Passing out on a plane.
May 22, 2013 1:34 PM   Subscribe

What would make someone pass out on a plane?

My dad is 68 years old and has hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis, and an aortic aneurysm that is being monitored. However, he's pretty active, eats well, is not overweight, and doesn't smoke or drink. On Friday night, he flew to France from eastern Canada and passed out on the flight. He said all he remembers is waking up with the entire flight crew standing over him. My dad flies probably dozen times a year and this has never happened before. I told him to get his ass to a doctor but he said he'll wait until he gets home to see his GP.

Already Googled the hell out of this one and now I'm asking you fine folks. How common is this? Has it ever happened to you or someone you know? And was it ever indicative of a larger problem?
posted by futureisunwritten to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I almost passed out on a flight to Australia but I pass out pretty easily. I think I was a little dehydrated and a tiny bit claustrophobic, and these things triggered a panic attack after I looked at the TV clock in front of me that said "10 more hours to destination."

I'm in my 30s though and (knock on wood) physically healthy though so can't speculate on what happened to your dad. He should definitely see a doctor ASAP I think.
posted by sweetkid at 1:37 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I passed out on a plane once. I hadn't slept much the prior evening and hadn't eaten enough or had enough water that morning. I passed out about 30 minutes into the 2-hour flight. I was young (23), healthy and had no health problems. The doctor I saw when I landed chalked it up to the no sleep and bad diet.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:42 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I fly a lot and pass a lot of my time checking out whats going on on the plane instead of zoning out with movies.

I've seen many people faint. My own mom fainted too. So I am thinking it is a lot more common than people think. The flight crews are really good about getting people oxygen.

Flying is stressful. Low oxygen. A hot environment. Lowered pressure. A claustrophobic atmosphere. Dehydration. Reduced blood circulation. Any or all of these can contribute to Syncope. It is not necessarily indicative of anything serious, although it is certainly good to followup with your doctor.

My mom was fine. I think she was nervous and let herself get dehydrated.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 PM on May 22, 2013

Passed out---was he sitting in his seat or lying on the floor in an aisle? Context might help. If the former, they might have thought he was sleeping but just looking kind of rough.
posted by resurrexit at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2013

A typical airplane cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of about 7,000 feet, so the lower oxygen could contribute.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2013

I almost passed out on a plane. Cause? Dehydration. I had not drank enough water that day. The flight attendants, one very nice EMT and one cute firefighter were really helpful.
posted by brookeb at 1:54 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are reasons, but with your Dad's medical issues, it would be foolish for him NOT to be checked out by a doctor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:58 PM on May 22, 2013

I do not know if there is any reason to attribute the faint to being inside an airplane. People faint while inside airplanes. They also faint while walking down the street or sitting in their kitchens. Nothing about the flight experience necessarily was a cause.

That being said, cabin pressurization could have aggravated his circulatory issues. That he flies frequently but has never experienced this before, however, suggests that the flight was not necessarily the proximate cause. On the other hand, maybe his conditions have become more sensitive with time and are more sensitive to the environment.

He said he will go to the doctor, and that is the best course of action.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:04 PM on May 22, 2013

Could be a vasovagal reaction/syncope. This article explains this in some detail.
posted by cheapskatebay at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I fainted on somebody in the seat next to me once. Dehydration, I think. I don't have other health issues so now I'm just better about filling up a water bottle; good that your Dad is going to see a GP when he gets home. Could he call his doc now for advice on the trip back?
posted by nat at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2013

My grandmother recently fainted on a plane, and the verdict was dehydration. She drank some water and took it easy for the rest of the day and was fine. She's 91. (But she may be made of some advanced synthetic material, we're not sure.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

A family member of mine passed out on a plane once; I believe the culprit was low blood pressure. He was a teenager at the time.
posted by capricorn at 4:53 PM on May 22, 2013

More anecdata: My identical twin brother and I both passed out on the same flight within about 5 minutes of each other. We were 20 at the time, playing Division I sport and probably healthier than 90% of the general population. The culprit wasn't one thing but rather a whole host of things coming together at the same time: dehydration (from the forced air), low blood sugar (no time for breakfast), lack of sleep (up late packing), low oxygen levels in the air, and standing up quickly after sitting for two hours (low blood pressure).

This sort of thing happens to healthy people sometimes; airline travel is pretty good at causing a perfect storm of circumstances that can lead to a stewardess handing you orange juice and a doctor taking your blood pressure as you sit slumped against the bulkhead.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 10:04 AM on May 23, 2013

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