During the 2013/2014 FY, 8.94 million passengers departed Australia to venture overseas1. Due to Australia’s geographical location, many of these trips involved a long haul flight2.
While we’re often just sitting down, watching movies and sleeping for the majority of the time, long haul flights are actually very taxing on our health and physically quite demanding.
Many of us are familiar with the scenario of getting off a flight to start a holiday or business trip with sunken dry eyes, fatigued, headachy and feeling cranky..…all the while knowing the start of a cold is brewing (because the person sitting beside you for 8+ hours didn’t stop coughing and spluttering for the entire trip!)
Being aware of the health risks while flying and being organised with the remedies to treat them will have you arriving happier and healthier the next time you step off the plane after a long haul flight.
Here, Dr Natalie Gray, one of Australia’s leading Travel Doctors, gives her top tips on how to manage some of the most common long haul travel issues.
Issue #1: Dehydration The main cause of dehydration during long haul travel is the dryness of the cabins. Comfortable humidity is 60 -70%, yet aeroplane cabins range from just 12-21% (this is the same as a desert!). Common symptoms of low cabin humidity are thirst, dry mouth, skin, eyes and nose.
– To minimise dehydration, try and drink 2–3 glasses of water plus
a dose of oral rehydration solution (such as Hydralyte) every five
hours. Don’t worry about having to get up and down to the loo
all the time as this will help with circulation!
– Dry, scratchy eyes are one of the most uncomfortable health issues to have on a flight; they disrupt sleep and can become extremely irritated. Using eye drops or an eye mist (such as Murine Eye Mist) will provide immediate relief, hydrating and restoring the natural tear film. Eye mists are an easy option for those who don’t like drops and need to moisturise and refresh dry and tired eyes on the move.
Issue #2: Changing Cabin Pressure Most commercial long haul flights travel at an altitude of 28,000 – 35,000 feet. Cabins are pressurised to a maximum of 8000 feet to allow travellers to breathe comfortably as planes cruise through thin air at high altitudes. During take-off and landing the cabin pressure can change relatively quickly and ear or sinus pain can occur when flying especially if suffering from ear or sinus infections or a cold.
This discomfort can be minimised by using a saline nasal decongestant (such as FESS saline spray) thirty minutes prior to take off and landing. The use of mentholated sweets or gum promotes swallowing and helps equalise pressure in the air. Issue
#3: Jetlag Jetlag is the term used to describe the uncomfortable aftermath of a long haul flight through several time zones, where your circadian rhythms (internal clock) become out of sync.
While there is no single therapy for combating jetlag, there are a number of ways you can minimise the impact.
– As soon as you board the flight, set your clock to the local time of your destination.
Try to get some sleep on the flight, depending on what time it will be in your new locale.
– Stay hydrated.
– Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine – it will worsen jetlag by contributing to dehydration and give your body stimulants that will throw out natural sleep patterns.
– Make sure you walk around the cabin to keep the body moving; otherwise that heavy feeling will follow you off the plane.
– When you land at your destination, do some light exercise like going for a casual stroll or a relaxing swim that will get the body moving again. If it’s day time get some exposure to sunlight. Issue
#4: Stressed immune system Pre travel time can be stressful with work deadlines to meet and plenty to organise before you take off. During long haul travel you also spend long periods of time in enclosed or confined spaces with lots of other people and odds are if you’re not sick at the start, sitting next to someone for more than six hours who is sick, could mean you are by the end of the flight.
– To boost your immune system try taking a supplement (like the Frequent Flyer Health Boost). It includes ingredients to help support your immune system while travelling.
– The nose is the body’s first line of defence to shield against common respiratory infections. Tiny hairs combined with mucus prevent dust, pollen, bacteria and other pollutants from reaching the lungs. Using a saline spray (like FESS) every two hours during the flight helps keep this system in optimum condition.
1. ABS (2014) Australian Bureau of Statistics 3401.0 – Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia, Financial Year Data Jun 2014 Released 07/08/2014
2. Long haul flight are typically made by a wide-body aircraft. The flight length usually requires over six and a half hours some ultra-long flights go for 14+ hours
3. Guéhenneux, S. Gardinier, S. Morizot, F. Le Fur1and, I. Tschachle, E. (2012) ‘Skin surface hydration decreases rapidly during long distance travel’ Skin Research Technology Vol. 18(2) Pp. 238-240 Available for interview: Dr Natalie Gray, National Medical Director, The Travel Doctor-TMVC (www.traveldoctor.com.au)