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Health Precautions When You Travel by Air

Q. How can I improve plane travel?

A. Most people don't have any problems when they fly, but it's possible to make airplane travel safer and more comfortable. Here are some tips:

  • Carry all your medicines in your carry-on luggage. Ask your doctor if you should change your dosages if your eating and sleeping times will change at your destination. Bring enough medicine to last your whole trip in addition to packing extra medicine in case your return trip is delayed. Make sure that the medications are in the original prescription bottle to prevent questioning and delay if you are searched at the airport. You may consider packing your medications in a separate bag to make inspection easier if it occurs.  

  • If you have a chronic health condition, wear an identification bracelet or necklace and carry a notification and identification card, such as a MedicAlert bracelet or a Diabetes Alert Card from the American Diabetes Association (call 800-DIABETES or 800-342-2383). Have the name and phone number of your doctor with you in case of an emergency.

  • Because the air in airplanes is very dry, drink nonalcoholic beverages and water so you don't get dehydrated.

Q. What can I do about jet lag?

Follow these tips:

  • Get plenty of sleep before you leave.

  • It’s best not to drink alcohol when flying but, if you do, limit it to one or two drinks.

  • Eat well-balanced meals.

  • Avoid overeating.

  • Exercise as much as you can on your trip.

  • Use sleep medicines for only a few days.

  • Get used to a new time zone by going along with the local meal and bedtime schedules.

Q. What about pain in my ears?

A. If you usually have ear pain while flying, try taking a decongestant medicine before you get on the plane. You can also swallow often and chew gum during the flight. Babies can suck on a bottle or a pacifier during the flight. These tips work better if you try them before your ears start to hurt.

Q. What else can I do?

A. Try to walk every now and then during your flight (unless the crew tells you not to). Even healthy people can get blood clots in their legs after long flights, and walking, stretching, and moving may help prevent problems. It also helps to wear support stockings and to stretch your calf muscles while you're sitting.

If your doctor wants you to take oxygen when you travel, remember to tell the airline about this far in advance of your flight. The airline will provide oxygen for you for a fee. Federal air regulations don't allow you to carry your own oxygen unit on the plane. You will have to make arrangements ahead of time for oxygen at your destination and also for layovers between flights. You can also arrange for special meals or a wheelchair ahead of time, if needed.

It's dangerous to fly right after scuba diving. You'll need to wait 12 to 24 hours after diving. Ask your doctor or diving authorities for guidelines on flying after scuba diving.