What causes leg and foot swelling during air travel?
Leg and foot swelling during air travel is common and typically harmless. The most likely culprit for swollen feet is inactivity during a flight. Sitting with your feet on the floor for a long period causes blood to pool in your leg veins. Low cabin pressure as well as the dry air circulating in the airplane may also inhibit blood circulation and cause swollen feet. When you’re dehydrated, your blood gets a bit thicker, which also reduces circulation. The position of your legs when you are seated also increases pressure in your leg veins, thus contributing to foot swelling by causing fluid to leave the blood and move into the surrounding soft tissues.
To relieve foot swelling during a flight:
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and socks
- Take a short walk every hour or so
- Flex and extend your ankles and knees frequently while you’re seated
- Shift your position in your seat as much as possible, being careful
to avoid crossing your legs
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives
Bonus tip: Long lines, unexpected mad dashes, and getting through airport security are vexing enough. Avoid additional discomfort and hassle by wearing comfortable shoes and you can easily slip on and off!
Foot swelling isn’t a serious problem if it lasts only a short time. But excessive swelling that persists for several hours after you resume activity may be due to a more serious condition, such as a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis) — especially if the swelling occurs in only one leg and is accompanied by leg pain. If you experience these signs and symptoms, seek prompt medical attention.
Also be extra careful if you or someone your are flying with suffers from diabetes. Write down your doctor’s phone number and a current medication list. Keep this information with you in your carry-on bag, purse, or wallet. This information will be helpful if you need to see a doctor away from home. Happy travels!
Reference source: Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D., Mayo Clinic