6 Ways Air Travel Impacts Your Body and Tips to Mitigate Its Negative Effects

Jun 20, 2024
6 Ways Air Travel Impacts Your Body and Tips to Mitigate Its Negative Effects
Traveling can be fun and exciting, but spending hours in a plane can take a toll on your overall wellness, too. Here’s what you can do to counteract six common “side effects” of air travel.

There’s no doubt about it: Hawaii is a popular destination for people from other parts of the United States and across the globe, too: Nearly 10 million people visit Hawaii every year for vacations, business, or family events. 

Plenty of native Hawaiians use air travel to visit the U.S. mainland or other countries, too. In fact, overall, nearly 900 million Americans travel on airplanes every year. 

But while air travel is certainly popular and convenient, it can come with some downsides for your health and wellness. Knowing how to mitigate those “side effects”is the key to enjoying your trip and your destination.

Our team at Minit Medical Urgent Care and Physical Therapy specializes in helping patients recover from the rigors of travel and avoid issues in the future. Here, learn six ways air travel can affect your body — and find out what you can do to avoid potential problems.

1. Dehydration

The air in airplane cabins is notoriously dry, primarily because the air that circulates is pulled in from the outside. At high altitudes, air contains very little moisture compared to the air at ground level. The result: You lose moisture more quickly than normal, increasing your risk of dehydration.

Staying hydrated

Avoiding dehydration is simple in theory: Be sure to drink more while in flight. The tricky part is knowing what to drink. In general, avoid alcohol and caffeine, each of which can exacerbate dehydration. Stick with water, and apply moisturizer before takeoff to avoid dry, itchy skin.

2. Jet lag

Jet lag happens when you cross time zones and your biological clock is “thrown off.” Jet lag isn’t just about feeling tired; it can cause problems with memory and concentration, too. 

Preventing jet lag

Avoiding jet lag takes a little preparation. Specifically, try slowly adjusting your schedule a few days before your trip so it more closely matches that of your destination. It’s fine to nap on the plane, but once you arrive at your destination, staying active until local bedtime can help you adjust more quickly.

3. Ear pain

Most of us have experienced uncomfortable changes in air pressure during takeoff, landing, and significant changes in elevation during flight. While annoying, ear issues are typically brief, lasting a few minutes at most.

Ear care precautions

If you have a cold or ear infection, though, you can wind up with significant ear pain and, in severe cases, bleeding. If you have symptoms of an ear infection, make an appointment before your trip, so we can treat it. For regular ear discomfort, try chewing gum or yawning to equalize the pressure during landing and takeoff. 

4. Swelling and circulation problems

Prolonged sitting can lead to fluid accumulation in your lower legs, ankles, and feet, particularly if you’re already prone to circulation or cardiovascular problems. For some people, sitting still also increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in a deep vein.

Get up and move

To limit swelling and circulation issues, wear loose-fitting clothing and get up and move around the cabin every hour if you can. You can also do seated exercises, like ankle rotations and calf flexion, to promote blood flow. Check out this site for a list of exercises you can do right in your seat. 

5. Tummy troubles

Lower cabin air pressure gives the gasses in your digestive tract room to expand, which in turn can lead to bloating. Dehydration and staying seated for a prolonged period can exacerbate tummy problems. 

Watch your preflight diet

In addition to drinking plenty of water and moving around during your flight, it’s a good idea to avoid gas-producing foods a day or two prior to flying. Skip the carbonated beverage before, during, and just after your flight, too.

6. Back or neck pain

Despite what they advertise, airlines are not known for their comfortable seats. In fact, airline seats can be hard, inflexible, and confining, and spending hours seated can lead to muscle strain and discomfort.

Be aware of your posture

Getting up every hour or so can help relieve muscle strain, but moving around isn’t always possible. While sitting, you can limit strain by sitting up straight with your shoulders back and feet flat on the floor. Avoid slumping in your seat, crossing your legs, or slouching against the window.

Focus on your health

Whether you live in Hawaii or you’re one of the millions of people who visit every year, our team offers state-of-the-art solutions to help patients of all ages manage their health needs. Book an appointment online or over the phone with Minit Medical Urgent Care and Physical Therapy in Kihei, Kahului, and Lahaina, Hawaii, today.