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6 Tips For Fliers With Vestibular Disorders

After a few months of working through vestibular rehabilitation training to combat the chronic feeling that I was on a boat, I needed to get on a plane.

I’m one of those patients who suffered from motion sensitivity in childhood, and I knew my recovery would be a long road. But work and life doesn’t stop just because your inner ear does.

I had a lot of anxiety about flying. Mostly about how I would react on the plane. Would the air pressure make my condition worse? What if I had a panic attack in flight?

All of this worry was for nothing because what I found was the flight itself was pretty breezy. You just have to sit down and breathe. Getting to the plane was another story.

Embrace The Crazy

If you skip over the sleepless night before (more anxiety about missing the flight), the taxi driver weaving through at warp speed, or the stress of remembering to squeeze shampoo into a 3 oz tube, you’ll find the airport itself is where you’ll be weary.

For those who suffer from balance disorders or vertigo, the airport is a cornucopia of triggers. Escalators. Fluorescent lights. Intercom announcements. Flashing monitors. Crying babies. Crying adults. Long walkways with no horizon. Dark hallways with low lights. Jets taking off. Jets landing. A constant stream of people moving in and out of your way as you shuffle along. And the ultimate feast for the senses: the food court.

So how the heck does somebody with sensitivities to all of the above deal in airport purgatory?

  1. Bring a buddy. If you can, arrive at the airport with a loved one or coworker. That way you’ll have someone to grab onto if you feel like you’re going to fall over.

  2. Dull your senses. Wear sunglasses — the darker the better — and put in your earphones or ear plugs. It’s easier when you can’t see or hear all of the chaos around you, and it helps prevent your vagus nerve from freaking you out.

  3. Take all people movers. Seriously. The less you have to walk, the better off you’ll be. It’s enough stress getting to and through the airport — keep calm and glide on.

  4. Request wheelchair or cart assistance. If you are in real trouble, ask for help. There’s no sense in pushing yourself if you think a major vertigo or dizziness attack will set back all of the progress you’ve been making in vestibular retraining.

  5. Look up — and look far. Another reason to have a buddy… someone to walk behind as you practice gaze stabilization. With so many people milling around, try to put all that movement in your periphery and stabilize your eyes on something that is affixed to a ceiling or wall.

  6. Be zen. Going to the airport with a vestibular disorder is not going to be the most fun experience of your life. So, do what you can to make it easier. Lavender oil. Meditation. A beer. Valium.

On the flight itself, the rocking and swaying of the airplane actually made me feel upright and “normal” again! It’s likely you’ll be wiped from all the effort of getting to the airport in the first place, so use the flight time to give your eyes, ears and vestibular system a break.

Rest and recover with a nap, a meditation, or some sort of quiet time. If you have to move around, steady yourself the way the flight attendants do — arms up using the overhead bins as guideposts down the aisles.

Think of the flight as your time to recharge for the next challenge — getting out of the airport!

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