It’s more than just jet lag and popping ears.
When your flight touches down in another city, state, or country, it may feel like the journey is just beginning, but for your body, the adventure started when you boarded your flight (unless flight cancellations threw a wrench in your travel plans). Though it’s an effective and fast means of getting from point A to point B, flying the friendly the skies puts your system into overdrive.
From a change in altitude and pressure to an increased risk for certain ailments, there are a slew of fascinating (and a little wacky) things that happen to your body between takeoff and landing. Here, doctors reveal what happens when you’re miles high in the sky—plus solutions to ward off any unwanted side effects.
You will become dehydrated
There’s a reason many flight attendants will walk around throughout a flight offering water to passengers: Dehydration isn’t just common, it’s pretty much guaranteed when you fly. On a short, three-hour flight, you will lose 1.5 liters of water, says Ralph E. Holsworth, DO, a board-certified physician and the director of clinical and scientific research for Essentia Water. You’ll feel thirstier, but you may also notice your skin suffering. He recommends hydrating before, during, and after your flight, so you land without feeling parched. You can also use a moisturizer during and after your trip to ensure your pores receive the extra TLC they need.
Your ears experience stress
In addition to bringing on headaches or making you feel sleepy, extreme elevation can also be tough on your ears, says Janette Nesheiwat, MD, a family and emergency room doctor. This is even more intense if you are boarding a flight with a cold or sinus infection, since she says mucus and congestion build up with increased pressure.
Because of this, it’s ill-advised to take a long flight when you’re sick—not only do you put other passengers at risk, but Dr. Nesheiwat says prolonged periods of flying can lead to severe ear pain, hearing changes, or (at worst) hearing loss. If you’re healthy but still sensitive to these symptoms, chewing gum can be an effective way to make your ears pop, which releases some of the pressure.
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