Take off and landing = Brief but significant increase in blood pressure, inner ear pressure increase (ears popping, getting blocked and so on)
Flying at 32,000 feet or more = Lower blood oxygen levels, higher fatigue, gas expansion in the abdomen
Dry cabin air = swollen mucous membranes, lower ability to taste, dry skin and mouth
Time zone change = Night-Day rhythm upset, hormones imbalanced, jet lag symptoms
Double whammy: Diabetics have it bad
While those in good health may experience only general fatigue and jet lag for the above reasons, for diabetics air travel can be more than a mere inconvenience. The same inappropriate food, poor circulation and hormonal imbalances can have ill effects on health that are manifold what other folks go through.
With the right planning and checklists though, you can minimize these issues and make long air travel more enjoyable. That’s why we put together this guide for you.
Plan Your Medication
Meet your healthcare provider at least a week before any long trip. Chart your travel itinerary including arrival and departure times, along with the time differences. This will help your healthcare provider plan the timings of your insulin intake. Further, she can also assess your current blood sugar levels and warn you regarding any problems that might crop up during your travel and advise you on how to manage them.
Carrying Medical Supplies On Board
Ask your healthcare provider to write a letter to the Transport Security Administration alerting them about your needs as a diabetic.
It is also advisable to keep the labels and the original containers of insulin box and glucagon kits as further proof of your health condition. All lancets brought aboard should be capped. A home glucose meter can be really handy.
Emergency supplies of long-lasting insulin and rapid-acting insulin, along with syringes and extra batteries are a must during long air travel for diabetics. All these medications need to be kept in your hand baggage so you can use them on the flight if necessary.
At the airport, ask for hand inspection of the medicine kit to prevent the counter effects of X-ray on your medical supplies. Carrying them in a clear ziplock pouch can also help with ease of inspection.
Make sure you contact the airline or travel agent and request for diabetic meals; most airlines have this option.
In any case, to hold you through layovers and transits between flights, carry some fruits, nuts, salads, yoghurt or lean meat sandwiches to supplement your meals.
You could also keep some juice and cookies with you, just in case you need to overcome hypoglycaemia.
Keep yourself well hydrated during long flights. Diabetics tend to get dehydrated more easily, so make sure you have plenty of liquids. Tomato juice seems to be a great way to stay hydrated during the flight itself. Eat on time, following the schedule that you have built before your trip, to ensure that your blood sugar stays within limits.
It is important to dress right for long flights. You may want to choose clothing that can be brought on and taken off in layers, to deal with temperature changes. Comfortable clothing is a no brainer for all air travellers, but for diabetics, circulation issues mean that you must take this even more seriously. You might want to carry extra socks to keep your feet clean and warm. Even after all this, your hands and feet might swell up due to the restricted ability to move. So request for an aisle seat so that you can get up and walk around at regular intervals.
On The Trip
Although patients on oral medication may have flexible timings, if you are insulin-dependent you need to maintain a proper regimen. So desist from adjusting the wristwatch on crossing new time zones, this will help you monitor your insulin intake timings.
Monitor your blood glucose levels every 4-5 hours. If you are on pump therapy then you won’t have any problems adjusting to different time zones. However, in case you are not a pump user, it will be better for you to migrate to a ‘basal-bolus’ insulin regimen. It can also be a good idea to have slightly higher blood glucose levels on the flight rather than risk getting hypoglycaemia and needing emergency care.
Be sure to inform the cabin crew that you are a diabetic. If possible, let them know your insulin doses as well. That way, in case of any emergencies, they will know the steps to follow.