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Travel sickness and DVT

How to stay healthy and happy in the air

Travel sickness can make any journey miserable and the excitement of airports and airplanes can make it worse - especially for young travellers. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Fresh air helps. Keep the car windows open.
  • Avoid heavy meals before and during travel.
  • Sit children facing forward or backwards in the vehicle; on a ship the centre of the vessel is the best place.
  • Get children to focus on objects in the distance and avoid reading.

Safe medication

The most effective drugs are those that contain Hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells is a common variety, with Joy-Rides, a junior version for the over three-year-olds). Use them before the journey begins. Once an attack starts, they are of little use. At that stage, all you need are baby wipes and towels to do the mopping up, and a sip of water. Another option is to wear sea-sickness bands, which are available from high-street chemists.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is more serious. It occurs when the blood changes from a liquid to a solid state thereby producing a clot. The most common veins affected by DVT are those of the legs or within the pelvis (lower abdomen). DVT is not always dangerous, but if the blood clot becomes big enough to cause obstruction within the most important of the body's large veins - those that take blood from the heart to the lungs - the effects can be fatal.

A long-haul passenger is at greater risk of getting a blood clot because the air in planes is very dry and there is a chance of passengers becoming dehydrated. With dehydration, the blood becomes thicker than usual and, therefore, more prone to clotting. Alcoholic drinks are available on planes, but they are diuretics and unless you drink enough non-alcoholic drinks to compensate, this will increase the tendency to dehydration.

Secondly, because there are limited opportunities to move around on planes, circulation becomes sluggish. Cramped seating may cause pressure points on the legs that slow blood flow locally, and this can increase the tendency for a clot to form.

DVT is also observed in other types of long journeys, not just with air travel.

Factors that may contribute to a higher chance of DVT are:

  • being a smoker
  • being over 40
  • taking the Pill
  • being overweight
  • having had the condition before
  • having undergone major surgery recently

The symptoms are swollen ankles, particularly if one ankle is far more swollen than the other. However, swollen ankles are very common on long flights, because of the lack of "muscle pumping" that helps drain away tissue fluid normally. This is not due to DVT.

Localised pain or tenderness within a calf or thigh muscle is a possible symptom of DVT, and more serious symptoms are the onset of a cough, increased heart rate, breathlessness, chest pain or palpitations.

Aspirin can help because it makes the blood less sticky and reduces its tendency to clot, but such benefits may be outweighed by its potential to irritate the stomach lining or an existing stomach ulcer. In any case it is not yet proven whether aspirin, or any other blood-thinning drug, will reduce the occurrence of DVT.

How can I avoid it happening?

  • Arrive early at the check-in desk and try to get a seat with additional leg-room, such as a bulkhead (the bulkhead is the partition that divides a plane into different sections, between Business Class and Economy for example) or emergency-row seat, although children and passengers with disabilities will not be seated in these exit-row seats.
  • Drink plenty of water and/or fruit juice.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Get up and move around the cabin as often as possible.
  • When you are sitting, try moving your ankles around and going up and down on your tiptoes.
  • Sleep only for short periods and do not take sleeping pills that could keep you motionless for hours.
  • Wear elastic compression stockings to improve circulation.
  • Avoid sitting with your legs crossed and do not wear socks or tights that are too restrictive.
  • Some doctors also recommend you take an aspirin before you fly, but you should only do so on your GP's recommendation.

Updated May 2014

 
 
Oonagh Shiel
Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!