As altitude increases, air pressure decreases, which can cause serious issues for those suffering with lymphedema. Despite the pressurization of the cabins during air travel, the air pressure is still significantly less than when you are standing with your feet firmly on the ground. Even those with no prior history of fluid buildup can experience swelling and discomfort. For those who already have a poorly performing lymphatic system, traveling via plane can be downright daunting. Here are a few tips on how to travel by air without letting your lymphedema get the best of you.
Preparing for Your Flight
The first thing to do when a flight is in your imminent future is to discuss options with your doctor. Have medications listed and packed in your carry-on bag and make sure compression garments are correctly fitted and ready to go. Request an aisle seat to increase your chances of having more leg room. Exit rows and bulkhead seats also offer more space. As for luggage, try to keep your bag to a reasonable size to ensure you can carry it on your own should you experience increased symptoms. Make sure your bag is small enough that you can lift it if it needs to be placed overhead. Dress in clothes that offer a relaxed fit for increased comfort.
Once you are in the air be sure to keep yourself adequately hydrated and keep eating to a minimum. Keep all compression garments on and resist the urge to remove your shoes once you are en route to your destination. Keep your arms elevated if you tend to have swelling in your upper extremities and perform pumping exercises with your heels and toes regularly. Once the seatbelt light has been turned off, make a point of standing up and stretching with occasional walks up and down the aisle to stimulate the flow of fluid throughout your body. If possible, keep the area beneath the seat in front of you empty so you can stretch your legs out.
Once you have landed, head to your hotel or other accommodations to engage in a period of rest where you can stretch out your body and elevate any areas where swelling may occur. Leave on compression garments and bandages until you arrive to your room. If possible, keep them on for the duration of light therapeutic movements, too. Take inventory of any swelling or discomfort you may be experiencing prior to delving into the activities planned for your trip. Continue hydrating throughout your visit and take note of any further precautions that need to be taken based on the location of your final destination such as altitude or extreme climate.
Having lymphedema does not mean you are destined to travel solely by ground moving forward. It does, however, mean that you should speak with your therapist or medical professional in depth about your method of travel early on so you can adequately prepare for any air flight and issues that may accompany it. Listen to the cues your body gives while on and after the flight to limit swelling and discomfort and you will be able to better manage your lymphedema throughout your trip.