Flying can cause temporary effects, such as ear discomfort, jet lag, and dehydration. It can also increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). However, many people take flights without any health complications.

People who travel on airplanes may have concerns about the potential effect flying has on the body, particularly if they fly regularly. However, it is not common for people to experience health conditions or complications directly due to flying.

This article examines some possible effects of flying, how to reduce the risk of developing such conditions, and frequently asked questions about health and flying.

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DVT is when someone forms a blood clot in a deep vein, such as those in the legs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traveling for 4 or more hours is a risk factor for DVT. This includes flying but also car, bus, and rail travel.

DVT arises during travel because people sit still in confined spaces for long periods. The following factors can increase a person’s risk of developing blood clots:

According to a 2021 paper, flying has the potential to increase blood pressure. This is because commercial flights take place at very high altitudes, which can cause changes to the cardiovascular system.

These include an increased heart rate, more contracted heart muscles, and changes in how much blood the heart can pump.

Some people are more susceptible to these effects, including people with:

The paper’s author suggests stressful factors due to the flight may also affect blood pressure, including:

  • anxiety during take-off and landing
  • aircraft noises
  • changes in body position as the airplane accelerates and decelerates

Some people may experience ear discomfort while flying. Doctors sometimes call this “airplane ear.”

According to a 2019 article, this arises due to the sudden changes in air pressure and altitude during commercial flights. It can manifest as pain, hearing loss, and problems with balance.

Although airplane ear can happen to anyone, the following factors may increase a person’s risk:

According to a 2020 narrative review, there are many ways in which air travel can lead to dehydration.

For instance, the air inside flight cabins is usually dry and lower in pressure. This can cause water to more quickly evaporate during breathing and from the surface of the skin.

People may also drink less during flights than they ordinarily would. Finally, jet lag may lead to disruptions in someone’s drinking habits.

However, the authors highlight that further research is necessary to determine the exact dehydrating effect of flying.

According to the CDC, jet lag occurs when someone’s usual daily rhythms do not align with a new time zone.

This sleeping issue typically arises when traveling across at least three time zones, but it can arise from smaller disruptions. Jet lag can cause problems with mood, concentration, and tiredness.

Although jet lag can occur no matter what direction a person travels, a 2018 analysis suggests flying eastward may increase the risk of jet lag.

Learn more about jet lag.

Airplanes are confined spaces where people usually experience close proximity to others. Although the CDC recommends that individuals with acute or infectious illnesses, such as influenza, delay their travel, this may not always happen.

People on airplanes may be at risk of acquiring a virus through direct contact, such as touching the same surfaces as someone with an active, acute infection.

The CDC also suggests that cabin air pressure may cause dry eyes or exacerbate certain chronic conditions, including anemia or conditions affecting the heart and lungs.

According to the CDC, the most common medical events that occur on airplanes include:

Some people who are pregnant may also experience restrictions on airplane travel, such as those who are past 36 weeks’ gestation.

The best way to prepare for a flight may depend on the travel duration and the specific health conditions a person has. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service suggests:

  • wearing loose, comfortable clothing
  • using compression socks
  • walking around during long flights
  • keeping hydrated
  • storing luggage overhead to give the legs more room
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or sleeping medication
  • performing regular anti-DVT exercises, such as heel raises
  • getting plenty of rest before traveling
  • changing sleeping routines before flying to reduce the risk of jet lag
  • avoiding large meals before traveling
  • taking medication, such as antihistamines, to help prevent travel sickness

People can also speak with a healthcare professional before flying if they have concerns about their health on the trip.

Below are some common questions people ask about flying.

Does flying increase inflammation?

There is no solid evidence that flying causes inflammation. However, flying may exacerbate preexisting chronic conditions, which could lead to inflammation for some people.

Is flying bad for someone‘s health?

Flying can have various adverse effects on someone’s health. Some of these are temporary, such as airplane ear and jet lag. Others can be extremely serious, such as DVT.

However, the CDC states that illness as a direct result of flying is not common. Many people fly every year without experiencing health issues.

Should some people avoid flying?

Some individuals are at greater risk of serious complications, such as a blood clot, from long-haul flights. This includes adults over 40 years old, people with obesity, and individuals who have recently been pregnant or given birth.

Anyone concerned about how flying could affect their health can discuss this with a doctor.

Most people will fly on airplanes without any issues. However, flying can cause or increase the risk of temporary and severe health complications, including jet lag, dehydration, changes in blood pressure, and DVT.

Airplanes also entail being in close proximity to other people and could contract acute infections, such as the flu.

Preventive tips can help someone stay safe when traveling, including washing hands regularly, wearing compression socks, and keeping hydrated.