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Remedies for your in-flight ailments

Is your airplane flight giving you a headache? Has that sandwich you wolfed down before boarding given you a bad case of collywobbles? Don't ask the flight crew for help. They won't dispense any medications — even over-the-counter ones. But veteran flight attendant James Wysong offers his homegrown cures for 16 in-flight ailments.
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As a flight attendant, I have always thought it strange that I can serve you a meal that gives you indigestion, but I can't give you an antacid tablet to fix it. If you are on an airplane for hours on end, what are you supposed to do? Suffer in silence? Apparently.

That got me thinking about other ailments you might experience during an airplane flight, and about some uncommon cures that might ease the pain. The following is a collection of natural remedies and possible solutions for problems that passengers have encountered on many of my flights. Mind you, I am not a doctor; I am merely offering tips that have been found to be effective for other passengers and crew members. Take these suggestions at your own risk and if you have any doubts, please consult a doctor first.

It seems everyone has a remedy for this ailment. My favorite is to scare my wife in some way, but that's probably not a good idea in flight — especially since she is a pilot. Here's one that seems to help me and passengers most afflicted by them. First swallow a teaspoon of granulated sugar, then fill your lungs and hold your breath while lightly squeezing your lungs against your diaphragm. This should get rid of the problem.

I love to sneeze, but an airplane really isn't a good sneezing place. After all, it's an small, enclosed space and that makes a lot of people nervous about germs. But some people, including me, sometimes get into unstoppable sneezing fits. I missed most of the meal service one day because I sneezed for 20 minutes straight. On that flight a sympathetic passenger told me of this remedy: Place your middle and index fingers directly beneath your nostrils and above your upper lip, and press firmly until the urge to sneeze disappears. It works like a charm.

Aspirin is the best remedy, so bring some along. But did you know it is more effective if taken with a caffeinated drink? If you don't have any aspirin, try applying lime wedges directly to your forehead. You might feel silly — and sticky — but the throbbing should go away. Plus, you'll smell good.

Leg cramps
Standing on your feet and moving around is the best way to relieve leg cramps, but if they keep coming back, try eating some yellow mustard. People say it is very effective. Don't ask me why.

Stiff neck
Airplane seats don't seem to be getting any more comfortable, so you may find yourself with this condition quite often. Try squeezing your shoulders up towards your ears and holding for 15 seconds; then relax. The exercise resembles an exaggerated shrug (you know, the same gesture you get from the flight attendants when you ask them about a connecting flight). Perform this exercise eight to 10 times and you should feel relief.

Nausea and air sickness
Ginger is a classic herbal remedy for nausea and vomiting; some say it can also prevent them. You can try sucking on crystallized ginger, taking ginger capsules, eating gingersnaps, or even drinking the airplane ginger ale if you can stomach it.

Jet lag
I hear many flight attendants use melatonin to combat jet lag. Apparently, melatonin helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock that plays a key role in when we fall asleep and wake up. Some people should not take melatonin, including pregnant women and nursing women, so be sure to check this one out with your doctor.

Squeeze the juice of two lemons into a glass, add half a teaspoon of baking powder, and drink it as it foams. A passenger with a pretty bad case of this affliction (and on an airplane things can get quite messy) was cured within an hour of taking this remedy. Now I know not many people travel with baking powder, but some passengers and crew members do for this very reason, so it never hurts to ask. If no baking powder, try eating white rice as it tends to bloat, which can alleviate the symptoms.

Bad breath
Bring your toothbrush on board and use it whenever you use the lavatory. (Remember, your toothpaste tube must contain less than 3 ounces to clear security.) If you don't have your toothbrush, chew the parsley on your meal tray — if you get a meal, that is. If someone offers you a mint, don't get huffy, but accept it as a possible hint.

Bug bites
Rub a slice of raw onion on the sting as soon as possible, and if it itches, apply a tiny dab of — believe it or not — hemorrhoid cream. I tried it and it works great.

Swish a small amount of Nyquil around your mouth in the area of the pain. Nyquil is good for many of my ailments, and I always carry a 3-ounce bottle with me when I travel.

Try drinking a cup of hot water, and if there is any apple cider vinegar around, take two teaspoons of that, too. If you get a meal on the flight, ask for extra oil-and-vinegar dressing on your salad. The vinegar should calm things down.

Pinch the nose firmly, but not hard, at the bridge of your nose just below the bone. Do not tilt the head back, as this makes the blood flow down the throat and will give you an upset stomach. Hold the pinch for two to four minutes until the bleeding stops. Do not blow your nose as this will open the clot and cause the bleeding to start again.

Stinky feet
If you can smell your feet a little bit, then so can other passengers around you. If people start wadding tissues up their noses or turning their air vents on you, put your shoes back on.

One glass of red wine and a typical in-flight movie are usually enough to put me out, but if sleep doesn't come easily for you and you aren't taking sleeping pills, try melatonin. It is a natural remedy that induces sleep without side effects like grogginess. It's not habit-forming, but there may be mild side effects like headaches. You can purchase melatonin at most health stores.

One remedy for the food I serve you on board is to take a teaspoon of baking soda with a glass of water. It may taste disgusting but it is quite effective. Of course, most people don't carry baking soda with them on an airplane trip. Another effective remedy is to drink a can of soda water and swallow a small amount of mint toothpaste. And as far as meal choice goes, if you are having trouble deciding, go with the no-fly, no-eat rule. Cows can't fly but chickens can. I have witnessed very few cases of in-flight food poisoning caused by our fowl friends.

I once flew with an Asian flight attendant who told me his secret for never getting sick when flying. He heats up a mixture of apple cider vinegar and honey at home, and then carries it with him on every flight in a small flask, adding a small amount to every water bottle that he drinks. Of course, I was interested, so I tried his all-around preventive treatment, and in the past three years I haven't been sick once even during the cold and flu season.

I hope some of these suggestions will help. If you have any other tips, send them to me.

Fly safe and suffer no more.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, For more information about James, visit or send him an .