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Is Flying After Brain Injury Safe?

man rubbing head while flying after brain injury

Is flying after brain injury safe? It depends.

There are many health and safety considerations a person should be aware of before getting on an airplane after having a head injury. Today’s article will walk you through these concerns to help you make the best travel decisions for your health.

Flying After Brain Injury

According to most doctors, flying after brain injury is relatively safe. However, many brain injury survivors report that air travel seems to worsen their symptoms.

That’s because some of the side effects of TBI can make flying an uncomfortable experience.

For example, brain injury causes difficulties with processing stimuli such as lights, sounds, crowds, announcements, and instructions.

This means an airplane, with hundreds of people packed in an enclosed space, can easily trigger a sensory overload for people with brain injury.

All this does not mean you will never fly again after a brain injury. But it does mean that you’ll most likely have to take extra precautions.

How to Make Flying After Brain Injury Easier

Flying is a stressful activity, with or without a brain injury. Since, however, a brain injury presents unique challenges to air travel, here are some tips to help make flights go smoother for you.

Don’t Travel Alone

The amount of cognitive effort it takes to navigate through the airport can be exhausting. Especially if you already struggle with fatigue.

To avoid overworking your brain, bring along a trusted family member or friend to help you.

Even if you think you’re fine, it’s better to have someone else with you who knows your needs, just in case something happens.

Stay Hydrated and Fed

It’s crucial to drink water and eat healthy snacks while flying. This will reduce the likelihood of headaches and prevent fatigue.

Snacks such as fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and protein bars are all great brain foods that you can fit in your carry-on bag.

Reduce Sensory Overload

man sleeping on airplane to avoid sensory overload, a danger of flying after brain injury

Learn some ways to cope with sensory overload ahead of time and plan to use these tricks when on the airplane. The following are a few coping methods that work well:

  • Wearing dark glasses or noise-canceling headphones.
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Chewing on gum
  • Applying deep pressure (by pressing your hands firmly together or wrapping your arms around your body in a tight hug)

Take Advantage of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was passed to protect people with disabilities while flying. Among the many other rights it gives you, the ACAA allows you to request preferential seating on the aisle or near the front, wherever you prefer.

Just make sure you request it at least 48 hours before take-off.

Start with Short Flights

When you first start flying after brain injury, try to avoid long flights, if possible.

Shorter flights have less of a chance of worsening your symptoms than 8 or 12-hour flights do. So, if you can, don’t make that flight from New York to Paris until you’ve made a few short flights without any issues.

How Long Should You Wait Before Flying After Brain Injury?

Woman hanging up a calendar

Because every brain injury is unique, there is no precise timeline for when you can resume flying.

Many airlines require a formal medical exemption from the person’s primary doctor if the brain injury occurred within ten days of the flight. So, given that, we recommend you wait at least two weeks to be safe.

Other than that, you’ll need to gauge your symptoms before deciding to fly. If you still experience frequent headaches and other issues, it’s better to wait until they subside.

Can You Fly with a Concussion?

A concussion is a mild form of brain injury, so many of the same precautions apply. The biggest concern for a concussion is whether a brain hemorrhage will develop or not.

Therefore, do not fly with a concussion unless you have already been scanned for intracranial hemorrhages.

The change in atmospheric pressure could worsen the bleeding in your brain, which will result in dire consequences. That’s why, even if you think you only bruised your head, you must check with a doctor before flying with a concussion.

If you’ve already been examined and there are no brain bleeds, then you will most likely be fine. However, you may find it exacerbates your post-concussion symptoms. To minimize those effects, follow the advice above.

Should You Fly After Brain Injury? It’s Complicated

In general, flying after brain injury is safe, as long as the brain has had enough time to heal and your symptoms are not severe.

How long it takes for the brain to sufficiently heal will vary between persons, but airlines recommend waiting at least ten days after an incident. If you had a concussion, get examined for brain hemorrhages before flying.

Flying after brain injury can worsen some of your TBI symptoms, however, even if you wait enough time. So, make sure you take the right precautions before and during your flight.

As always, talk with your doctor before booking a flight. They can give you a full check-up and possibly prescribe medications that will make flying easier.

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