Preparing for travel can sometimes seem like a stressful task - from organising your tickets and documents to waiting in long queues at the airport. Add in any existing medical conditions you may have, and you could be facing potential health problems rather than an exciting trip.
But with a little bit of knowledge and planning, you can be a wise traveller - one who helps to ensure the journey will be a healthy one for themselves and for the people around them.
Travelling when you're unwell can be bad for your health and may impact on the health of your fellow passengers and flight crew. Whether it's just a cold or something more serious, flying can make you worse.
Conditions that may affect air travellers include:
The risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) increases during, and for several weeks after, flights of four or more hours. DVT occurs when blood flow is slow, usually because of inactivity, coupled with the dehydrating conditions of flying. A clot forms in the larger veins initially, usually in the lower leg. Clots may break off and travel to other parts of the body such as the heart and lungs (known as a pulmonary embolism) and this can be fatal.
Each year in Australia there are up to 400 deaths from pulmonary embolism and a small number may be associated with air travel. Increased risk factors include older age, obesity, smoking, pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, cancer, lower limb injury, recent surgery, family history of DVT, prolonged periods of immobility and previous DVT.
Especially during long flights or frequent short ones, wear loose clothing, move your feet and ankles regularly, and get up and walk around every hour or so. Drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and coffee as they can increase dehydration, and stretch your calf muscles. If you know you have poor circulation, suffer from swollen ankles or may be at risk of these conditions, wearing support stockings or flight socks may help.
While some people are advised to take a low dose of a blood thinner like aspirin, it's important to note that these drugs can have side effects of bleeding so they aren't for everyone. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist so you can weigh up your known risk of side effects against the possible benefits before you consider using the medication.
Avoid sleeping pills which may prevent you from moving sufficiently; this is especially dangerous if you are unable to lie flat, as prolonged sitting compresses blood vessels and may cause restricted blood flow.
Infection control should begin as soon as you feel unwell. If you're coughing or sneezing, you're most likely to spread germs to others around you. This may mean going home from work or staying home if you intend to travel.
If you must travel, consider your fellow passengers by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and disposing of dirty tissues immediately in an appropriate manner.
Another important way to reduce infectious disease transmission is to wash your hands carefully and frequently. Good hand-washing means using soap, washing fingertips, palms and backs of hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds and drying well, preferably with paper towels. Hot water is unnecessary. Hands should be washed before preparing and eating food and after sneezing, coughing, touching the nose or mouth, wounds, rubbish or animals, as well as after using the toilet. Keep a small bottle of alcohol-based hand wash gel with you when you travel, which can be very useful if soap and water aren't available.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Handwashing. [online] Atlanta, GA: CDC. [Last reviewed May 2011 May 18, accessed 29 Jun 2011] Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/
Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Advice for air travellers: health. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2008 [Accessed 29 Jun 2011] Available from: http://www.casa.gov.au/
Comcare. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and long distance air travel. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2008 [Accessed 22 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.comcare.gov.au/
Firkin F Nandurkar H. Flying and thromboembolism. Aust Presc. 2009; 32: 148-150. [online] Available from: http://www.australianprescriber.com/magazine/32/6/148/50/
Pain MCF Campbell DA Cade JF. Venous Thromboembolism and Air Travel: A Position Paper Of The Thoracic Society Of Australia And New Zealand. [online] Sydney, NSW: The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand. c2010 [Accessed 22 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.thoracic.org.au/
Smarttraveller. Travelling well. [online] Barton, ACT: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [Accessed 29 Jun 2011] Available from: http://www.smarttraveller.gov.au/tips/travelwell.html
Last published: 30 July 2011
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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