For many people, every time they fly, their feet seem to swell – which is medically called dependent edema.
While feet swelling generally isn’t a cause for concern, it sure can be annoying and painful.
But why might your feet swell when you fly in the first place? And is there anything you can do to prevent or get over it faster?
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Why Your Feet Swell When You Fly
The main reason why your feet swell when you fly is due to inactivity.
When flying, you have no choice but to be confined to your seat for most of the duration of the flight, which causes blood to pool in your leg veins.
This leads to fluid leaving your blood and moving into the surrounding soft tissues and results in swollen feet.
The position your body is in with your legs bent doesn’t help either, as it increases the pressure on your veins and swelling.
Inevitably, this means that you are more likely to notice your feet swelling on long-haul flights compared to short-haul flights.
What Affects How Badly Your Feet Will Swell When Flying
Conditions that affect your kidney, thyroid, heart, and liver can also cause your feet to swell even if you aren’t flying, though will be made worse when you do fly.
The same applies to pregnancy.
If you are unfit, you are likely to feel the effects of feet swelling more than someone who is fit, healthy, and active.
How to Prevent Your Feet From Swelling
Preventing your feet from swelling in the first place is usually your best course of action.
As swollen feet when flying is caused by fluid buildup in your surrounding tissues due to inactivity, you must try to become more active.
You can do this in a number of ways, thankfully including when seated, by:
- Wearing loose fitting clothes
- Wearing compression socks
- Getting up to take a walk every hour
- Stowing your bags overhead to maximize legroom
- Flexing your calf muscles
- Flexing and extending your ankles and knees while seated
- Avoiding crossing your legs
- Regularly shifting positions while seated
- Wearing loose fitting shoes
- Drinking plenty of fluids (preferably water) to prevent dehydration
- Avoiding sedatives and alcohol that may cause you to fall asleep and hinder activity
You might also want to skip eating any processed foods high in salt because raising the salt level in your body can further increase fluid buildup.
How to Get Rid of Swollen Feet After the Flight
Even though any foot swelling should resolve by itself once you have landed and stepped off the plane, you can speed up the process by following many of the same prevention measures.
This includes moving around, staying hydrated, wearing compression socks, and avoiding foods high in sodium.
Is Foot Swelling Dangerous?
Foot swelling while flying generally isn’t a cause for concern. Foot swelling will only last up to an hour or so after your flight.
But if your feet are still swollen several hours after your flight, it’s best to seek medical care, as the cause may be a blood clot in your leg, which is also known as deep vein thrombosis.
Some warning signs to look for include:
- Severe leg swelling
- One calf is swollen, painful, warm, and red
- One leg is bigger than the other
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Why Your Hands Might Also Swell When You Fly
Along with feet swelling, some passengers also notice that their hands seem to swell, too.
While this is less common, as we naturally use our hands more when seated while flying, such as to eat, control the in-flight entertainment, use our phone etc., and the position of our hands is less susceptible than our feet to swelling, it can still happen.
The main reason for hand swelling is the same as foot swelling: inactivity.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).