Be Prepared for an In-Flight Medical Emergency

Take These Steps to Stay Safe in the Air

Carine Desir died on American Airlines Flight 896 from Haiti to New York on February 22, 2007. Nine months earlier, two doctors worked together to deliver a baby on a Delta Air Lines flight from Germany to Atlanta. Both of these examples -- the beginning and the end of life -- are often considered medical emergencies, and medical emergencies are not something you want to have on an airplane at umpteen-thousand feet.

Flying is inherently safe, but you can have a medical emergency in the air just like you can on the ground. The difference is that 911 doesn't answer the phone that high.

Here's how to be prepared.

Carry Your Medications Aboard

prescription medication bottles
Pack up your meds and take them in your carry-on. Don Ferrall / Getty Images

Always travel with your medications and if traveling includes a flight, put all your drugs in your carry-on. You'll especially want those drugs you need for immediate treatment:

You may need permission to carry liquid medicines onto the aircraft, which is why I recommend anyone prone to low blood sugar carry glucose tablets instead of gel. It may seem silly to carry glucose since there is food available on the plane, but flight attendants aren't always allowed to come to your assistance. If it works for you, a candy bar may also work.

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Stay Hydrated

water bottles
Drink plenty of water. Airliner air is very dry.

Drink plenty of water -- even if you're not too keen on using that airline bathroom. Dehydration can lead to passing out, dizziness or rapid heart rates. A good way to avoid dehydration as well as the itty-bitty bathroom is to skip the in-flight cocktail since alcohol makes you pee. Caffeinated drinks have the same effect, and can also increase your heart rate.

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Talk to Your Doctor in Advance

patient talking to doctor
Talk to your doctor about your conditions before you fly. Portra Images / Getty Images
Before you fly, talk to your doc about your medical problems. Your doctor may advise you against flying, or suggest special accommodations you should make for the trip. You may need documentation from your doctor to take certain medications or to arrange oxygen if necessary. Those with heart disease may want to be especially careful about flying, but the suggestions work for most medical conditions.

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Take Along Medical Information

medicalert bracelet
Always know your important medical information, but medical jewelry can help jog your memory. Image courtesy of Medicalert Foundation

Pack your important medical information. If someone is riding with you, make sure he or she has a copy of your medical info. If you're alone, wear a medical bracelet or keep something in your wallet or purse with medical information on it.

Remember, if there is a medical emergency, you may find yourself in a city you didn't plan for. Having some basic information, as well as your doctor's phone number with area code (and country code if you're abroad) will help the medical providers that help you. Some airlines even consult with doctors on the ground in the event of a medical emergency; having some medical information about you will help them better direct the crew in the air.

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