How long after surgery can I fly?

by on February 21, 2012

What complications can flying cause?


How long after surgery can I fly?

It’s natural to want to jump right back into your life’s activities after surgery. And in many cases, you can ease in to normal activities fairly quickly. However, air travel may not be such a great idea for a while.

Air travel is not something that usually comes up in post-operative instructions that patients receive. If you’ve had chest, abdominal, neurological or ear/nose/throat (anything on or near the head) surgery, doctors recommend a minimum of 10-14 days before allowing air travel.

The head and the lungs are very sensitive to pressure changes while healing. Most jet flights are pressurized to about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) and this is a significant change in atmospheric pressure that can adversely affect a head or abdominal surgery site.

Less complicated or invasive surgeries, for example appendectomies or arthroscopic procedures require less time between surgery and flying.

Don’t Risk Complications

You certainly don’t want air travel to cause complications – surgery and recovery are traumatic enough! But the risk of complications does arise if you fly too soon and don’t take some simple precautions.

One of the biggest risks associated with air travel is deep vein thrombosis or DVT, which are blood clots in the veins of the legs.

Many patients develop these during their hospital stay (from lack of movement and the resulting poor circulation) – and air travel, especially long flights, can make things worse.

The relative immobility of air travel can cause circulation to slow. This can cause small clots to cluster together into larger clots, as well as allowing clots to grow.

Even if the patient doesn’t develop clots in the legs, any abdominal surgery, especially those lasting more than 1-2 hours, can predispose the body to formation of many small clots in deep veins. Many of these dissolve naturally, but since there are no symptoms prior to a clot causing a blockage, you may be unaware that you have a clot.

Thrombosis can be lethal, and strike with little or no warning as clots break loose and travel into the heart, lungs or brain.

Don’t Risk Infection

Another risk is infection. Airplanes are notorious for being “flying petri dishes” as many people fail to take even basic precautions and fly when they are sick.

Your body is already under a tremendous amount of stress due to the surgery, and chances are your immune system is taxed to its limit. Introducing bacteria and viruses during air travel can be extremely dangerous!

Precautions For A Safe Flight

When you finally get clearance to fly, take these precautions to make your flight safe, comfortable and healthy:

  • Make sure you’ve been mobile before the flight. Exercise helps dissolve small clots and improves circulation so that new clots don’t form.
  • Take aspirin or a stronger anticoagulant if there is ANY suspicion that clots may be present.
  • Stay hydrated but avoid caffeine and alcohol; hydration helps prevent thrombosis. Also stay away from sugary drinks, as sugar is known to interfere with the immune system.
  • If possible, walk the aisles or move to the lavatory area where you can stand and stretch your legs.
  • Wear compression stockings. These help promote circulation in the legs and also help prevent thrombosis.
  • If possible, get a bulkhead seat where there is more leg room – but avoid the exit rows, because if you sit there, you are required to assist the crew in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure any medications you need to take inflight are easily accessible so you don’t strain yourself or pull out stitches trying to pretzel yourself under the seat to reach your pills!
  • Sit near or over the wing of the airplane. Airplanes act like giant seesaws, and the ride is the smoothest in the middle. This is especially nice when you have tender body parts that don’t feel good being jostled!
  • Take an early morning flight. Morning air is generally significantly calmer than afternoon air – meaning less turbulence and less bouncing about.
  • Bring sanitizing wipes and wipe down your arm rest, seat belt buckle and tray table. Although the lavatory is cleaned after every flight, the passenger areas are NOT wiped down, and bacteria can live for several hours.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

shauny March 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I am having keyhole surgery for my acl reconstruction 2nd april.The hospital is 350 miles away and the only way to reach it is by plane or train.The plane journey is only 1 hour.Do you think it would be safe to travel by plane on the 4th april or best to take the longer alternative and take the train home?

March 20, 2013 at 10:43 pm

When you have surgery you generally have a general anaesthetic … this is sometimes the thing that affects your body the most. I can’t give you a definitive answer as to whether you should or should not travel by plane 2 days after surgery. But I will say – if it is me, I would choose the train.

danielle March 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Surgery 5 wks ago on foot 5th metatarsal. still mot allowed to put weight on it, Im 9 days away from International travel (9hr flight) thoughts???

admin March 24, 2013 at 11:28 am

Danielle … I’m not a medical doctor … and would be asking your doctor about the risks of flying so soon after surgery.

Rebecca May 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Hi I’m having bunion surgery on the 23rd and I’m hoping to go to thailand on the 20th of June. Would it be likely that its safe to fly by then?

May 20, 2013 at 12:22 am

Hi Rebecca – I’m not a doctor … so I can’t answer your question about whether it is safe to fly … you would need to ask your doctor about this.

yvonne June 25, 2013 at 6:42 pm

HI…. I had my appendectomy 9 days ago and I am due to fly out on my holiday 16th July, I have followed most if not all of the dr’s orders wore my stocking for a week after surgery drank n still drinking 2lts + water per day. Will I be ok to fly I have also been advised to wear my stockings on the flight, I was up and mobile a few hrs after my op and not really stopped since Naughty I Know x

June 25, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Hey Yvonne … I hope you are starting to feel much better after your surgery. Yvonne, I’m not a doctor and can’t give you the kind of advice you are asking for here. You will need to ask your personal physician whether you can fly on this date. Have a super holiday.

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