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Air travel poses medical complications.

Air Travel Poses Medical Complications

Because the speed of traveling by air has become so usual in the lives of many, little thought is given to the inherent health hazards of airplane journey. The human organism is too complex to deal with the speed and suddenness involved.

Most passengers experience fatigue after a flight of six hours or more because of factors such as the lengthening or shortening of the day. The disturbance of the body's normal circadian rhythms is manifested as jet lag, a condition more serious than realized.

Circadian rhythm, the workings of internal clocks, affects adrenal function, causes variations of body temperature, decreases or increases mental alertness, and determines the body's agility and flexibility. When adapted to a single time zone, the body's circadian rhythms serve the individual reliably. When subjected to the distortions of travel across several time zones, adjustments take their toll.

Jet lag affects individuals in various ways. Alertness is diminished, constipation may occur, fatigue and irritability are inevitable. Mental activity is distorted; for business travelers, important decisions can be drowned in confusion. Consider the monumental strain endured by pilots and airline personnel in flight!

General advice has been disseminated by health authorities: Don't drink alcohol in excess, adhere to a light diet, dress comfortably. Less publicized are the serious side effects of air travel.

At 30,000 feet high, aircraft cabins are pressurized to simulate altitudes of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, so these stressful pressure changes can cause or aggravate sinus conditions and ear infections. Passengers can alleviate the discomfort and danger by pinching the nostrils and forcibly exhaling through the occluded nasal airway thus equalizing the pressure. Gum chewing can be effective for most people.

Individuals who have had myocardial infarction dare not travel before two or three months have passed since the event. Several airlines, aware of the dangers, will not accept passengers with post-myocardial infarction without a doctor's recommendation.

Phlebitis patients should be seriously concerned about complications that can arise on long flights. Richard Nixon, during his presidency, traveled to China and developed a serious inflammation during the journey. When such flights are imperative, the use of elastic stockings and exercise during the journey are recommended.

References: S.V. Humphries, Central Africa Journal of Medicine ('81 27:6); R.K. Kusumi, American Family Physician ('81 23:6); The Merck Manual.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1990
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