1. Health

Mayo Clinic Q&A; supplemental oxygen in flight; motion sickness help

A Delta Airlines jet lands at Tampa International Airport on June 21. SKIP O'ROURKE | Times
A Delta Airlines jet lands at Tampa International Airport on June 21. SKIP O'ROURKE | Times
Published Dec. 8, 2016


I'm flying to a family reunion, and my doctor suggests I take supplemental oxygen with me on the airplane because I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I don't normally use supplemental oxygen, so why would I need it on an airplane?

People who have COPD or diseases that can cause low oxygen levels may need in-flight oxygen supplementation even if they don't use oxygen at home.

As a plane takes off and gains altitude, surrounding air pressure decreases. Pressurized cabins limit the decrease considerably but not entirely. Federal regulations require cabin pressure altitude to be below 8,000 feet above sea level. This pressure level is manageable for most people, but is still about the same as being a quarter to a third of the way up Mount Everest. If you have lung disease, this could cause problems.

Low air pressure decreases the rate at which oxygen is absorbed into your bloodstream. If you already have low oxygen levels on the ground, as is often the case with COPD, even a small decrease in oxygen flow can have an effect. Any increase in your body's demand for oxygen — for something as simple as getting up and walking to the bathroom, for example — can elevate that effect, potentially leaving you with breathing problems on the plane.

Commercial airlines have varying requirements for bringing oxygen on a plane, so check with your airline. Also, flights within other countries may have different rules. Most airlines require notification at least 48 hours before the flight and longer for international flights. You'll likely need written documentation of your need for oxygen from your doctor.

Some airlines provide in-flight supplemental oxygen systems. You also can rent a battery-powered portable oxygen concentrator to bring with you, which means you have it during layovers and when you arrive at your destination. Portable oxygen concentrators must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for domestic flights, and the International Civil Aviation Organization for international flights.

Give yourself enough time, preferably weeks or even months ahead, to confirm you have everything you need and answer any questions you might have. If you bring a portable oxygen concentrator, be sure you bring enough batteries to comfortably last more than the length of the trip, in case there are unanticipated delays.

Clayton T. Cowl, M.D., Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

(Adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter)


Readers: If you're planning a winter getaway, it's a good idea to have a plan to prevent motion sickness. Turbulence on an airplane or choppy seas on a cruise can cause motion sickness signs and symptoms such as queasiness, a cold sweat, dizziness, nausea and increased salivation and warmth. Reduce your risk by:

Modifying your environment: In a vehicle, sit in the front seat or in a place with a good view of the outside. On a ship, stay on deck, if possible, and look toward the horizon. Avoid reading or watching movies, and keep your head still and rested on a chairback or lie down. Fresh air also is helpful.

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Talking to your doctor about medications: Possible medications include dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), meclizine (Antivert) and a prescription skin patch containing scopolamine (Transderm Scop). These drugs can cause side effects, such as drowsiness, particularly in older adults, and may not be right for everyone.

Considering natural remedies: A supplement containing 1 to 2 grams of ginger appears to reduce motion sickness when taken before travel. Aromatherapy with essential oils, such as ginger, spearmint and peppermint, also has shown some promise in preventing nausea.

Applying acupressure: Applying pressure to the P6 acupressure point, located three finger widths up from the inside of the wrist joint, may help prevent travel nausea. You can apply pressure yourself or by using specially designed wrist straps.

(Adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter)

Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn't replace regular medical care. Email a question to MayoClinicQ& For more information, visit © 2016 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved.