Why Do I Have Heartburn After Flying

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If you have ever experienced heartburn after flying, you are not alone. Many people wonder why they have this uncomfortable sensation in their chest after being in the air. In this article, we will explore the possible causes of heartburn and its connection to flying. We will also discuss several contributing factors and ways to prevent and treat heartburn while traveling.

Understanding Heartburn: Causes and Symptoms

Before we dive into the specifics of heartburn and its relationship to flying, let’s first understand what heartburn is and its common causes.

Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. It can cause discomfort, pain, and a sour taste in the mouth.

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of heartburn:

  1. Consuming spicy or fatty foods
  2. Eating large meals
  3. Being overweight or obese
  4. Pregnancy
  5. Smoking

Let’s take a closer look at each of these causes:

1. Consuming spicy or fatty foods: Spicy and fatty foods can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that acts as a barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. When the LES is relaxed, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus, causing heartburn. Some common examples of spicy and fatty foods include chili peppers, fried foods, and high-fat dairy products.

2. Eating large meals: Consuming large meals can put pressure on the stomach, causing it to expand. This increased pressure can push stomach acid up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn. It is recommended to eat smaller, more frequent meals to prevent this from happening.

3. Being overweight or obese: Excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, which in turn can push stomach acid up into the esophagus. Losing weight can help alleviate this pressure and reduce the occurrence of heartburn.

4. Pregnancy: During pregnancy, hormonal changes can relax the LES, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. Additionally, the growing uterus can put pressure on the stomach, further contributing to heartburn. Pregnant women often experience heartburn, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.

5. Smoking: Smoking can weaken the LES and increase the production of stomach acid, making it easier for acid reflux to occur. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risk of heartburn and improve overall health.

Now, let’s explore how flying can exacerbate these causes and lead to heartburn.

The Connection Between Flying and Heartburn

Flying can affect our digestive system in different ways, ultimately leading to heartburn. Let’s take a closer look at two key factors: air pressure changes and stress or anxiety.

The Impact of Air Pressure Changes on Digestion

As we ascend or descend in an airplane, the atmospheric pressure changes rapidly. These pressure changes can create an imbalance in our digestive system, causing the stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.

But why does this happen? Well, our digestive system relies on a delicate balance of pressure to function properly. When the pressure in the cabin decreases during ascent, the gas in our stomach and intestines expands. This expansion can put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that acts as a valve between the stomach and the esophagus. If the LES becomes weakened or relaxed due to the pressure changes, stomach acid can easily flow back up into the esophagus, causing that uncomfortable burning sensation we know as heartburn.

Furthermore, the rapid changes in air pressure can also affect the movement of food through our digestive system. The peristaltic contractions, which propel food through the esophagus and intestines, may become disrupted. This disruption can slow down digestion and increase the chances of acid reflux and heartburn.

The Role of Stress and Anxiety in Heartburn

Traveling, particularly flying, can be a stressful experience for many individuals. The anxiety and stress associated with flying can trigger an increase in stomach acid production, leading to heartburn.

When we experience stress or anxiety, our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can stimulate the production of stomach acid, which is normally regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. The excess stomach acid can then irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Moreover, stress and anxiety can also affect our eating habits. Some people may turn to comfort foods or overeat when feeling stressed, which can further contribute to heartburn. Additionally, the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid breathing or shallow breathing, can lead to swallowing excess air. This excess air can cause bloating and increase the risk of acid reflux.

It’s important to note that while air pressure changes and stress/anxiety can contribute to heartburn during flights, there are ways to minimize the discomfort. Drinking plenty of water, avoiding spicy and fatty foods before and during the flight, practicing deep breathing exercises to reduce stress, and using over-the-counter antacids can help alleviate symptoms and make your flying experience more enjoyable.

Other Contributing Factors to Heartburn While Flying

In addition to air pressure changes and stress, there are other factors that can contribute to heartburn while flying. Let’s delve into two significant ones: airplane food and dehydration.

The Influence of Airplane Food on Heartburn

Airplane food is often high in fat and sodium, both of which can trigger heartburn. The combination of these ingredients can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus. This can lead to a burning sensation in the chest, commonly known as heartburn.

Furthermore, the limited options and irregular meal times during flights can disrupt our usual eating patterns, making us more susceptible to acid reflux. When we eat at irregular intervals or consume large meals, our stomachs produce more acid to break down the food. This excess acid can then travel back up the esophagus, causing discomfort and heartburn.

It is important to note that some individuals may also have specific food sensitivities or allergies that can trigger heartburn symptoms. For example, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and tomatoes are known to aggravate acid reflux in certain people. When these foods are included in airplane meals, it can further contribute to heartburn discomfort during flights.

Dehydration and Heartburn: A Hidden Connection

Dehydration can worsen heartburn symptoms. During a flight, the cabin’s low humidity levels, combined with the diuretic effects of caffeine and alcohol consumption, can lead to dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, it produces less saliva, which plays a crucial role in neutralizing stomach acid. As a result, the concentration of stomach acid increases, intensifying the burning sensation of heartburn.

Furthermore, dehydration can also affect the production of mucus in the stomach lining. Mucus acts as a protective barrier against stomach acid, preventing it from damaging the sensitive tissues of the esophagus. When dehydration occurs, the production of mucus decreases, leaving the esophagus more vulnerable to the corrosive effects of acid reflux.

In addition to the physical effects, dehydration can also lead to slower digestion. When the body lacks proper hydration, it can affect the movement of food through the digestive system, causing it to remain in the stomach for longer periods. This prolonged exposure to stomach acid increases the likelihood of acid reflux and heartburn.

To combat the effects of dehydration, it is essential to stay hydrated throughout the flight. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding excessive consumption of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can help maintain proper hydration levels and reduce the risk of heartburn.

Preventing Heartburn When Flying

While it may seem challenging to prevent heartburn when flying, there are steps you can take to reduce its likelihood. Let’s explore a couple of prevention strategies.

Dietary Adjustments to Prevent Heartburn

Avoiding spicy, fatty, and acidic foods before and during the flight can significantly reduce the chances of heartburn. Opt for lighter, non-greasy meals and snacks. It’s also helpful to eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid overeating.

When it comes to specific food choices, consider opting for foods that are known to be gentle on the stomach. For example, you might choose to have a salad with grilled chicken or a sandwich with lean turkey and vegetables. These options provide essential nutrients without overwhelming your digestive system.

In addition to making smart food choices, it’s important to be mindful of your eating habits. Eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly can help ease digestion and minimize the risk of heartburn. Taking the time to savor each bite can also enhance your overall dining experience.

Importance of Hydration and Movement

Staying hydrated is crucial when flying to prevent heartburn. Drink plenty of water and minimize the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration.

Hydration not only helps in preventing heartburn but also aids in overall comfort during the flight. Dry cabin air can cause dryness in the throat and nasal passages, leading to discomfort. By drinking enough water, you can keep your body hydrated and maintain a more pleasant flying experience.

Furthermore, taking short walks during the flight can aid digestion and alleviate the discomfort often associated with heartburn. Moving around helps stimulate blood flow and prevents stagnation, which can contribute to digestive issues. Stretch your legs, walk down the aisle, and do some simple exercises to keep your body active and your digestion in check.

Additionally, consider doing some light stretches or practicing deep breathing exercises while seated. These simple movements can help relax the muscles in your abdomen and promote healthy digestion.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to managing heartburn while flying. By making smart dietary choices, staying hydrated, and keeping your body in motion, you can minimize the chances of experiencing discomfort and enjoy a more pleasant journey.

Treatment Options for Heartburn

If despite your preventive efforts, you still experience heartburn while flying, there are treatment options available. Let’s explore two common approaches: over-the-counter medications and natural remedies.

Over-the-Counter Medications for Heartburn

Antacids, such as Tums or Maalox, can provide temporary relief from heartburn symptoms. They work by neutralizing stomach acid. It’s important to follow the instructions and consult a healthcare professional if needed.

Natural Remedies for Heartburn

Several natural remedies may help alleviate heartburn symptoms while flying. These include ginger tea, chamomile tea, and chewing gum. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that natural remedies may not work for everyone, and consulting a healthcare professional is always advised.


Heartburn after flying can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. Understanding the causes, such as air pressure changes, stress, airplane food, and dehydration, can help implement preventive measures. By making dietary adjustments, staying hydrated, and considering over-the-counter medications or natural remedies, you can significantly reduce the likelihood and severity of heartburn while flying. Remember, if you have persistent heartburn or are unsure about the appropriate treatment, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

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