On Sunday, a report surfaced stating an American Airlines jet evacuated all their passengers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport when a passenger “passed gas”, making other passengers sick. Airline officials however refuted it saying the plane was not evacuated and a medical call came in because of an “odor” on a plane.
Many passengers complained of nausea and headaches, which brings up the question: If someone did pass gas, can farts make you sick?
What’s in a fart?
Flatus, or flatulence, is commonly called a “fart”. Flatus is made up of multiple gases obtained from swallowing and produced by the microbes lining the intestine. These include hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane.
Flatus odor, however, is caused from minor sulfur gas components including hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide and others.
Image from Physics Stack Exchange
Can farts make you sick?
Studies have found that bacteria passed from flatus will grow on a petrie dish but that clothes provide a filter. Reports of pink eye being obtained from a pillow case soiled in flatus are anecdotal.
However, nausea and headaches can happen. The hydrogen sulfide, depending on the dose, can cause headaches, nausea, skin and eye irritation. In toxic doses, hydrogen sulfide (which has the characteristic rotten egg odor) can cause convulsions, delirium and death. But hydrogen sulfide comprises such a minute amount in flatus that no one would become that ill by smelling it.
Can farts be beneficial?
For the farter, yes. It assists in movement of the stool and passing it can help prevent bloating and constipation. However for the recipient of the smell, it may be beneficial too.
In 2014, a study from Exeter University, found the hydrogen sulfide in gas to HELP cells recover from mitochondrial damage, allowing their energy powerhouses to continue working. Researchers believe this could help repair the damage in heart disease, stroke, dementia and many other diseases.
Yet before you ask your buddy to do you a solid, wait for more research. And if you need to exit a plane due to fart smell, breathe into your shirt and wait until the plane lands before disembarking. I think many of us can admit to loads of experience with this one……