and the urgent need to expel it. What to do? Retaining them is not good for the body. Also, if you feel too much pressure, let yourself go… in the bathroom, if possible.
Air pressure variations affect the eardrums
In addition to increasing your intestinal gas, changes in air pressure will likely be felt in your ears. “As the plane rises, the gases expand and force the tympanic membrane to bulge outward, which causes the well-known feeling of pressure in the ears,” says Dr. Alves. This sensation will continue until the compressed air escapes into the pharynx through the Eustachian tube, and suddenly brings the ears back to normal.
Chewing gum is helpful. When descending, the opposite occurs. The pressure increases and the middle ear needs more air. “We fill this need by swallowing or yawning,” he says. Another way is to gently expel the air from your lungs by closing your nose and mouth so that the air passes through the eustachian tubes to the middle ear and restores the pressure balance. Fortunately, this temporary pressure in the ear has no lasting consequences.
You lose the sense of taste
Airplane food may not be as bland and tasteless as you think. The dry air you breathe on board dries out the mucous membranes of your mouth and nose, which can affect your sense of taste. A Lufthansa study found that the perception of sweet and salty in food decreased by 30% during a simulated flight. British Airways has recently attempted to enhance the taste of its dishes with the Japanese flavor known as ‘umami’.
But you can also reactivate your taste buds by drinking water. “Dry mouth partially diminishes the sense of taste, but it comes back to us if we hydrate,” Dr. Snyder tells us.
Changes in pressure can cause toothache
Although rarer, these variations can affect our teeth when gas gets stuck in fillings or cavities. “One of the problems with airplane toothache is that unlike earache or sinus pain, there’s not much you can do to prevent it,” dentist Thomas P. Connelly explains to huffingtonpost. .com. “In other words, chewing gum or swallowing saliva won’t do anything to relieve the pressure inside your tooth. Which will make your flight rather difficult.”
You can take painkillers like Tylenol to ease the symptoms. Even if you only have a little toothache, consult your dentist before taking a plane trip.
Your skin becomes dehydrated
Drying of the skin is another effect of the atmosphere on board an aircraft. “Dehydration can lead to dry skin and chapped lips, even if the flight is very short,” Dr. Snyder tells us. Applying a moisturizing lotion before the flight may lessen these effects.” Better to use a lotion than a hydrating mist that absorbs quickly in the dry air, says skincare expert Renée Rouleau on refinery29.com .
Keep drinking water to hydrate your whole body, and wash your face when you leave the plane. Renée Rouleau claims that exfoliation could remove the buildup of dead cells in dry skin which, ironically, triggers acne.
You might have bad breath
When your mouth becomes dry on the plane, the lack of saliva stimulates the proliferation of bacteria responsible for bad breath. If you haven’t eaten and especially if you haven’t drunk a lot of water, you risk having a second “morning breath”. Sugary drinks and junk food don’t help either.
“The combination of dry mouth and hours without brushing your teeth on an extended flight can lead to bad breath,” warns Dr. Snyder. In prevention, bring your toothbrush (some airlines offer them) and hydrate yourself.
A long flight can throw your circadian rhythm out of whack
We are talking about jet lag here. “Hormone secretion, sleep, attention and hunger all depend on our internal clock,” says Dr. Alves. Changing time zones disrupts our system and we need time to set our record straight. “It takes about a day to absorb an hour from each time zone crossed. This means that after a 6-hour transatlantic flight, our biological clocks need six days to synchronize with local time,” he adds. So what if you’re going away for less than a week?
“During an express business trip, it is better not to adjust to the new time, because it is impossible from a physiological point of view, he specifies. On the other hand, if you want to make the most of a tourist trip, adjust quickly to local time by exposing yourself to daylight and practicing outdoor activities. As adapting to a longer day is easier than a shorter day, it is easier when traveling from east to west.
You won’t get sick
Even if airborne infections proliferate in places lacking humidity such as airplanes, the fear of contamination on board seems unjustified because of the presence of HEPA filters, specifies Dr. Snyder. “The big advantage is that the air is replaced more frequently in the plane than in industrial buildings, schools or homes,” he explains. This high exchange rate, combined with filtration and air circulation circuits, reduces the risk of transmission of microbes from other passengers or crew, compared to any other environment.”
Unless you’re sitting next to someone coughing or sneezing in your direction, your chances of getting sick are low. However, since bacteria are known to have adapted to airplanes, wash your hands frequently and try not to touch your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.