Flying with low hemoglobin

A myeloma list member asked me if I would publish the following question: has anyone with low hemoglobin ever been on a long flight? If so, he would appreciate receiving details, advice etc. (If you don’t want to leave a public comment, please use my Contact form…I will forward any messages to him).

His wife, whose hemoglobin is 7.5 g/dL, is planning a trip from Japan to Los Angeles, U.S.A. The airline, however, informed her that she cannot take any supplemental oxygen on board unless she applies for permission three months in advance.

I found a couple of items on this topic just now: Patients with anemia must undergo medical assessment before embarking on a flight. Anyone with a hemoglobin level below 8.5 g per dL (85 g per L), as in sickle cell anemia, should have an oxygen supplement (see http://tinyurl.com/y962hax and also http://tinyurl.com/ybgnetf).

I am not sure what I would do if I were in her shoes…but, after reading the above-mentioned links, flying without supplemental oxygen sounds a bit risky to me…even though the second link states only that it is “generally advised” to have some extra oxygen on hand…Any  further thoughts? Thanks!

11 Comments

  1. I’ve flown with a hemoglobin level of 8.0, and had no problems. I wasn’t aware that my hem level was that low, and I didn’t know that that would be a problem. I don’t get up and move around on the plane, and it was a short flight.

    Can’t they get an exemption for the oxygen? I see people with oxy tanks on occasion waiting for planes. My mom was on oxygen for a while, and she had her tank on the plane. It was a hassle as I remember, but it can be done.

    Follow doctor’s orders, I would say.

    As for flying with a compromised immune system, I do it all of the time. I have to. I am in a clinical trial in San Diego (I’m in Sacramento), and I go once a week.

    I wear a N95 mask, I sit as far from people as I can, and I pray.

    So far, so good.

    I did the plane bit once years ago w/o a mask, and I ended up in the hospital for a week with an infection of some sort. And that was when I was healthier than I am now.

    The doc hasn’t said anything about me flying with a very, very low neutrophil level.

  2. I would think that breathing from your 02 tank, might actually reduce the probability of catching something from the cabin air. I know that ever since I have started using a CPAP machine at night, I haven’t caught any colds from my husband, despite sharing a bed when he’s ill. Apparently the CPAP machine sucks in air that is sufficiently distant from him (about 5 to 6 feet from his side of the bed.) Be sure to wash your hands, too, as soon as you deplane.

  3. Hi,

    I have had quite severe anemia (Hem. around 5.4 – 6) for about 15 years due to heavy periods. It has only recently occurred to me to question it’s effect on flying after going from UK to Create, 4h flight and finding a problem with my legs and body swelling (not painful but not a good look in a bikini either!).
    In the years prior to that I have taken many flights, UK-Europe (3-5h)/ UK – USA (7-9h)/ UK – Far East(13h) with no real problems other than the usual grotty jet lag. I don’t drink alcohol but do have plenty of water.
    Having said that I have adapted quite significantly to my condition to the point where I do not look at all ill, gallop horses on the beach and do all kinds of things which the text books and the doctors would consider impossible. However I am very involved with the world of alternative medicine and healing which I feel perhaps gives me an advantage in dealing with it.
    I may be the exception to the rule and I can only dream of having a hem. as high as 7.5. I think your friend needs to make an assessment of how robust she feels in herself and how well and long she has adapted to the condition. Text books are very standardized, don’t let them frighten her into missing out on life but don’t ignore what her body’s senses are telling her either way.
    Hope this helps.

  4. HI. been in middle east for 4 months and due to fly home for xmas. Been feeling excessively tired last week due to excessive period bleed, Haemoglobin is 4 and doc recommends not flying, but as you can imagine it’s my first time working abroad and I want to be home for christmas. Don’t know how often you check this site.

  5. Hi i have problem with mu hemoglobin due to heavy period , just now finishing with it , it was not a bad as last month own and at that my level was 11.5 not sure what it is now but im taking a flight in a few days and not sure if i should. The flight is only an hour and twenty minutes any suggestion.

  6. Working on deciding this as well. Undergoing chemo for lymphoma (6 rounds over ~4 months) and Hb varies with lows below 8.0 (U.S. scale) but some short term post-chemo bounces in the 9’s. Also, very low WBC, total neutrophil counts, platelets. Looking at flights within 3 hours flying time to avoid O2 on board, although not sure flying time is all that relevant. Feels like it would be. Since I cannot predict what my Hb will be 8 weeks from now, tracking my numbers seems to be the only thing I can do. Then canceling or transfusing if I need to when the time comes.

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