Sick during air travel: What to do

Feeling sick is never a good thing. Even low-level symptoms, like dizziness, nausea, clammy sweats, stomach cramping, jitters and headache, when combined, can be more than one can handle.

That is what happened to me on a memorable and long flight back from Asia…

I felt sick for four hours in the midst of a 13-hour flight, and I was so stressed over the ill feelings that I forgot I knew how to allay them.

Finally, my recall triumphed and I was able to get a handle on it all. Here’s what I did…

In-Flight Sickness

There are many reasons people feel ill while flying. Motion sickness is among the most common and benign. Other problems like food poisoning, norovirus, bacteria from tray table handles — and microbes from the seats and the bathrooms can be worse.

The airlines can do only so much to help you feel better. They conveniently place a handy bag for vomit in the seat back in front of you. And the service staff is quick with a ginger ale and, in some cases, Tylenol.

But aside from these things, there is little they can, or are equipped, to do.

On my ill-fated half-day, overnight flight back from the Philippines, I experienced a number of ill-feeling symptoms all at once. It started with clammy hands and then sweating. This was followed by stomach cramps and a jittery digestive tract. Next came the dry heaves and headache, followed by some unsavory and not-so-dry heaves.

I was standing outside the onboard restrooms, unable to sit or close my eyes. Every time I did, the room spun and I felt even sicker. I looked at the clock on my cellphone to see when we would land. Not for another eight hours! What to do?

I felt so sick I was trembling. I looked around to see it if was food poisoning from the plane food, but no one else seemed to be suffering. It was probably a result of the fried and overly sweet foods in Manila that I am unused to, as well as bacteria in the water. While I did my best to drink only mineral water, the ice, soups and coffee were made with tap water.

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In-Flight Solutions

After about two hours of this, the steward made a comment: “Too bad there’s no doctor on board.”

Well, that was my eureka moment!

Funny how I can help others who are not well and have a seemingly never-ending stream of advice to offer. But when it comes to me, being ill myslef, I dwell in the illness and forget I probably know a solution.

So I set about making a short list of solutions. Within 30 minutes, I was feeling 70 percent better.

Here are the solutions I used to help relieve my in-flight illness. I present them here as tips to make them easier to remember…

1. Even though I was nauseated, I drank two bottles of water. It is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid coffee, tea and soda; these are dehydrating. Feelings of nausea can be caused in part from dehydration and food that is “stagnant” or not able to move smoothly through the digestive tract.

2. I focused lightly on a spot on the seatback in front of me to help still the jumping images. It is best to stop reading, gaming and watching movies when feeling motion sickness or nauseated. Otherwise, the words passing by and fast-moving images on the screens can cause more motion sickness.

3. I slowed my breathing, inhaling and exhaling in counts of six seconds to control the heaves and relax the nerves. This also helped me feel less anxious about being sick on board the plane while feeling more optimistic that the ill feelings would pass.

4. I settled my stomach first by sipping ginger ale. Ginger is so good for calming the stomach, aiding digestion, quelling nausea, alleviating headache and dizziness, and detoxifying. I then remembered that I had strong ginger candies in my bag that I had packed for such an occasion. They are called Chimes ginger candies and are strong and made from ginger puree. They worked rather quickly. You want to find a ginger candy that does not contain too much sugar or syrups. Here is the website for Chimes. (I purchased my bag in Marshalls.)

5. I applied self-acupressure to two sets of points, one on my hand and the other on my stomach. These points are indicated for digestive issues and stomach problems:

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Stomach 25 – Tianshu (“celestial point”): This point is located two thumb widths away from either side of the belly button. Simply place your thumbs together on the side of the area and press. The points are on both sides.

Simply press these points until you feel a sensation and hold or massage for 30 seconds. Repeat as often as you like. These points are for abdominal distention, constipation and diarrhea, gas pains and amenorrhea. According to the theories of Chinese medicine, they work by regulating the spleen, stomach and intestines, dispelling dampness and heat (sweaty and burning feelings) while regulating energy and blood.

Large Intestine 4 – Hegu (“joining valley”): This point is located in the webbing between your index finger and thumb, on both hands. If you touch these fingers together, a slight mound forms between the fingers, in the webbing. Simple pinch this point with the fingers of the other hand and hold for 30 seconds, massaging it afterward as frequently as you like.

This point is indicated for headache, dizziness, congestion, nosebleed, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, gastric pain, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea. According to the theories of Chinese medicine, this expels wind, tonifying the energy, strengthening immunity, stopping pain and regulating the face and head.

Pre-Flight Tips

The most important thing I realized during my experience is that people need to prevent in-flight sickness; being prepared is the best way to do this.

Pre-flight tips:

1. Don’t let yourself board the plane too hungry or too full. Avoid greasy food before takeoff.

2. Bring plenty of water with you on board, (as security allows) to keep yourself hydrated.

3. If you are prone to motion sickness, take along ginger candy, ginger tea or products like Dramamine, Bonine and Scopolamine patches. Holding a cold can of soda behind the ear also helps.

4.  If you can select your seat ahead of time, choose a window seat by the wing; this is the most stable area in cases of turbulence.

5. Bring a list of remedies and solutions in your bag (or print this article) and refer to it if you get sick while flying.

Here’s to your next uneventful flight!

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.