The well-seasoned traveler knows that sitting in a plane for hours on end can wreak all kinds of havoc. It can cause irritation to dry or oily skin, dehydration or itchy, red eyes from staring at the TV screen for hours.
However, few women realize that they are also susceptible to more serious medical conditions on long-haul flights. Sitting immobile for that long can cause everything from dead legs to blood clots and bacterial infections.
Read on to learn about some of the more common conditions caused by long haul flights, and how to prepare yourself against any possible medical conditions you could encounter.
Waiting for the seat belt sign to turn off is just an annoyance for most passengers. But, for many women, waiting too long to answer nature’s call also cause UTI’s. When you hold in your pee, your bladder is stretched and consequently contracts once it’s emptied. Forcing the bladder to stretch for too long can weaken the muscle and, if the muscle is too weak, the bladder cannot completely empty itself. This results in residual urine lingering in the bladder which can cause a bacterial infection.
And, unfortunately, because women have a shorter urinary tract than men, we are more likely to be affected by UTI’s. So whether it’s making sure you go before your board a flight, or remembering to get up enough during your flight, make sure that you’re staying hydrated (see point #4) and going regularly!
2. Blood Clots
Deep Vein Thrombosis, or blood clots, is probably the most widely recognized medical condition amongst regular flyers and can be caused by being immobile for long periods of time. Basically, when blood moves too slowly through veins, it can cause a blood clot that blocks deep veins. If left untreated, the blood clot can break off and travel up the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms can be hard to diagnose but they generally include paleness or heat around the affected area, with the legs being the most common limbs affected by deep vein thrombosis. Although anyone can be affected by DVT, pregnancy, obesity, and recent surgery or genetic disposition to blood clots are all factors which increase the risk of DVT.
Taking frequent walks around the plane can help alleviate the conditions for DVT but, if there is not enough space, doing some simple stretches can also help. For those of you that know you have a disposition to blood clots, make sure to speak to your doctor before a trip about whether you might need any blood-thinning medication.
Otherwise, wearing compression socks can significantly decrease the risk of blood clots. These handy things apply pressure to the lower leg and help increase blood flow. If worn for four hours or more, these socks can significantly decrease the risk of DVT. However, they also come in a variety of levels of compression, and if not sized and worn correctly, can also increase the risk of DVT. Generally Class 1 stockings, which exert a pressure of 14-17 mmHg on the ankle, are adequate for most journeys. But if you are unsure, it is always best to seek medical advice beforehand.
3. Your Period
All women have been in this position at some point or another: after months of cold weather, you book a beach getaway to some hot, exotic location. A week before you leave however, you realize that your long-awaited holiday falls right on the week of your period. Many women will simply use the pill or another method of contraception to delay our period. But, it’s important to be aware of the health risks involved when you do that.
For those that aren’t used to it, breakthrough bleeding can occur, and it can be more difficult to tell whether you’re pregnant or not. However, there are also health benefits to delaying your period. Sufferers of conditions like asthma, epilepsy, or anemia can ease their symptoms by delaying their period. And let’s face it — no one wants menstrual cramps or migraines ruining their holiday.
On long flights it’s so incredibly important to make sure you keep hydrated. Because of the plane’s air circulation systems, you’re typically breathing in air that’s 50% less humid than you’re used to on the ground — yikes! You should be consuming at least a pint of water every three hours to replace all the water your body is missing. This is particularly important to help keep your body going as the pressure changes affect circulation, can make your feet swell and, as we mentioned before, help prevent blood clots.
A few tried and true tips for staying hydrated in the air? Bring your own water bottle and fill up before your flight, limit your caffeine intake, and avoid alcohol while flying. (We know, we know. That’s no fun.) Another fun way to keep that skin hydrated? Bring a face mask and enjoy a mini-spa while you’re the air!