Fit Enough to Fly

Families are scattered all over  the globe and they travel to stay in touch. Airplanes are safe, despite the high flying altitude, relatively lower partial pressure of oxygen, variable air circulation, low humidity, sustained periods of noise, vibration and turbulence.
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The rapid changes that occur during a flight (typically during descent) can give rise to ear pain, a blocked feeling, ringing in the ears, giddiness, hearing loss or even rupture of the eardrum. These complications are more likely if the Eustachian tube (connecting the ear and throat) is blocked by allergy, colds, sinusitis or middle ear infections. Chewing gum and frequent swallowing during descent can help ease the discomfort.

Decongestant nose drops will clear a blocked nose. Air travel should be avoided for 10 days if there has been a recent ear surgery or tonsillectomy.

Women often need to travel during pregnancy — as part of their jobs, because of transfers or simply to head home to have the baby. Air travel during pregnancy is safe and poses no special risks. Mid pregnancy, from the 14th to 28th week, is the safest time. In the case of multiple pregnancy (twins), a history of premature delivery, cervical incompetence, bleeding or increased uterine activity (irritable uterus), flying is inadvisable. If you need to be elsewhere for the delivery, it is better to leave before the 36th week or use an alternative mode of transport.

Most airlines refuse to allow pregnant passengers after the 36th week because of the fear that labour may set in during the flight. It is better to carry certified medical documentation about the expected date of delivery.

During pregnancy,

• the seat belt should be fastened under the abdomen, not across it;

• an aisle seat is preferable to facilitate visits to the toilet;

• try to get out of the seat every 30 minutes and walk a short distance;

• if this is not possible, flex and extend the ankles.

Babies should, preferably, not fly till they are at least seven days old.

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There is a 10-day ban on air travel (not prohibited but inadvisable) after a stroke, brain surgery, an epileptic seizure, eye surgery or ear, nose or throat procedures.

Even in normal people abdominal gas increases by 25 per cent during air travel. A three to four week gap is advisable after abdominal surgery even if it is a “keyhole” or laparoscopic surgery as gas is introduced into the abdomen during the procedure. This extra gas can expand and cause the sutures to give way.

A person with congestive cardiac failure (when the heart does not function properly) should be stable for at least 10 days prior to travel.

In the case of a heart attack the person should have been stable for three to four weeks.

After pneumonia or chest surgery, a person should wait for three weeks
. Even after this time they should be able to walk unassisted for at least 50 metres without becoming breathless.

Anaemia, with haemoglobin count less than 7.5 grams per decilitre, reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. This can get critical during flights.

People with fractures can travel two days after the cast has been applied. In traditional casts air can be trapped between the cast and the leg. As this air expands during the flight, it can compress the limb and cut off blood supply. If a person needs to fly immediately, the doctor needs to be informed beforehand. A bivalved or split cast, which does not trap air, can be applied.

People with mental illness should be well controlled, on medication and preferably have a companion.

Diseases are spread from one country to another by infected travellers. In the recent swine flu epidemic, the spread of the disease could be plotted by tracking the flights out of Mexico (where the epidemic started).

People with open tuberculosis or measles should also defer travel.
If a person has an infectious disease, travelling should be postponed until recovery. Infected air keeps circulating in a plane and this will result in the disease spreading.

The economy class has little legroom. The edge of the seat can compress the veins at the bent knee.
Together with the forced immobility, blood pools in the legs and the feet swell. This can result in deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Sudden unexpected death can occur hours or days after travel.

Generally, try to drink plenty of fluids and balance any alcohol consumed with an equal amount of water. Walk around the airport while waiting. Remember, the most dangerous thing to do is to sit still with your legs crossed.

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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