Changes That Happen In The Body When You Fly

Flying high up in a plane brings about a few changes in our body. Some of you might have also noticed or felt them.

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From oxygen deprivation to numbness of taste buds, there are some worrying not so pleasant effects during the air travel that bother most of the people.

Sleepy feeling

While traveling in a plane there is a fatigued feeling, which surely is not due to the uncomfortable seating, but due to the low oxygen level. Plane cabins are pressurized to stimulate at 6000-8000 ft elevation, and the body absorbs less oxygen at these altitudes (1). Also, the blood is not able to move around properly which is another reason for the lack of oxygen (2). This leads to sleepiness, dizziness, and lack of mental sharpness.

Swelling in legs and feet

Sitting for long hours affects the blood flow and leads to swelling in the feet and ankles. It also increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis(3, 4).

A simple movement of the legs such as ankle rotation, flexion, and extension done by being seated helps reduce the risk. Using compression stocking, also help in reducing the chances of occurrence.

The people who are at the risk of DVT while in the plane are obese, pregnant or postpartum females, those on birth control pills, or those having a serious medical condition.

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Dehydration

The humidity levels in the plane are as low as 4%. This leads to drying up of the mucous membranes of nose, mouth, and throat. A 3 hours flight can lead to loss of 1.5 liters of water(5).

To prevent dehydration drink plenty of water even before boarding the plane. Carry your own water bottle so that you are not dependant on the attendants to bring in water for you.

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Eye drops and nasal sprays help in comforting the dry eyes and dry nose symptoms.

Bloating and swelling

As the plane is flying at height there is a change in air pressure. This leads to build-up of gas in the body which can cause constipation, bloating, and other related gastrointestinal issues. Get rid of the gas as not doing it can lead to pain and worsen the bloating.

Popping in ear

As the gas in the intestine increase due to the shift in air pressure, the ear also feels the effects. As we ascend the gas expands forcing a bulge of the tympanic membrane outward. This gives a pressure sensation in the ear. Chewing gum, swallowing, and yawning help as they gently force the air out of the lungs to the Eustachian tube into the middle air, equalizing pressure (6).

Loss of taste

Due to the low humidity, the mucous membrane in the mouth and nose dries up, this affects the sense of taste.

The pressurized air inside the plane also pressurizes the body. This affects the senses. Even the noise the jet engines produce impact.

People drinking alcohol find the taste difference in the flight.

One way to improve the sense of taste is to drink plenty of water, which can hydrate the mouth and help you enjoy the food up in the sky.

Toothache

As the air pressure build-up, the gas changes in the body affect the teeth. The gas gets trapped in the filling or cavities leading to a condition known as airplane toothache.

Unlike the earache and sinus pain which are treatable, airplane toothache cannot be prevented(7). It makes air travel very uncomfortable. Only the painkiller can help relieve it.

Make sure you get teeth checked by the dentist if suspecting any such problem.

Skin loses moisture

The cabin pressure and dry recirculated air zap moisture from the skin. Dehydration can lead to dry and cracked skin and dry lips. Moisturizing lotion prior to flying can help prevent this condition. Also, keep drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.

Wash the face when you get off the plane to get rid of the dead cells build-up which can cause acne.

Bad breath

A dry mouth has less saliva, which can encourage bacterial growth leading to bad breath. Fasting and not drinking water can contribute to bad breath.

It is advisable to carry a toothbrush along when going for long interval flight and keeping yourself hydrated.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: August 26, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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