Friday, January 05, 2007

Air Travel Illness

AIR travel is a common mode of travel for millions. With the increasing competition among the airlines, more people are likely to travel. More than one billion people travel by air each year and for the majority of people it is safe. Despite the current security concerns, air travel is likely to remain one of the best modes of transport. But it can be a problem for people with problems in the lungs especially with increase in the number of survival years thanks to the increasing medical research.

With the introduction of modern aircrafts, passengers will be exposed to an altitude of up to 8,000 feet and in some cases exceeding 20 hours. Apart from the potential for increasing risks for medical illness there are lot of physiological disturbances that can occur or precipitate a problem for people.


Some of the disturbances are hypoxia, which means decreased oxygen concentrations in blood, prolonged immobility and prolonged exposures to reduced barometric pressures. Recent data however suggest that longer flights are associated with decrease in oxygen saturation, which may be probably because of a fall in cabin pressure. It is well known that acute mountain sickness can occur 12 to 16 hours after exposure to an altitude of 6000 feet. More than the altitude it is the speed with which one reaches the ascent that determines the development of the problem.

Lung is one organ that has to work whether you fly in the air or dive into the sea. No one cares much about it. One should remember most commercial aircrafts are pressurised to 8000 feet during cruise. The lung can suffer during flights in normal patients, asthmatic persons and people who suffer from smoking related lung disease (COPD).

One of the problems faced by normal individuals in long international journeys is the development of clots in blood vessels of the lung due to sluggish circulation in the lower limbs. This happens when one does not move at all during the flight. This can increase if one is obese and is an alcoholic. Drinking excessive alcohol before or during flights can cause dehydration and development of clots in the peripheral veins that can migrate to lung vessels and cause serious problems. This development of clots in lungs is called pulmonary embolism. This can be a fatal if not recognised. But it is a preventable problem. It can also occur in females who are on contraceptive pills, are healthy and under take long journeys by air.

Similarly if you are an asthmatic it is important to carry your prescription and also your inhaler on board and not in your check-in luggage. It is also advisable to carry a new inhaler, as the delivery rates can be erratic.

Helpful tips

Keep moving so that your calf muscles are active.

Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.

Do not take excess alcohol and board the flight especially those who have sleep apnoea

Keep alcohol intake within acceptable limits, as it causes dehydration.

Carry a new inhaler in your hand baggage.

Patients with asthma, COPD and those on oral anticoagulants should be assessed before travel.

Patients with active infectious disease should get advice from their doctor before travel.

Source: The Hindu

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