For people suffering from Orthostatic Intolerance, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia, Mast Cell Activtation or EDS. Follow me as I document my struggle towards better health.

Air Travel and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia


I recently received an email from a concerned mom.  It had a really great question about whether flying will cause problems in people with orthostatic intolerance or postural orthostatic tachycardia.

Here are my thoughts on air travel for those with "Spaceman's Disease"

Commercial airlines are required to pressurize their cabins to the point as close to sea-level as possible.  I believe the standard altitude for pressurization is 6,900 ft which is 350 ft below Mexico City's altitude.  Most people get symptoms of hypoxia or altitude sickness etc at around 8,500ft.  

There is a slightly reduced oxygen level during the flight but probably not something that will acerbate symptoms of POTS or OI.  However, the FAA advises that people who have heart or lung conditions or who have had recent surgery should take precautions. 

The air in a plane can sometimes have humidity levels below 20% which is very dehydrating.  If you are going to travel by air and you have POTS or OI then I recommend you DON'T rely on the airlines to keep you hydrated and fed. Those thimbles of water and tiny packages of weird pretzel-like snacks just won't do the trick.  Bring on board plenty of water (purchased after security) and nutritious snacks from home to keep in your carry-on such as salted almonds, celery sticks and "squeaky" cheese

Weightlessness, of course, is a very different experience from high-altitude as it involved the absence of gravity (weightlessness, as we all know, can cause orthostatic intolerance).

I have flown quite a bit while symptomatic including travelling while in a wheelchair and have not noticed a change in symptoms during or after flights.  

5 comments:

  1. Here is the source email which was inspiration for the post above:

    Liz,
    I have been pouring over your blog since learning of its existence.

    My 15-year old daughter has just been diagnosed with "Spaceman's disease" (great term!) after a 17-month medical odyssey which was frustrating to say the least. Now that I have words for her condition, I am able to access information.

    I am intrigued by Dr. Levine's exercise protocol, especially since she is to start PT this week. I would also love to get her off her medications. They are helping, but the thought of leashing her to medications for the rest of her life is not something I relish. Hence, I am contacting Dr. Levine's office via Tiffany this morning.

    Now, here is a question I have yet to see addressed and is the one thing that keeps me from traveling too far for consultations--- have you gotten on an airplane and what happened? I would be more than willing to take her to see Dr. Levine. I just don't know what to expect from a flight.

    Also, is there a way to access and use the resources of SFL from a distance?

    Again, I can't thank you enough for sharing your experiences. I am heartened by your progress and the idea that while OI is a lifelong management issue, it does not have to limit one's horizons.

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  2. Your blog is great, keep up the great work and thanks for all the time you must spend on it. My wife has been completely disabled from POTS and Dysautonomia for 6 years and I know first had how tough you have to be to deal with it. My wife has a blog too: www.wheredidigetthislemon.blogspot.com. I think it is always good for people with this disease to be connected.

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  3. Hi there- thanks for your comments...I hope your wife investigates Dr. Levine's program! It has a very high success rate for people with POTS!!!

    I will check out her blog and add it to my blog list. :-)

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  4. I have OI and have traveled quite a bit with the condition, including long haul flights to Asia and Europe. I find that I am worse in the airport than on the plane. Waiting in long lines can be a challenge, especially if they are not moving. My coping strategy involves drinking water constantly, and sitting and lying down any chance I can get. I take a backpacker or soldier's attitude about getting horizontal at any opportunity in the airport and its a fun game to find places to lie down.

    I usually wait for the plane in an empty waiting area near my gate and try to lie down and rest on three chairs if I can find them. Once on the plane, I am usually so fatigued that I just sleep. If I am stuck in a line, I try to do forward or reverse lunges to try and get blood from my lower extremities to my head. Seems to work pretty well, as does walking quickly or generally moving around. I am not really afraid of passing out in the aiport because face it, flying is the only way to get to some places (DC to Vietnam, for example), and I feel people with disabilities and medical conditions have a right to fly, as long as they do not endanger others.

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  5. Check out this site for more information on P.O.T.S. Made by a teen suffering with P.O.T.S who knows a bit about dealing with it. potsbecomeaware.blogspot.com

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