April 24, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

What happens to the human body on long flights


How do long-distance flights affect the body? Doctors spoke about the effects of flying on the heart, skin, brain and face, recommending available methods to reduce health risks.

Why flying affects your health

The main recommendations for travelers are to drink enough fluids, not drink alcohol during the flight, and stretch and move as much as possible. First things first tells The Independent, providing expert opinion and advice.

There are important reasons why you feel “broken” after a flight. Jet lag, limited flight space, lack of sleep and high altitude can cause harm to the body. Jill Jenkins, GP, explains:

“Sitting for eight hours or more can have serious adverse effects on your health, such as your heart and respiratory system, as well as your muscles and joints.”

Different parts of the body are affected in their own way. This is what happens to them.

Air travel and the heart

Jenkin, a consultant for Deep Heat, Deep Freeze and Deep Relief, says:

“Long-haul flights can affect breathing, causing shortness of breath and sometimes chest discomfort. Those at greatest risk of developing heart problems on an airplane are those who already have cardiovascular disease.”

When traveling by air, be sure to consult your doctor if you have heart problems. Find out from him whether you can fly, and in your hand luggage take with you medicines and everything you need to maintain good health. Jenkins explains:

“Dehydration, changes in cabin air pressure and low oxygen concentrations—modern airplanes are pressurized at the equivalent of 6,000 to 8,000 feet of altitude, so you actually inhale less oxygen—can all play a role. On top of this, sitting in a confined space restricts chest movement, so you don’t breathe deeply, and increased stress [от полетов] may increase the risk of heart problems.”

Deep vein thrombosis and blood clots are a particular risk for people without cardiovascular disease for the same reasons. Jenkins warns:

“Blood clots can form up to one month after flying, so be on the lookout for symptoms such as swollen or painful legs, especially calves, and difficulty breathing (blood clots can also form in the lungs).”

To reduce the risk, the doctor advises drinking enough fluids and not drinking alcohol during the flight, and moving as much as possible.

Stomach reaction to flight

Even a change in humidity can wreak havoc on your stomach. GP at Pall Mall Medical Dr Simon Theobalds says:

“Airplane cabins have low humidity levels, which can cause dehydration and lead to digestive problems such as constipation and discomfort. Changes in cabin pressure can also cause gas in the stomach to expand, resulting in bloating or discomfort. Sitting for long periods of time during long flights can contribute to slow digestion and constipation.”

He also points out that disruptions to the circadian rhythm (body clock) due to crossing multiple time zones can also affect the digestive system, leading to irregular bowel movements and changes in appetite. Not to mention, jet lag disrupts your diet, which also “potentially leads to stomach upset or discomfort.” Theobalds advises avoiding alcohol and choosing light meals, as well as trying to move around the cabin whenever possible.

Flight and the brain

During a long flight, the body tries to adapt to different time zones, which is not indifferent to health. Theobalds explains:

“Changes in sleep patterns caused by time zone differences can affect sleep quality and quantity, which in turn can affect cognitive function* and mood. Low humidity levels can also lead to headaches, dizziness and cognitive impairment. Low oxygen levels in an airplane cabin can affect cognitive function, leading to symptoms such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. During long flights, especially for anxious passengers, stress and anxiety can arise, which can affect cognitive function and overall well-being.”

Cognitive performance can also be affected by noise, confined spaces and crowds, contributing to stress and discomfort. While these effects are usually temporary and reversible, people with pre-existing conditions or vulnerabilities may experience more pronounced effects, the expert said. He advised: “It is very important to stay hydrated and maintain a healthy sleep schedule.”

What flying does to your eyes, nose and mouth

According to Jenkins, all of these organs can become very dry on a long-haul flight due to changes in cabin pressure, altitude and air quality:

“The air circulating inside an airplane is very dry, and dehydration from not drinking enough can really make dry eyes, nose and mouth (as well as skin and ears) worse. Sinus pain affecting the nasal passages is common on long-haul flights, especially if you already have a cold or other breathing problems that affect how the sinuses and nasal passages can equalize pressure after a change in cabin pressure, leading to to pain in the nose, eyes, forehead and cheekbones, especially when descending.”

The trick is to address any long-term sinus problems mid-flight—chewing gum, sipping water, or yawning before takeoff and landing can help. The expert adds:

“Low humidity can increase tear evaporation and worsen dry eye symptoms, such as pain, red eyes, blurred vision, itching and watery eyes. Due to the dry conditions in an airplane cabin, your mouth can also become dry very quickly, leading to bacterial growth on your tongue and bad breath.”

Chewing gum helps stimulate saliva production, reduce dry mouth, and maintain hydration.

What happens to the skin

Low humidity can make skin feel tight and dry, says Theobalds:

“This can cause it to peel and worsen skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Recirculated air on airplanes can be dry and stale, potentially clogging pores and dulling your skin. This can be especially problematic for people with acne-prone skin.”

In addition, prolonged sitting impairs blood circulation, which leads to puffiness around the eyes, dark circles under the eyes and an overall tired appearance:

“At higher altitudes, exposure to ultraviolet rays increases. Although airplane windows block most UVB rays, UVA rays can still penetrate, potentially causing skin damage over time.”

The doctor advises moisturizing your skin, avoiding heavy makeup and using high-quality SPF.

Limbs and muscles – what they experience in flight

“Sitting for hours on a long-haul flight without much movement can lead to muscle strain, joint and back problems, and stiffness. During the flight, try to get up, move and stretch once an hour. Once you land, it’s important to get your body moving as quickly as possible,” says Jenkins.

*Cognitive functions of a person are the ability to understand, cognize, study, realize, perceive and process (memorize, transmit, use) external information. These are the most complex functions of the brain, with the help of which the process of rational cognition of the world is carried out and targeted interaction with it is ensured.



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