For many Aussies, the only thing separating them from work and a well-earned, overseas holiday is a plane flight.
But that time in the air – from a few hours to the equivalent of a day or more – can take its toll on you physically and mentally.
Whether you’re lucky enough to be up the pointy end of the plane or squashed between other voyagers in zoo class, being well prepared for your flight will leave you less jaded when you reach your destination.
Here are some tips to take on board.
Travel preparations, plus long waits at the airport, going through security checks, customs and handling your luggage, can be stressful, so plan ahead as much as possible. If you have any ongoing health problems, make an appointment to see your doctor before you travel.
Reduce stress levels by checking in online, allowing plenty of time to get to the airport, and get a good night’s sleep beforehand, especially if you are travelling with children.
Take a neck pillow, eye mask, earplugs and comfy slip-on shoes onto the plane—your body and brain will thank you for every extra comfort. Being comfortable so you can nap also alleviates jet lag.
Most potential problems you could face during a flight are due to the cabin environment.
Dehydration can occur more quickly as the air in planes isn’t humidified. Drink water regularly during the flight and limit or avoid alcoholic, caffeinated and sugary drinks.
Cabin air dries out the lining of the mouth and nose that acts as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. That, coupled with being in a confined space with many others, could make you more susceptible to getting a cold or other respiratory infection. While these may be difficult to avoid, being careful to wash your hands regularly, and cover your own mouth if you cough or sneeze can really help prevent germs spreading.
Most people are aware that serious blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or lungs (pulmonary embolism) can develop during a flight, although symptoms often don’t develop until after the flight is over. While not a common event, it’s estimated that there is about one case per 4500 flights of more than four hours.
Prolonged immobility and dehydration increase your risk, but certain people are more at risk than others.
Those with the highest risk of DVT include people with a personal or family history of blood clots, and those with cancer, heart disease or who have recently undergone surgery. These people should check with a doctor before flying in case some form of preventive treatment is needed.
The contraceptive pill, smoking, obesity and varicose veins can also increase risk, as can taking very long-haul flights or having several long-haul flights in succession.
It’s good to get out of your seat every hour or so, have a good stretch and move around for about ten minutes. Try not to sit with your legs crossed. Wearing a pair of elastic support stockings helps to maintain good blood flow—although whether these will actually prevent DVT is not certain.
Not moving around can also result in swollen feet, aching joints and muscles, indigestion and wind. While seated move your legs and contract your calf muscles regularly to help pump blood from your legs to your heart.
The amount of oxygen available in the cabin is usually less than normal air. For some people with heart or lung problems this may trigger symptoms. If you have trouble breathing normally with minimal exertion when you are on the ground, you may be more likely to have problems in the air. If you have any particular health problems, seek advice from your doctor about going on a long flight.
Keep any medicines you need, in your hand luggage with a list of your medical problems in case you need assistance.
When flying and going through different time zones it’s easy for medicine schedules to go awry. Try initially keeping your watch on the time of the country you have left so you know when your next dose is due. Again, your doctor can help you plan your medicines timetable.
Cabin pressure causes the air normally present in your body cavities to expand. It’s most noticeable in your ears and sinuses during take off and landing, especially if you have a head cold or ear condition.
To counteract this, pinch your nose and with your mouth shut, blow gently. Swallowing, yawning, chewing gum or sucking sweets can also help.
Babies can be particularly affected; breast or bottle feed them or let them suck on a dummy.
If you or your child has a history of motion sickness, see your doctor or pharmacist prior to departure. One option may be antihistamines, but be aware that these medicines are not recommended for children under the age of two years and should be used with caution in older children. They can cause side effects such as sedation. Most travel sickness medicines need to be taken at least half an hour before travel rather than when you start to feel sick. There are also some simple ways of avoiding travel sickness.
This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.
If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website www.nps.org.au
For more top tips about travel and medicines visit NPS MedicineWise.
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