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Flying Healthy During the Holidays

Thousands of South African families fly domestically for the summer holidays. That means airports and planes are filled with more people traveling in different directions. Being cramped in public spaces for extended periods of time can be a health hazard. But the risks to your immune system during travelling can be worse in flight.


What Happens to the Body When You Fly?

Your senses diminish.

If you think plane food tastes bland and unappetising, you’re not the only one. Airlines aren’t exactly the ones to blame for this either. Did you know that your sense of taste and smell diminish at higher altitudes?

Your nasal passages dry up.

The extremely dry cabin can evaporate the mucus in your nasal cavities. That decreases your olfactory perception. Your sense of taste and smell affect each other, 80% Of what you taste comes from your sense of smell. Cabin pressure also dulls your taste buds.

You may become dehydrated.

Waterloss, low air pressure and low humidity levels are some of the challenges we face when travelling by airplane. Dehydration can also manifest in many other ways after your flight. It is important to be able to notice when you should seek medical advise.

You are more prone to getting sick.

Higher altitudes can make you more likely to get sick. Uncomfortable symptoms caused by cabin pressure can include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • Tightened skin.
  • Scratchy throat.
  • Infected sinuses.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Chest discomfort.
  • Bloating.
  • Indigestion.
Here’s some of what you can do to manage dehydration while you fly:
  • Make sure you have plenty of lotion to keep your skin hydrated.
  • Don’t be shy to drink water even if it means frequent bathroom trips.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee and tea because these have diuretic properties.

What are Other Common Flying Health Issues?

There is a higher exposure to UV rays.

Did you know that aeroplane windows do not sufficiently block harmful UV rays? They are more aggressive at higher altitudes. That can aggravate existing symptoms of melanoma or skin cancer.


Your blood absorbs less oxygen.

You may experience any of the following when flying:

  • Sleepiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lack of mental sharpness.

The decreased air pressure on the plane also causes gas to expand in your body, which can lead to bloating, inflammation and discomfort.

Sitting for a long time decreases blood flow.

That may cause your muscles to stiffen and increase the risk of blood clots. Move your legs often and walk around a bit when you can.


There’s a risk of altitude-induced decompression sickness in flight.

Body fluids and tissues can form bubbles when the cabin pressure changes quickly. That may cause joint pain or bends. Scuba diving before a flight can worsen symptoms. You may need to wait 24 hours after a dive before taking a flight.


Crossing two or more time zones can give you jet lag.

Your brain may take longer to adjust to a new time zone. The effects are less prominent when flying east to west. That is because you’re gaining daylight. But fatigue can ruin your holiday or worse –


Telehealth can Help You When You Land.

Affinity Health members can access the 24/7 Telehealth consulting benefit for unlimited telephonic consultations with an Affinity Health Nurse, Doctor or Mental Health Professional. Telehealth consulting is available within the South African boundaries. It includes medication and emergency referrals, where necessary. Call 0861 11 00 33 to access telehealth consulting and emergency pre-authorisation. Both are available 24/7. Click here for more details.

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