Flying is a necessity for some and a pleasure for others. Some enjoy it, while others fear it. Recent air traffic accidents have made several people reconsider their mode of transport or chose the airline carrier more carefully. But an accident is, statistically speaking, the smallest of dangers air passengers face when they’re thousands of feet off the ground.
There are other immediate and long-term health risks that come with flying; and especially with frequent flying. Read on to find out what you should watch out for when you’re taking your next flight.
1. Getting sick
According to the journal of Environmental Health Research, you are 100 times more likely to catch a cold when you’re on a plane. If anyone on the plane sneezes, airborne particles travel all around the cabin. They disperse in all directions and can reach you even if you’re sitting 50 feet (15 meters) from the potentially ill person who just sneezed (and in this regard you can watch this animation that shows how sneeze particles travel inside an airplane, including tips what you can do to reduce your risk of catching an infection).
Other diseases lurk around the plane too. Some are non-specific to flying, such as food poisonings caused by E.coli and salmonella.
You are probably aware that you shouldn’t consume water from the airplane’s toilet. Drink only bottled water. According to the UK’s Environmental Protection Agency, 15 % of the water on planes carries fecal matter. Some even advise against washing your hands on the plane and using antibacterial wet wipes instead. If you do wash your hands at the sink, use plenty of soap.
2. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Every year, thousands of people die of blood clots that form in the legs due to prolonged inactivity. DVT is an extremely dangerous condition that requires immediate attention.
-Leg Swelling – in one or both legs.
-Pain in one or both legs – this may occur only when you walk or stand.
-Warmth in the skin of the affected leg.
-Red or discolored skin in the affected leg.
-Visible surface veins.
What can you do to prevent DVT?
Wear compression stockings whenever you are taking a longer flight. Keep hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Most importantly, keep moving! Do some simple feet exercises, stretch your legs, walk up and down the cabin to improve your blood circulation.
3. Breathing difficulties
Breathing can get disturbed as a result of reduced oxygen levels and lower humidity. When you fly, it’s a bit like being in the mountains. Due to high altitude, the respiratory system has to work harder to provide the body with sufficient amount of oxygen. Moreover, humidity falls below 25% (ideally, it should be between 35% and 45%), which makes the breathing additionally harder.
4. Hearing impairment
Airplane can be a very noisy environment, especially if you are seated close to the engine. You can be exposing yourself to a potential hearing damage. If you are a passenger sitting at the back of the plane, your risk is often greater than that of a flight attendant who constantly moves around the plane.
According to the British National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the noise on the plane reaches 95 to 105 decibels. During takeoff, it goes to 115 and beyond. The safety limit set by the NIOSH is 84 decibels for four hours and 85 for eight hours.
If you are on flights longer than 4 hours and you are sitting close to the engine, the risk of hearing impairment becomes higher. Consider using noise-reducing headphones which can make the exposure tolerable and cut it down by up to 40 decibels.
6. Jet lag
This is a common nuisance air passengers have to deal with when crossing time zones. We talk of circadian rhythm sleep disorder, which is medically known as ‘desynchronosis’. Sleeplessness related to long haul flights can make you feel irritable and tired, and causes concentration problems and loss of appetite. But these troubles are quite minute compared to the possible long-term dangers. A study published in The Lancet in 2007, revealed that on-going disruption of body rhythms can lead to cognitive decline, psychotic and mood disorders and even heart disease and cancer.
Not many people consider this, but during a flight you get exposed to a dose of radiation from cosmic rays. The amount of radiation depends on the length of your flight, the altitude, and proximity to the North Pole. It has been calculated that on a flight from Washington to Beijing, you can receive a higher dose of radiation than when you take a chest X-ray.
If you are a frequent flyer, you shouldn’t ignore the dangers of cosmic radiation. People who travel seldom have less to worry about.
A lot of people experience difficulty with their bowel movements after they’ve taken a flight. When you sit for a prolonged period of time, metabolic rate and digestion slow down. This can cause bloating, gassiness and constipation. The stress of flying and traveling can be an additional factor that causes your digestive system to shut down.
The best way to avoid this irritation is to remember to keep moving during the flight. Just shifting from side to side can help. Also, avoid high calorie intake and drink plenty to stay sufficiently hydrated.
9. Problems with taste
Your taste buds get affected too. Plane air dries out the mucus membranes in your mouth and reduces your sensitivity to taste. The ability to taste salty and sweet drops by as much as 30%, as described in a study conducted by Lufthansa in 2010.
The best solution is to drink lots of water and go for spicy, sour and bitter food that your taste buds have less difficulty detecting.
10. Halitosis – bad breath
This embarrassing condition can develop very quickly when you fly. Your saliva production slows down, which makes the bacteria in your mouth flourish. Combine this with excessive consumption of sugary drinks, sweets and fast food, and you’ve created the perfect environment for the bacteria to thrive. Bad breath is caused by a sulphur compound that gets formed as food particles in your mouth disintegrate.