If the airport felt more crowded than usual on that last trip, it wasn’t your imagination.
U.S. airlines are hauling around more people than ever these days, setting new records on passenger tallies from one year to the next, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
And the transport boom isn’t limited to air.
According to AAA, a whopping 55 million people hit the road to see family on Thanksgiving, the most-traveled holiday season since 2005.
As more folks than ever hit the skyways and highways, it introduces inevitable risks to personal health.
Travelers age 65 and older are at particularly heightened risk of developing a condition associated with travel: deep vein thrombosis.
This occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body, usually the lower leg or thigh. The vein can swell and trigger further problems, or the clot can break loose and lead to lung issues.
Sitting still for extended periods tends to exacerbate the risk. Voyages of four hours or longer—particularly by air—are especially problematic, said Jennifer Watson, MD, a vascular surgeon with the Spectrum Health Vein Center.
“No one knows exactly why air travel increases the rates of deep venous thrombosis,” Dr. Watson said. “It’s thought to be a combination of things, including immobility, dehydration and activation of clotting factors.”
Other factors that increase risk:
- Family history of blood clots or clotting disorders
- Recent trauma
- Recent surgery
The easiest way to lower your chances of developing deep vein thrombosis? Compression socks.
Many doctors recommend the knee-high graded version, rated at about 15 mmHg to 30 mmHg.
“Compression stockings work by creating a pressure gradient across the length of the sock,” Dr. Watson said. “The greatest pressure is at the bottom, with pressure reducing as the sock comes up the leg.
“This helps to support the venous system by assisting the small valves that exist within our veins,” she said. “This keeps the blood moving in the right direction, so that travelers do not get swelling or pooling of blood in the lower extremities.”
Studies have shown a clear benefit to wearing compression stockings, not only for reduction of deep vein thrombosis but also to reduce swelling and discomfort in the post-travel period, Dr. Watson said.
“Sometimes patients will ask me if they should wear thigh-high (compression stockings),” she said. “I have not seen any benefit to this over knee-high compression, but if the traveler already owns pantyhose or thigh-highs, it can certainly be convenient to use the compression stockings they have.”
Compression socks are offered in a variety of brands and styles, all catering to specific needs.
Got a latex allergy? Skin sensitivity? There are compression socks that take that into account.
“Many different brands and manufacturers are working to make compression easier to apply,” Dr. Watson said. “Velcro options exist, as well as support stockings with zippers.”
Some stockings even have the toes left out, a helpful feature for people who have deformities of the foot or who can’t tolerate pressure on the toes, she said.
Manufacturers also offer compression wraps.
Sports compression socks are becoming a popular tool to aid in recovery after physical activities. These are graded socks, typically rated at 15 mmHg to 20 mmHg, but they can also be used for travel, Dr. Watson said.
“They are made of wicking material that can be more comfortable and breathable,” she said.
It’s also important to keep in mind that compression socks are more a preventive tool, less a treatment.
“Prevention really is the best medicine,” Dr. Watson said. “Using compression socks during travel is simply an effective way to reduce the risk of a life-threatening medical issue.”