• What a flight really does to your body.


    What a flight really does to your body.


    It's meant to be the start of a well-earned break. But could the


    flight to your holiday destination pose a greater health risk than the


    standards of hygiene that await you? According to the Aviation Health


    Institute, the number of passengers each year who die after being taken ill


    during flights equals those killed in aircraft accidents.


    What a flight really does to your body.

    As a result, airline companies have come under strong pressure to improve in-flight medical facilities. Here are the flight hazards to be aware of...




    Medical evidence suggests that sitting in the same position during a flight,


    even for a few hours, can increase your risk of developing a blood clot - or


    deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - in the leg.


    The clot prevents blood flowing past it, causing the limb to swell. Should


    it dislodge, the clot can travel via the veins and block the blood supply to


    the lungs - this is a pulmonary embolism and can be fatal.


    A British holidaymaker last year had a leg amputated after suffering a




    Doctors at London's Middlesex Hospital are investigating whether


    insufficient leg room, cabin pressure and oxygen concentration could cause




    The solution: The British Heart Foundation advises passengers on flights


    of more than two hours to walk about at regular intervals to keep blood


    flowing in the legs. You may also benefit from wearing support stockings,


    which help blood to flow against gravity.




    As with blood clots, long periods of inactivity can lead to a buildup of


    fluid around your ankles and feet. Overweight people are more at risk.


    The solution: Swelling can be avoided by 'jiggling your legs, or bouncing


    your feet up and down on your toes, every 20 minutes', says travel health


    expert George Walker. 'It gets the circulation going.'




    Travellers, particularly with high blood pressure, can an arrhythmia - or irregular heart beat - which can be fuelled by excess alcohol and coffee, during lengthy airport waits, for example.


    The solution: Cut down on coffee and alcohol, especially in the run-up to


    a flight. Avoid bingeing on booze in the days before you are due to travel.




    As an aircraft climbs, decompression can cause gas in the lungs to expand


    which normally escapes naturally.


    But in a small number of cases where asthma symptoms are present, it can


    become trapped and form a bubble.


    If this punctures the lung, it could cause a pneumothorax - a potentially


    dangerous condition which can be treated only by a qualified doctor.


    The solution: 'Asthmatics should make sure they are free of symptoms


    before they fly and use inhalers more liberally around the time of travel,'


    advises Dr Walker.


    Anyone suffering breathing problems should get in touch with a doctor


    before boarding.




    During descent, air within the ear cavity contracts, forming a slight




    But if it cannot escape because the Eustachian tubes are blocked - for


    example, because of a cold - the ear drum starts to become painful. In the worst cases, the drum will rupture, causing severe pain.


    The solution: When the aircraft starts to descend, suck on a sweet to


    'equalize' the pressure within your ear. Push your tongue against the roof of


    your mouth and swallow. If that fails, hold your nose and blow.




    Gas in the stomach or intestine expands as an aircraft climbs. In some


    people, it can lead to abdominal pains.


    Rushed meals, or increased swallowing because of anxiety, can mean




    The solution: Before flying, avoid food and drink that can cause a buildup


    of gas - such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, apples or beans. Try eating


    peppermint capsules to help absorb gases.


    To release trapped gas, lean forward over your left knee and then sit up


    again - this lets it rise through your system.




    Large changes in altitude can cause toothache, when tiny pockets of gas


    become trapped in deep fillings, or collected in areas of decay.


    The solution: Have a dental checkup before you fly and maintain good oral


    hygiene in the run-up to your holiday.




    There are increasing reports of tuberculosis outbreaks on airlines flying to


    infected areas.


    The confined cabin space and close proximity to passengers can help its




    The solution: World Health Organization guidelines state all airlines


    should ban from flying anyone known to have infectious TB and should install


    'maximum efficiency air filters' on all aircraft.


    If you are travelling to an area where TB is endemic, check your airline


    follows the WHO recommendations.




    Cabin air can have the effect of slightly dehydrating the body, made worse


    by drinking alcohol.


    The solution: Avoid alcohol before and during the flight.


    Stick to soft drinks or plain water. Although rehydration can almost


    always be achieved simply by drinking fluid, in severe cases intravenous


    treatment may be needed.




    Scuba-diving can be dangerous for anyone flying shortly after a dive.


    Climbing to high altitudes can trigger 'the bends'. Symptoms include


    headache, joint pain, fatigue and breathing problems.


    The solution: Never fly within 48 hours of a sea dive below 50ft.


    The effects, even at modest cabin altitudes, can be deadly… (By Pat Hagan).



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