Other Conditions Which Need to be Known Regarding Flight and Health

Travelling by air is a safe and comfortable manner of travel which allows you to reach long distances in a faster way and in a shorter period of time, and which does not have serious effects on health. Nevertheless, the aircraft cabin environment has some features different than the daily-life environment, and being aware of certain information regarding such environment prior to the flight will be helpful. We will give some practical information about the reasons of certain health problems during the flight, and the solutions for such problems.

1. Problems Regarding the Altitude

The air pressure inside the cabin is usually adjusted to 5000 – 8000 feet ( 1500-2500 m.) .

This causes two types of effects; less oxygen content in the air than on the ground, and expansion of the air found in cavities of such as middle ear, stomach, intestines and nose.

2. Oxygen Shortage

As the altitude increases during the flight, the oxygen content in air will decrease. Therefore, since the oxygen in the aircraft cabin decreases, the oxygen in blood circulation will also decrease. This fact does not cause any effects on healthy individuals and the oxygen required will be carried to the cells. However, in individuals with a heart, lung and blood circulation disease, poor distribution of oxygen to lungs and other tissues or lack of oxygen usage in tissues results a dysfunction called hypoxia .

Passengers with such diseases, must definitely consult with a physician prior to the flight in order to ask whether they can travel by air or not, and if one would need extra oxygen or not, during the flight ,additionally will need a doctor’s certificate stating that there’s no objection to travel on an airplane.

In case of need for oxygen treatment during the flight, passengers must inform the officials of Turkish Airlines about their medical condition while ticketing . The aircrafts are mostly equipped with medical oxygen supplies.

Related to decreased oxygen in the cabin together with alcohol drinking, immobilization and sleeping disorders may cause undesirable effects such as dizziness when suddenly standing up. Hand, feet, arm and leg exercises before standing up will be helpful for such case.

3. Gas Expansion

a) Middle ear cavity and upper throat ( nasopharynx ) are consistently balanced through a structure called Eustachian tube.The eardrum keeps the air pressure in balance on both sides.

When the aircraft climbs up, the air pressure decreases and the air inside the cavities expands pushing the eardrum outwards . Eustachian tube opens passively and transmits the air towards nasopharynx.

While descending, the athmospheric pressure increases so that the gas volume inside middle ear cavity decreases ,a negative pressure occurs, air transmission from nasopharynx to middle ear cannot happen passively . In a healthy person, the channels connecting the sinuses outward and the Eustachian tube connecting the middle ear to throat perform this function without his/her awareness, and this does not pose a problem.

During the descending, trying to create strong air pressure towards outside by pinching the nose and closing the mouth, which is called Valsalva Maneuver, will be helpful. For this reason, it is important to keep awake during descending. For the babies and children, sucking on a pacifier or drinking in small swallows will help reducing the discomfort.

However, in case of ear-nose-throat infections, the air inside the cavities will be entrapped, and will cause serious problems since there will be swelling in tissues constituting these channels.. Especially, the air entrapped inside the middle ear may expand during ascending and cause severe pain by pushing the eardrum outwards. During the descending, shrinkage of the air inside will create a vacuum effect and push the eardrum inwards. This may cause pain, bleeding, laceration in eardrum and such hearing problems. For this reason, even simple cold, which we do not pay much attention, may cause for serious problems. Passenger should not fly in case of such a condition, and delay his/her flight until the date he/she will be completely recovered.

Use of nasal drops and sprays called decongestants during flight and half an hour before ascending and descending, creating strong air pressure towards outwards by pinching the nose and closing the mouth, which is called Valsalva Maneuver, chewing gum, swallowing frequently and yawning will be helpful in those kinds of cases. However, completely blocked Eustachian tube may not be opened despite all.

b) Dental abscesses and toth decays can cause to air expansions and severe pain in teeth cavities .In order to decrease pain consulting with a doctor painkillers can be used before and during the flight.;

c) Stomach gasses expand and escape through esophagus and mouth.If it’s avoided abdominal discomfort and pain may occur.
To prevent that discomfort avoid drinking beverages containing carbonate such as sparkling mineral water,cola, soda and food which can cause abdominal discomfort ( onions cabbage,raw apple,turnip,beans,cucumber,watermelon etc...) before and during the flight.