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What does air travel do to your lungs?

Up to 4.7 billion people are expected to travel by plane this year. Although travel is a fun experience, flying can do more to our bodies than just fatigue and ear popping.

One expert shared how flying can have a "significant" impact on the lungs, due to the low air pressure within the cabin environment.

It is believed that the air pressure inside aircraft is 75% of what we are used to at sea level, so low oxygen levels can cause problems for some.

Dr Lawrence Cunningham, a medical expert at the UK Care Guide, explains that for healthy travellers, low air pressure does not usually cause many problems because our bodies often “adapt” without serious complications.

However, even the average rider can experience some symptoms of low air pressure, which can cause discomfort, fatigue, increased heart rate, or mild shortness of breath.

Cunningham warns that some passengers may face a more difficult journey than others on the plane, saying: “Those with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or asthma, may experience worsening symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing.

In addition, low humidity in the cabin can dry out the airways. This can further affect the lungs and cause respiratory symptoms. "Individuals with such conditions should consult their GP before traveling by air to discuss precautions and the potential need for supplemental oxygen during the flight."

Dr. Cunningham presented four main steps that must be taken before traveling by plane that help you feel more comfortable and combat the effects of low oxygen levels.

1-The first step is to stay hydrated. “The cabin air is quite dry, and dehydration can exacerbate the feeling of shortness of breath. I always advise drinking plenty of water before and during the flight,” he explains.

Next, you'll need to get up and move around during your flight. Gentle stretching and movement helps promote better circulation and can help maintain optimal lung function.

The doctor also recommends using a saline nasal spray before the flight because this will keep the nasal passages moist to help defend against airborne pathogens.

Finally, deep breathing exercises can be “particularly helpful” in combating the effects of low oxygen levels.

He adds: "These exercises help improve lung capacity, but they also help maintain calm and reduce anxiety, which may indirectly affect breathing efficiency."

Source: Metro - Publication date: 24/04/2024 -


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