Staying Healthy During Long Flights

Blogs, / By Winsen Citra

Now that travel has bounced back from its COVID induced slumber, many of my patients have travelled. I, myself, am about to embark on a holiday that involved flying for about 18 hours. So, I think it is a good time for us to explore what health effects long flights can have and how to prevent them.

What happens to our body during long flights

Being cooped up in a metal tin at 30,000 feet has its drawbacks. One of them is that you’re likely experiencing very mild oxygen deprivation. The plane usually has pressurized air, but it will still simulate air at about 6,000 to 8,000 feet. In long flights, this means that your brain gets less oxygen for the duration of the flight, making you feel sleepy, dizzy, and sometimes nauseated.

Another effect of the reduced pressure is the gases in your body expand. There are some health-related effects which I will cover later, but the milder symptom of this is you will be gassier. So, you may feel bloated throughout your long flights. The best thing to do is to choose your food and the amount of it wisely.

Health risks of long flights

The health risks that come about from long flights are in general related to the above-mentioned side effects of flying. These include:

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where your blood clots in your leg and cut off blood circulation. This can be life threatening. DVT is why you’re recommended to move about in your seat and get up every hour or so during long flights.
  • High Blood Pressure can be exacerbated because of the lack of oxygen that I mentioned earlier. Less oxygen means your body will pump at a higher pressure to make up for it. Be sure to pack your blood pressure medications and avoid alcohol during long flights.
  • Temporary Loss of Hearing is related to the reduced air pressure and expansion of air I mentioned above. When the air in your ear expands, it may not equalize immediately. It can cause pain in the ear and temporary loss of hearing. Try to yawn often and drink plenty of fluid to help your ear pressure equalize.
  • Dehydration is also very common due to the dry air in the plane. The solution is very simple. Drink up!
  • Jet Lag is also another obvious one that you will experience after long flights and crossing many time zones. It can cause anxiety, diarrhoea, or confusion. Try to adjust your sleep schedule before your trip to counter this.

We have posted a short video about some simple exercises you can do during long haul flight on our instagram and youtube. Watch this!

We hope this has been useful for you. Find out more useful exercises by checking out our instagram page. Feel free to contact us should you have further questions.

Winsen Citra
Principal Physiotherapist

Winsen graduated from University of Melbourne in 2012. He worked in organisations of various sizes such as Singapore General Hospital, Pain Relief Practice, and Physioclinic before working at Elevate Physiotherapy. He specialises in sports and musculoskeletal injuries and has worked with athletes of various sports such as fencing, dancing, dragon boating, and cycling.

In his spare time he enjoys singing and playing chess.