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Fly with Caution : Medications to Avoid During Air Travel

Air travel is a convenient and efficient mode of transportation, allowing people to explore new destinations and connect with loved ones. However, it’s crucial to be aware of certain medications that can pose risks and discomfort during flights. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or preparing for your first flight, understanding which medications to avoid is essential for a safe and pleasant travel experience.

Fly with Caution: Medications to Avoid During Air Travel

  1. Sedatives and Sleep Aids:

    Common medications like benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium) and sleeping pills (e.g., Ambien, Lunesta) may cause drowsiness, impaired coordination, and delayed reaction times. These effects can be magnified during flights, increasing the risk of accidents or falls. It’s best to avoid these medications or consult your healthcare provider for alternatives.(1)

  2. Antihistamines with Sedating Effects:

    Certain antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), can cause drowsiness and cognitive impairment. These side effects may interfere with alertness and decision-making, which is crucial during air travel. If you require an antihistamine for allergies, choose non-sedating options like loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec).(2)

  3. Strong Pain Medications:

    Opioids, such as codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, are potent pain relievers. However, they can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion. These side effects can be exaggerated in the pressurized cabin environment, leading to reduced cognitive function and an increased risk of falls. Consider alternative pain management options or consult your healthcare provider before your flight.(3)

Risks and Considerations of Taking Medication During Air Travel

  1. Impaired Alertness and Coordination:

    Medications that cause drowsiness, dizziness, or impaired coordination can affect your ability to respond to in-flight emergencies or navigate through airports. It’s crucial to remain alert and aware during air travel for your safety and the safety of those around you.

  2. Blood Clot Formation:

    Long flights increase the risk of blood clot formation, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Certain medications, such as hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), can further increase this risk. If you’re at higher risk for DVT, consult your healthcare provider for preventive measures or alternatives to these medications.(4)

  3. Medications Interacting with Altitude and Cabin Pressure:

    Some medications may interact with changes in altitude and cabin pressure, leading to adverse effects. This is particularly true for individuals with respiratory conditions, heart conditions, or ear problems. Medications like decongestants, antihistamines, or beta-blockers can potentially worsen symptoms or lead to complications. Always consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist for guidance on managing medications during air travel.(5)

Precautions and Alternatives to Taking Medication During Air Travel

  1. Consult Your Healthcare Provider:

    Before your trip, discuss your travel plans with your healthcare provider. They can evaluate your medical condition, current medications, and advise on any adjustments or alternatives that may be necessary for a safe and comfortable journey.

  2. Timing of Medications:

    If you need to take essential medications during your flight, carefully consider the timing. Optimize your dosing schedule to minimize potential side effects during the flight. However, always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and avoid adjusting your medication regimen without their guidance.

  3. Non-Medication Strategies:

    In some cases, non-medication strategies can help manage symptoms and alleviate discomfort during air travel. For example, if you’re prone to motion sickness, acupressure wristbands or ginger supplements may provide relief without the potential side effects of sedating medications. Explore alternative options that align with your specific needs and consult with your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.

  4. Hydration and Movement:

    Staying hydrated is essential during air travel, as the cabin air tends to be dry. Drink plenty of water throughout your flight to prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate certain conditions and contribute to discomfort. Additionally, make an effort to move and stretch regularly during long flights to improve circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots.


When planning your air travel, it’s vital to consider the potential risks and precautions associated with certain medications. Sedatives, antihistamines with sedating effects, and strong pain medications can impair alertness, coordination, and increase the risk of falls or accidents during flights. Medications that interact with altitude and cabin pressure can also lead to adverse effects.

To ensure a safe and comfortable journey, consult your healthcare provider before your trip. They can provide personalized advice, recommend alternative medications, or suggest non-medication strategies to manage symptoms effectively. Timing your medications appropriately and implementing non-medication approaches, such as acupressure wristbands or hydration techniques, can further enhance your travel experience.

Remember, each individual’s medical condition and medication regimen are unique, so it’s crucial to seek professional guidance tailored to your specific needs. Prioritize your health and safety by being proactive and well-informed about the medications you should avoid during air travel.

Fly with caution, but also with confidence, knowing that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure a smooth and worry-free journey. Bon voyage!

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance and recommendations based on your specific medical condition and medication regimen.


  1. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Sleep Aids and Air Travel. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/sleep-aids-and-air-travel
  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (n.d.). Types of Antihistamines. Retrieved from https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/types-of-antihistamines
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021, April). Opioid Medications. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/opioid-medications
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 14). Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) / Pulmonary Embolism (PE) – Blood Clots. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/index.html
  5. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (n.d.). Traveling with Allergies and Asthma. Retrieved from https://www.aafa.org/traveling-with-allergies-and-asthma/
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 17, 2023

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