Flying with bronchitis and fluid in the lungs: important facts to keep in mind

Reading Time: 3 minutes

While the change in air pressure in a plane cabin might not be noticeable for healthy passengers, it can be drastic for patients with lung issues. In that case, is it safe to fly when you have bronchitis? What are the risks involved? 

What you should know about flying if you have bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is not a cause of concern and can usually be treated at home. However, there are two dangers about flying when you have acute bronchitis: 

  1. Bronchitis is a contagious disease, which means that commercial flights can refuse to have you on board. 
  2. There are several other conditions linked to bronchitis that prevent flying commercially because the change in air pressure is risky for patients. 

Patients with lung issues can travel on sea-level flights. These types of flights are operated by Medical Air Service, an air ambulance company. 

Bronchitis... What is it?

Bronchitis is a form of lung problem that causes the main airways of the lungs to become irritated or inflamed due to an infection. The lining of your bronchial tubes, those that carry air to and from your lungs, become inflamed, often causing patients to produce and cough up thickened mucus. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. 

Acute bronchitis is quite common: it is a temporary inflammation that usually comes with or after a common cold, sore throat or the flu. It can last up to 3 weeks. 

lung problem

Chronic bronchitis is not temporary. It is a productive cough that lasts a minimum of three months and that can happen again for at least years. 

Common symptoms of bronchitis are: 

  • A sore throat, 
  • Headache
  • Runny or blocked nose, 
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills 
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath

Potential risks of bronchitis: fluid in lungs, pneumonia, COPD…

A random episode of acute bronchitis, while uncomfortable, is not usually risky or a cause of concern. In most cases, it can be treated at home with the necessary medications, a lot of rest and by taking a lot of fluid. 

However, constant bouts of bronchitis may point towards another underlying condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or may even cause more serious problems like lung damage, or in more severe cases of chronic bronchitis, death. 

According to a study looking at the relationship of pulmonay oedema and chronic bronchitis by A P Morton, there is a close association between the two different conditions. Pulmonary oedema is when your lungs get filled up with fluid, which causes shortness of breath. This is because the increased fluids in the lungs prevent oxygen from moving into the bloodstream. 

A more frequent complication of bronchitis is pneumonia, which usually happens when the infection spreads further into the lungs. In this case as well, the air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluid. According to study, 1 in 20 cases of bronchitis leads to pneumonia

The risks of flying for someone with a lung problem 

A study published by the European Respiratory Journal advanced that respiratory problems are the third most common cause of medical diversion among airline companies and approximately 10% of in-flight medical emergencies result from respiratory conditions.

commercial airline

Why is traveling risky for people with lung issues such as bronchitis or pulmonary edema? 

Since air pressure decreases as altitude increases, when an airplane ascends, the air pressure inside the plane is lower than what we are generally used to. This also implies a decrease in oxygen levels in the air. This decrease in air pressure is controlled by cabin pressurization. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the cabin pressure on commercial airplanes must be maintained at levels equivalent to the atmospheric pressure below 8,000 feet.

While this is not an issue for healthy passengers who might not even notice the change, a decrease in oxygen in the air level might cause considerable damage for patients with a lung issue. For instance, variations in cabin pressure can lead to a decrease in blood oxygen level, a condition called hypoxia in patients. 

How to fly with bronchitis or other lung issues? 

In certain cases, flying on commercial flights is possible for patients with bronchitis on the condition that they take certain precautions. 

When flying with any lung condition, you should:

  • Get approval of being fit to fly from your doctor. 
  • Do not forget to pack your important medications
  • Pack your prescriptions and a list of emergency contacts
  • Keep your medications at hand’s reach
  • Talk with the airline company beforehand to ensure that extra oxygen can be made available if needed
  • Get comfort aids such as secure pillows etc for maximum comfort

Important note: Since bronchitis is an infectious disease, some airline companies may not allow you onboard

Sea-level flights for patients with severe lung problems 

In certain cases, a simple change in oxygen level might be fatal for patients. For these patients, flying commercially might seem impossible. However, sea-level flights make traveling possible and safe, even for patients who have severe lung issues. 

What are sea-level flights?

In sea-level flights, the air pressure inside the airplane can be adjusted according to the patient’s condition. Usually, it is modified so that it is closer to the pressure at sea level, making the flight a safe one even for patients with lung issues. 

This type of air pressure change is not possible in commercial flights. As such, sea-level flights might be the only mode of long-distance transportation for patients with certain lung issues. 

air ambulance

Sea level flights come in the form of air ambulances

The air ambulances of Medical Air Service can operate sea-level flights. Air ambulances are medical planes. They have been designed specifically for patient transportation. To that effect, they come fitted with medical equipment ensuring that even ICU patients can be transported across borders safely.

When booking a flight from Medical Air Service, we make sure to customize the flight according to your needs and medical condition. Hence, in case of severe bronchitis, fluid in the lungs or any other respiratory issue, we can equip the plane with the necessary devices, if they are not already on the air ambulance, and conduct a sea-level flight to ensure that the patient can travel safely. 

With Medical Air Service, you can benefit from: 

  • Air ambulances that can be customized 
  • Specialist doctors
  • Multi-lingual agents operating 24/7
  • Air ambulances worldwide
  • Transparent and personalized pricing
  • Expert agents 

Contact us for an air ambulance 

If you urgently need to fly but you have severe lung issues and you are afraid of aggravating your medical condition, get in touch with Medical Air Service. Our expert agents will organize your air ambulance flight, regardless of where you are across the globe

Get in touch now