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How to curb flight sickness

Even if everything about air travel stresses you out, don’t worry. There are ways to ease the tension and discomfort. Here's what you really need to do to curb the sickness. Read on.

health and fitness Updated: May 21, 2012 12:14 IST
Kavita Devgan

Even if everything about air travel stresses you out, don’t worry. There are ways to ease the tension and discomfort.

Takeoffs and landings
Cabin pressure changes – it falls during takeoff and rises during landing – make these the worst parts of the journey. This may lead to blocked ears, bloating and discomfort in the stomach.

“To equalise the pressure in your middle ear, perform the Valsalva Manoeuvre – pinch your nose and blow, which ‘pops’ your ears,” advises Abhinav Sagar, a yoga teacher who runs the Bikram Yoga Studio in California. “Or try this – sit straight and inhale completely. Close your lips tight. Blow out your cheeks by closing the nose with your thumb and fingers. While blowing out your cheeks, bring your chin closer to your chest. Your blocked ears will open immediately.” The reduced pressure in the plane can cause mild altitude sickness – headache, fatigue and trouble concentrating. “The only way to combat it is to be prepared for it mentally and stay occupied,” says Dr Burmi.

For many people, it isn’t just the cost of an air ticket that makes them break into a sweat at the thought of flying. From navigating airport security to combating airsickness and from dehydration on board to arriving with a severe case of jet lag, these days, an air journey can be the most stressful part of any holiday or the worst way to start a business trip. But flying does not always have to be a dreadful experience. Here’s how to make sure your time in the skies is an enjoyable one.

Be Prepared
Make sure you book seats away from the engines and toilets (use www.seatguru.com), and make your preference for food (veg, non-veg, etc) known to the airline at the time of booking your seat. To know what you will encounter, research the airport/airline rules, guidelines etc., from your travel agent, the airline or the Internet. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive before your takeoff time. If you are travelling with children, check their bags to be sure they are not unwittingly carrying anything that might delay your security check. While you are at it, check your own bags too, and and put anything in your hand luggage that may seem suspicious into your check-in luggage instead. If there is anything that seems even a bit dicey (there was a couple who almost missed their flight as the wall hanging they had picked up from Rajasthan had some decorative knives stuck on it), either arrange for it to be couriered or go early and discuss it with the airport security people.

FlightIn case of delays

Flight delays are routine. So prepare for them instead of fuming when you encounter a problem. "Get up and walk around. You’ll feel more relaxed and less confined. Once in the check-in line, tighten various muscle groups and stretch from time to time to keep the blood flowing and relieve fatigue," suggests New Delhi-based master trainer and fitness expert Nisha Varma. She adds, "Go for a foot reflexology session – it will prime you for flying." It also makes sense to come equipped for long waits – with munchies, something to read, your essential medicines, etc. You never know how long the wait will turn out to be. Also, keep your iPod or laptop charged (and carry a CD or download a movie so you can watch it).

In the Air
Motion sickness: “Motion sickness leads to symptoms of nausea, vomiting and dizziness during the flight,” says Dr Vivek Bhatia, senior consultant, gastroenterology, Fortis Shalimar Bagh Hospital, Delhi.

Here’s his advice on how to prevent it.

Do not board your flight on an empty stomach. It helps to eat a high-carbohydrate snack (like a sandwich), along with a drink containing electrolytes (nimbu pani will also do) one hour before flying.
BP and oxygen levels decline at high altitudes, so eating and drinking (wisely) before
takeoff stabilises blood pressure and increases oxygen levels.
For at least six to eight hours before the flight, do not overeat, drink alcohol, eat high-fat, high-acid foods, meat or dairy products. Stick to neutral foods like bread, cereals, crackers, pastas, fruits and vegetables.
Opt for seats in the middle of the plane.
Avoid reading during takeoff/ landing.
Eat small servings of salty snacks every two hours during the flight, and avoid heavy meals.
If nausea still strikes you, just sit still, push your seat back and close your eyes. Sip on a soda or ginger drink, or chew olives or a mint tablet.
If you are prone to motion sickness, take an anti-sickness medicine 45 minutes before the flight. If the journey exceeds eight hours, take a tablet again after six hours. Stugeron, Avomine and Stemetil are good options. Anti-motion sickness skin patches are also available.
Minimise your discomfort by avoiding gas-forming foods. This includes apples (including apple juice), bananas, melons, grapes, raisins and watermelons; vegetables such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, cucumber, onions, lentils, radishes and soya beans, carbonated drinks and chewing gum.

Flight Stress: “If just putting your seat back and relaxing doesn’t work for you, then try relaxing exercises as relaxation is inversely proportional to anxiety,” suggests Dr Bhavna Burmi, senior consultant psychologist, Escorts Heart Institute. “Practice controlled abdominal breathing. Breathe in steadily in a controlled fashion as you count slowly to three. Practice for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep yourself positive; banish all negative thoughts from your mind.”

She adds, “Often it’s simply a fear of the unknown. So make an effort to feel relaxed and try to enjoy your time in the air. Also please ease up – if the stewardess is not smiling, this does not necessarily mean that the plane is about to crash.”

Stiffness in the legs: As you sit wedged in your seat, your legs are likely to get quite stiff. Says Nisha Varma, “Try to get up once every hour to stretch and walk around. Periodically extend and flex your feet when seated, rotate them clockwise and anti-clockwise. Do neck and shoulder rotations, and every once in a while, bring your knee to your chest and hold for a while. Now take a few deep breaths and then release. Repeat with the other knee. This will help ease your lower back.”

She adds, “Prolonged sitting can also cause swelling of the feet and ankles, especially with pregnant women and people with kidney trouble or heart failure. So be very careful. Try to elevate your legs and avoid excessively salty foods. Wear slip-off shoes or take off your shoes.” More advice from Abhinav Sagar: “Pound your legs to stimulate circulation in the legs. Sit in a comfortable position. Using your fists, pound the front of your left thigh as hard and for as long as it feels comfortable. Next, place your left heel on or near the edge of your seat. Pound the rest of your left leg – as much as you can reach. Repeat on the right leg. If this feels awkward, you can massage your legs, but pounding works better to increase circulation.”

He adds, “To boost circulation in your hands, grip the edge of your armrest with your hands, hold to a count of five, and then relax. Repeat 10 times.”

Handle jet lag
“When one travels across time zones, the biological clock becomes desynchronised, causing jet lag. Though it is hard to avoid, it can be kept under control,” says Dr Anand. “One tip is to get some sleep during the flight. Another is to steer clear of alcohol as it upsets sleep patterns.” Once you land, adapt to local time immediately, and if possible get some exercise and quickly have a cup or two of chamomile herbal tea – a sure-shot antidote to jet lag.

Special Needs
Inform the airline in advance about special needs, whether it’s a medical problem, recent surgery or need for supplemental oxygen. Have food restrictions? Many airlines offer special meals on request.

Dehydration on a flight
“The climate in the aircraft cabin tends to be very dry (it can dry the skin, throat, eyes and nostrils), so drink lots of water through the journey. And definitely sip a cup of water before you doze off. Also pass up caffeine and fizzy drinks as they are diuretics, which can worsen the situation,” says Dr Verinder Anand, consultant, internal medicine, Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi. He adds, “Use a moisturiser to keep your skin from drying out and some saline eye drops to prevent dry eyes (on a longer flight).”

- From HT Brunch, March 13

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