Passengers with a medical condition need to think carefully before making travel plans. Something as common as a head cold, ear or sinus pain or a fever can cause discomfort during a flight. It is advisable to seek the advise of your general practitioner, or postpone your trip until you are healthy again. If it is not possible to postpone your trip remember to drink plenty of fluids. Use a decongestant or nasal spray before takeoff and landing.
Passengers with a long-standing medical condition, such as chronic lung disease or a psychiatric disorder, may require special clearance. You will need to notify the airline of any medical support equipment you may require during the flight. Visit your doctor for a complete check-up and obtain whatever medical certificates may be required.
If travelling internationally it is advisable to check with the applicable authorities concerning regulations relating to the use of any required medication. Ensure all medical information and medications are carried in an easily accessible safe place.
Deep vein thrombosis (travellers thrombosis)
The following information is taken from the Department of Health and Aged Care web site on 21 May 2001
DVT is a common medical condition in the population. The disease process in DVT occurs because of blood clotting, most frequently in the large veins of the calves. Sometimes these clots break free and travel up the veins through the heart to lodge in the arteries of the lungs. This related condition is known as pulmonary embolism (PE), and it may cause sharp chest pain or breathlessness. PE may be life-threatening if the embolus (circulating clot) is large.
DVT occurs most frequently among people who are immobilised. For example, the condition has been long recognised as a risk for people confined to bed. Immobility for even short periods can cause DVT. For this reason, preventive measures are frequently taken when people, particularly the elderly, undergo surgical operations, where they are immobilised by a general anaesthetic.
Travel by any mode of transport usually requires immobility, for some if not all of the journey. It is not therefore surprising that travellers occasionally experience the condition of DVT, with some later developing PE. A term that has appeared both in the media and the scientific literature is "traveller's thrombosis".
Each year in Australia there are up to 400 deaths from PE. Of these, only a very small number appear to be associated with air travel. Many occur in association with identified risk factors for DVT, which include increasing age, obesity, pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, cancer, lower limb injury or surgery, family history of DVT, and previous thrombosis or embolism.
The Department of Health and Aged Care is currently working closely with the Department of Transport and Regional Services to provide more detailed estimates of risk. In due course, the Department will also advise on any additional measures that could make travel by air and other means safer for all, with particular reference to DVT. Prevention remains an important approach to the problem of DVT and PE, in travellers - and the whole population.
Safety and comfort for air travellers
The following recommendations for air travellers are based on a recent statement by The Australasian Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis:
- Drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids during flights
- Regularly mobilise the ankles and massage the calves
- Wear loose, non-restrictive clothing
- Avoid excessive movement around the cabin, as the risk of injury from turbulence may outweigh the benefit of exercise
- Be vigilant for the symptoms of DVT, in particular pain in the calves, during and for up to a month after long flights. If symptoms occur, seek medical advice without delay.
The airlines are now making similar information available on the risk and prevention of DVT. If in doubt, people should obtain medical advice before travel, particularly if they have any of the identified risk factors for DVT.
Ever wondered why your ears pop when you fly? Or why you get an earache when they fail to pop? Have you ever wondered why babies fuss and cry so much during descent? Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of airplane travellers.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Ears, altitude and airplane travel explains why this happens and suggests precautions to make your flight more enjoyable.
Carry all medications in your hand baggage along with details of your condition and treatment. This will aid the cabin crew or any doctors who may need to treat you during your trip. Carry a copy of your prescription with you, especially for overseas travel.
Be aware of the side effects of any drugs you may be currently taking when combined with the flight environment (eg. less oxygen). If unsure, check with your doctor or medical advisor before your flight.
Safety regulations specify that seats next to exits must not be occupied by mobility impaired passengers. Where possible these passengers are allocated aisle seats for ease of access for both the passenger and any assisting crew member. For more information on exit row seating, see our section on the safety demo.
Medical clearance is not required for passengers having a normal pregnancy. International travel is not permitted after the 36th week. If you are expecting a multiple birth or having complications you will require medical clearance for both domestic and international travel.
Electronic medical devices
Strict safety rules govern the use of electronic equipment on board aircraft. Hearing aids and heart pacemakers are allowed. Inspection and approval of medical equipment is usually required prior to departure. Not all electronic equipment can be used on the aircraft.
Ask the airline or your travel agent for any further details or clarification you may require.