As with all things on the internet, there are facts, and there are fibs, and there’s fake news and outright lies.
My personal version of nomad life includes – when there isn’t a crappy pandemic happening – moving from country to country every five days on average. While I do sometimes take trains, that means a lot of air travel.
And with frequent flying comes a whole slew of articles that tell you how harmful it is. From hearing damage to deep vein thrombosis, and catching viruses to cosmic rays (I shit you not), there’s a lot of concern, and a good amount of misinformation, being circulated.
So let’s break that down and give you the actual science behind some of these claims, and let you know how to deal with the real effects of frequent flying.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the UK, the safety limit for constant noise is 88 decibels for four hours and 85 decibels for eight hours. Noise on a plane usually ranges between 95 and 105 decibels, and engine noise during take-off is usually upward of 115 decibels.
Pilots, flight attendants, and other airport staff are at most risk, of course. But that’s why, across the world, most countries require that personal hearing protection is worn for workplace noise over 85 decibels. Rob Hunter, head of flight safety for the British Airline Pilots Association, says that pilot hearing loss isn’t as much of a concern now that ear protection is the norm.
So if you’re a traveler, what do you do? A massive set of ear defenders aren’t going to make you look like the flying fashion icon you are. Ear plugs and headphones exist, people, and noise cancellation headphones – although pricier than the regular kind – will keep you protected if you’re flying around as often as I am.
Unless you play your music at full volume all the time, of course. 🙂
According to those that like to scare you with talk of radiation, you are exposed to a “not insignificant” dose of radiation from cosmic rays – energetic particles from space.
The longer the flight and the higher and closer you fly to the North Pole, the greater the dose, apparently.
According to the CDC in the United States, “you would be exposed to about 0.035 mSv (3.5 mrem) of cosmic radiation if you were to fly within the United States from the east coast to the west coast. This amount of radiation is less than the amount of radiation we receive from one chest x-ray.”
You take in 2.28 mSv (228 mrem) of radiation through inhaling every year (on average), so if you’re really worried about it, you’d best stop breathing. 😉
It is true that an aircraft circulates dry air around the cabins, which can have a dehydrating effect. If you’re generally fit and well, it won’t cause you much of a problem. Maybe you’ll have some dry skin,or a mild headache.
The effects of being in low humidity at high altitude for many hours can make an existing illness work. But guess what? There’s a solution to that.
Give free alcohol a pass. And coffee, tea, or anything else that has caffeine in it. I personally go for bottled water though. One study found that 15 percent of aircraft water has fecal matter in it – no shit! (Well, only some shit).
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Yes, DVT is a thing. No, it is not really to do with aircraft. You can get DVT from sitting on a bus. It’s really more to do with sitting for hours and hours than it is to do with altitude. Staying off the alcohol (sense a theme here?), moving around, and doing seated muscle exercises (squeeze!) will all help.
And there’s some socks you can buy that, when worn according to the instructions, will keep your blood circulating and help to avoid DVT entirely.
Just remember to take them off before you get to your crush. There’s no contraceptive quite as good as DVT socks.
Finally, we hit one area of real concern. Jet lag is real, and constant flying can screw up your circadian rhythms. A study published in The Lancet in 2007 found that consistent disruption of your rhythms could lead to cognitive decline, psychotic/mood disorders, and possibly even heart disease and cancer.
But, jet lag is a topic way too big for a small article on the health woes of frequent flying, so just your favorite season finale on Netflix, I’ll leave you hanging for now and we’ll come back for season two soon.
Safe travels everyone! (When it’s safe for you to do so, of course.)