General Question

noodle_poodle's avatar

Feeling of lethargy and illness after long haul flights?

Asked by noodle_poodle (1614 points ) June 9th, 2013

Hi there, I have just returned from a year overseas. My last leg of the journey was a long one and took about 30 hrs flying and airport transfers. Since returning I have been feeling pretty ill. Tired all the time and my ears feel uncomfortable and sort of motion sickness’y. I feel sort of like being hungover without ever having had a drink. Has anyone else had this or know what causes it? I had thought it was just being worn out by the flights but I have been taking it fairly easy for 4 days and I still feel like hell. Will it wear off? Its not actually debilitating but it is pretty horrible.

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19 Answers

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The poor quality of air in the cabin, the lack of opportunity to move around and keep you blood circulation in your legs and the disorientation caused by disruption in your sleep cycle and the many hours difference in time zone all contribute to your malaise and disorientation. We pay a penalty for this fast method of traveling long distances. The alternatives have their own adverse effects.

CWOTUS's avatar

The time changes alone in that kind of travel can put you out of sorts for multiple days after you reach the destination.

Last week I flew to Malaysia from the US East Coast, and my total transit time was around 26 hours, door-to-door, including one layover and two car rides of multiple hours each. By the time I got to Malaysia I was whipped, as I always am on that trip, and for the next four days it was “work the day; get to the hotel at around 6:30 PM local time; shower and sleep for six to eight hours”. So I’d be waking at around 4 AM and starting my day then. (The time change between Malaysia and US Eastern Daylight Time is exactly 12 hours.)

Now that I’ve finally gotten acclimated to the time… it’s time to travel again. This week I’m in India, but fortunately the time difference is only 1.5 hours.

Flying “towards the East” always is harder on me, too, but that could be just because it’s the outbound trip for me. Returning to my home I’ll be back on US Eastern Daylight Time within two days, guaranteed.

And getting sick is easy, regardless of “bad cabin air” (which I do not subscribe to; I recall the days when smoking was permitted – and common! – on airplanes; the air is much better now), because of the various stresses that travel itself places on you. Not to mention the stresses of having to meet rigid travel schedules. My day-to-day routine requires that I be ontime for work, for example, and I do have meeting schedules to adhere to during the day and week, but that’s not the same as “miss the time, and you’ll miss the connection”. That involves a lot more stress for me.

_Whitetigress's avatar

You will get better soon. Traveling is like running but for your mind. Your awareness is sky rocketing and your stress levels are risen naturally to keep the awareness up. 4 days is not enough time to re adjust to the “norm” of what you’re expecting to do next.

Two years ago I took a trip to San Francisco from San Diego. I fell in love! I have never been to a true “city” before. Los Angeles is like a more crowded San Diego, but San Francisco was a real city man. Anyways, when we came home from the trip. I noticed how much more laid back and relaxed people were in San Diego. It’s a “slower” life style and I got the blues for at least 3 months. I mean San Francisco was amazing to me. It still sticks in my mind. Give yourself sometime and get back in the flow. Maybe getting up early and taking a walk around the park will help you?

Anyways best wishes to you. Write your experiences down, this helps put your thoughts of where you’ve been to rest.

marinelife's avatar

You are in a metal tube all those hours with poorly recirculated air not fresh at all and all the germs of your fellow passengers. The wonder is that most people don’t get sick (a lot of them do). Also, if you were on a flight tht long you changed time zones which will also throw you off.

Get plenty of rest (try as much as possible to adjust to your new time zone. Although you may not feel like it mild exercise (like swimming) can be very helpful. Eat healthy foods.

glacial's avatar

Drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest. Whatever it is, it will go away eventually.

Have you considered that you might have picked up a bug on one of your flights? Thirty hours is a long time to be breathing the same air with so many other people. Maybe it’s just taking its time to really develop into a cold/flu.

hearkat's avatar

If your ears still feel plugged and your balance is off, you might try taking antihistamines and decongestants to clear up the pressure in your head and calm your vestibular system (bonine and Dramamine are antihistamines and are used for motion-sickness). Of course, if you take medications for any other reason, it is best not to take anything else – even over-the-counter or dietary supplements – whiteout checking with your doctor(s) and/or pharmacist first.

Travel is very dehydrating, so drink a lot of fluids – caffeine-free and non-alcoholic – to flush toxins out of your system and ensure that your body’s fluids are adequate. Ginger and cinnamon are very soothing to a queasy tummy.

filmfann's avatar

You have jet lag. I am sure you have heard of it. It will pass.

LuckyGuy's avatar

30 hours means you likely swapped hemispheres as well as traveled through around 12 time zones. Here’s my rule of thumb for 12 hours of jet lag. Take your age, divide it by 10. That is the number of days you will feel like crap. Travel is worth the trouble.

Judi's avatar

@LuckyGuy, oh crap. I’m going to be doing a quick turn around helping my daughter move to Scotland. I’m to old!!

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Judi Relax. Scotland is only 5 hours If you are going to be there less than a week, you will feel a little discombobulated the first day, but will chalk it up to the excitement.

You will feel it when you get home but it should only take you a day return to normal.
Your poop schedule will be a different story. :-P

Judi's avatar

Ill probably be flying from LAX. Not sure of we will be flying direct to Europe or if we will be going to the east coast first.

glacial's avatar

@Judi Could this be the perfect excuse to turn the “quick turn around” into a longer stay? ;)

Judi's avatar

I wish! I have a high maintenance husband that needs me back to help with a building project that we are in the middle of.

glacial's avatar

Aww, too bad. I hope you get another chance to look around, though. Scotland is beautiful.

Judi's avatar

Planning to go back next summer. I can’t wait for my granddaughter to develop an accent. I will miss her and her brother so much!

hearkat's avatar

@LuckyGuy – Scotlad is only 5 hours for us on the East Coast, but 8 hours for Judi and others on the West Coast… that 3 hours makes a difference.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@hearkat I totally agree. I forgot where @Judi lives. Make it 2 days of discombobulation if you stay for a week. About the same time as is will take your poop schedule to sort itself out.

Judi's avatar

@LuckyGuy, I’m in my 50’s. I’ve been waiting 5 years for my poop schedule to sort itself out. (TMI, I know. )

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