Safe long distance travelling

By Dr Konrad Bekker

Intercare Parow

We are nearing the holiday season and for some it may mean traveling long distances. The prospect of a long distance flight often raises health concerns, especially for passengers who are older or have certain medical conditions. One of the key health issues related to long distance flights is deep-vein thrombosis (dvt) - a blood clot in the leg.

Prolonged immobility, especially when seated, can lead to the pooling of blood in the legs, which may cause the formation of a blood clot. The body’s own clot busters kick in for most people, but for those with certain health risk conditions, the clots can get big enough to block a vein. Risk conditions include cancer, heart disease, infection, pregnancy, obesity and recent injury or surgery. Other factors that also raise the risk are the use of birth control pills and postmenopausal hormones.

The biggest danger that a dvt can pose is when a clot breaks free and gets transported to the lungs. The condition is called pulmonary embolism and it is life threatening. To reduce the risk of dvt, passengers can take the following precautions:

• Move around often.

• Wear comfortable clothing and shoes – nothing too tight.

• Stretch often and avoid crossing your legs while seated.

• Keep the space beneath your feet empty. Place hand luggage in the overhead compartment so that there is enough space to move freely and stretch.

• Drink enough water.

Another common problem during flights is ear pain. During takeoff and landing, cabin air pressure changes rapidly. This disturbs the balance of pressure between the outer ear and the middle ear. The eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, helps to equalize the pressure on the eardrum (and causes the welcome pop you feel when the balance is restored). This process can be enhanced by swallowing, chewing gum, yawning, or opening your mouth wide. The valsalva maneuver may also work: close your nose with your thumb and index finger and exhale gently against a closed mouth.

Note: Persons with chronic medical problems should always consult their doctors before long distance travelling. Intercare has a number of travel clinics where expert medical advice and travel vaccinations can be obtained. 

Sources: harvard medical website. Steffen, Manual of Travel Medicine 2007,,

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