Travel has become one of my favorite past times with my hubby. I find that it’s a great way to relax and release – though I once had a slight fear of flying. Thankfully, the more we fly, the less freaked out I am. After all, a little prayer and on-flight cocktail never hurt.
If you’re like me, distraction is key. I have to take my music, laptop and a magazine to concentrate on so I’m not so focused on the turbulence or how high up we are.
Scary Health Effects of Flying
One of the most challenging patient issues I have to deal with is swelling, otherwise known as edema. I have a large variety of patients, big and small, young and old, that come in complaining of this, even when not traveling. It’s sometimes on one side, both sides, constant or intermittent. It can be due to something simple, or open up a gamut of medical possibilities.
Kidney issues can lead to swelling if there is lack of blood flow or strain on the kidneys. These two organs are most affected by conditions, such as dehydration, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes), drugs and medications. Renal insufficiency or renal failure can cause decreased filtering through the small tubules inside the kidney, leading to increased protein in the blood and water being leaked out, thereby causing swelling.
Being in high atmospheric pressures or stuck on an airplane for hours on end can do this, too. So, what can you do?
How to Prevent Health Hazards While Flying
Get up and walk around every hour or so. When I was pregnant with each of my two babies, we traveled internationally. If anyone here has been pregnant, you remember how much your legs looked like sausages. I made sure to do calf stretches often when seated and get up every hour to do a lap in the aisles. I made sure to get a seat as close to the aisle as possible, to avoid getting on people’s nerves.
Try compression socks. If you’re prone to edema, you can have your doctor prescribe or you can find compression socks or hose to wear during travel.
Drink lots of water and pee a lot, too. It’s all water.
How to Prevent Health Hazards Before Vacation
Get your vaccines, people. Please don’t go all the way to another continent and not know when your last tetanus shot was. We would not like to be exposed to the malaria you brought back (tetanus doesn’t protect you from malaria, by the way) as a gift, please.
But seriously, please see a travel clinic or your primary care doctor before leaving the country, so we can make sure you don’t need a prescription to take something weeks before you leave and while you’re there.
Also, not all clinics carry all vaccines in their building. Vaccines, such as Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, have to be ordered and it could take a while to get. So, do yourself and your doctors a favor and let us know more than a week before leaving for Africa that you’re going. You’d hate to put yourself at risk for infection, or worse yet, not be able to go, because you waited too long. It’s all about preparation.
How to Prevent Health Hazards on Vacation
Continue your normal habits: Speaking of preparation, how does one not get sick with a cold or sinus infection while traveling?
You’d do the same things you’d do when home – continue taking your daily medicines, wash your hands or use sanitizer, avoid directly touching doorknobs in bathrooms and taking Vitamin C, Zinc and other multivitamins.
You don’t have to take antibiotics with you abroad, unless it’s Cipro to treat Montezuma’s Revenge/diarrhea or you’re taking malaria prevention medications.
Also, if you’re super anxious, taking some antibacterial wipes or disinfectant spray to clean your room and surfaces is reasonable, as well.
Use sunscreen: Lastly, some advice on sun tanning-it’s wonderful for your vitamin D, but not always wonderful for your skin. Even the most melanin-laden skin can succumb to different types of skin cancer—especially if you have sunburns. Even after your travels are completed, I encourage you to please use sunscreen daily, with at least an SPF of 30. Reapply if you’re sweating a lot or in the water.
Most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself!
About the Author:
Nicole Swiner, MD, is a family physician, wife and mother of two in North Carolina. She loves taking care of the family as a whole—from the cradle to the grave. Her interests include Minority Health, Women’s Health and Pediatrics. When she’s not treating patients at Durham Family Medicine, she’s speaking in the community, writing, or spending time with her family. Her passion is making medicine “plain” to her patients, so that all people, from all walks of life, can understand how to take better care of themselves and their families.