But flying is so comfortable… (Thinkstock)
Some studies Unless you’re in some swanky business class pod being plied with free champagne, no one really enjoys flying. But the whole ordeal is worse than you think — in fact some of it is downright gross. Aside from the cabin pressure, dry air, and having to sit in one place for an extended period of time — here are the unpleasant things air travel does to your body, and how to prevent them.
It gives you bad breath. When you’re on a plane, many of your body’s systems slow down, including your production of saliva. That allows bacteria to flourish. To make matters worse, many travelers also alter their diets by either ODing on sugary drinks, fast food, and candy, or going without eating all day, which encourages halitosis. “Food particles in the mouth … produce a sulfur compound and cause bad breath,” according to J. Nick Russo, DDS, FAGD. And if you don’t eat anything all day, “‘morning mouth’ may reoccur later in the day,” according to Russo. In order to battle bad travel breath, eat healthfully, stay hydrated, and brush your teeth after meals.
It makes your legs swell. “When you sit for a long time and you’re not moving, you’re confined to a small space without a lot of legroom, that decreases your circulation,” explains Dr. Jennifer Svahn, a vascular surgeon at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. That in turn causes your legs to feel heavy and swell (So you get those lovely little sock indentations around your ankles, and your shoes feel tight.). Worst-case scenario, it can also lead to blood clots forming in the legs, which can travel to your lungs — and that can be deadly. To help prevent all of these circulatory issues, Svahn suggests staying hydrated and getting up once an hour to walk around, perhaps back and forth to the bathroom. If you’re not able to walk around, you can pump your feet for a few minutes every half hour. Compression socks or support hose also help.
Let the bloating begin! (Thinkstock)
It makes you constipated. All that plane-sitting causes your metabolic rate and digestion to slow, says Svahn. The result? Gas, bloating, and constipation. To lessen the blow (so to speak), cut down on your calorie intake — after all, you’re not expending very much energy — and twist side to side in your seat. “It will ring out the GI tract and the muscles of the stomach, which will help everything keep moving,” says Svahn.
It dries out your skin. “The air on a plane has less humidity for various technical reasons; it’s at about 10 or 20 percent as opposed to the normal 40 percent you’re used to,” explains Chris Pardee, manager of Health Intelligence at iJet International, a travel risk management company. When you breathe in this plane air, it sucks the moisture from your body, drying out the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, and mouth, and it also dries out your skin, says Pardee. The best way to combat this dehydration is simple: Drink a lot of water, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Lotions, lip balms, and eye drops can help alleviate any discomfort.
It messes with your taste buds. Again, the culprit is that plane air. “It dries out the mucous membranes in your mouth and nose,” says Pardee, “which are both very closely related to your sense of taste and can alter it.” In fact, a 2010 study by Lufthansa revealed that passengers’ ability to taste salty and sweet can drop by as much as 30 percent in-flight. The solution? Stay hydrated, and stick to sour, bitter, and spicy foods, tastes that are much less affected.
It makes you tired. In-flight airline cabins reportedly have roughly the same pressure as if you were at an elevation of about 6,000 to 8,000 feet. Research shows that this reduced pressure can lower the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood, which can cause you to feel listless or dizzy. (It’s also what makes your ears hurt.) There’s not much you can do to fix it, but luckily it’s not dangerous.
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