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Alcohol and Altitude: A Risky Mix for Air Travelers

For many travelers, a celebratory drink marks the start or end of a vacation. Some believe a glass of wine helps them sleep better, while others find alcohol eases flight anxiety. However, a new study by researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and RWTH Aachen University warns that drinking alcohol on planes can pose significant health risks, especially for older passengers or those with medical conditions.

The Impact of Cabin Pressure

Aircraft cabins are pressurized to simulate an altitude of around 2,500 meters, equivalent to the peak of a mid-sized mountain. This reduced air pressure leads to lower oxygen saturation in the blood. According to the study published in the journal Thorax, healthy oxygen saturation is around 90%, but it drops at higher altitudes, depriving muscles and organs of necessary oxygen as the body prioritizes the brain.

This oxygen deficiency can cause dizziness, nausea, and increased heart rate, particularly when exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

Study Findings

The study involved 48 participants divided into two groups: one examined under normal pressure and the other in a simulated aircraft cabin. Both groups included individuals who drank alcohol before sleeping and those who did not. Results showed that in the simulated aircraft cabin, the average heart rate of participants who consumed alcohol rose to 88 beats per minute during sleep, with oxygen saturation falling to 85%.

These effects were more pronounced even among young and healthy participants, suggesting that for older or ailing individuals, the combination of low oxygen saturation and increased heart rate could be life-threatening.

Debate on Alcohol Bans

The question of banning alcohol on flights has been debated for decades. While the study’s small sample size and specific demographics limit definitive conclusions, the findings highlight potential health risks that warrant further investigation.

This study underscores the need for travelers to be aware of the possible dangers of consuming alcohol while flying, particularly those with underlying health conditions.



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