What Happens To Your Body When You Fly And How To Beat The Pain 1 of 2
SOME of the side-effects we associate with long flights might crop up on other forms of transport. Catching an infection from a fellow passenger could happen on a train as well as a plane, and you might be as vulnerable on an overnight coach trip as on a plane to deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots that can be life-threatening if they reach your heart or lungs).
But what is clear is that flying at high speed and high altitude in a sealed container across several time zones produces a cocktail of negative effects that can, at the very least, make the journey extremely uncomfortable. So what exactly does flying do to your body? And what can you do to avoid the worst?
We usually feel most comfortable when the humidity in the air around us is about 40 to 70 per cent. In an aircraft cabin it falls to about 20 per cent. It is unlikely that your body will become seriously dehydrated for this reason alone, but it is common to suffer from dry eyes (which can cause serious problems for contact-lens wearers) and a sore or dry throat and nose. This dryness is often uncomfortable, but it might also make you more prone to infections.
Drink plenty of liquid throughout the flight - ideally water. Avoid alcohol, coffee and tea (which all have a diuretic effect), unless you compensate with even more water. Don’t worry if you have to keep getting up to go to the lavatory - the exercise might help prevent deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT (see below).
Although the cabin is pressurised, during the flight the maximum pressure is much lower than you would experience at or near sea level. It’s the equivalent of an altitude of 6,000 to 8,000ft. Our own tests undertaken last year confirmed research that subjecting someone to this lower pressure reduced the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood (a condition known as hypoxia). One effect of this is to leave you listless and perhaps dizzy or faint. There are also concerns that it can increase the likelihood of clotting or DVT. Lower pressure can also cause pain or discomfort in your ears, which is made worse by a cold, and some people find that it causes their feet and legs to swell.
There is little you can do to combat hypoxia; to avoid DVT see the suggestions below. Swallowing, sucking sweets and yawning all help to “pop” your ears. Removing shoes and avoiding tight clothing will make swelling less uncomfortable.
About 50 per cent of the air in the cabin is likely to be recycled, although the oxygen level remains pretty constant. There have been reports of infections - some serious, such as TB - being transmitted during flights. But there is disagreement as to whether this could be through the air being recycled around the plane (it is cleaned by very fine filters), or simply because the victim is seated close to someone with an infectious disease. This week, the Consumers’ Association also reported that cabin air in some planes may be polluted by fumes and ozone. The solution If you are seated next to someone with obvious symptoms of illness, ask to be moved.....To Be Continued
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