Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Staying healthy during travel

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‘Tis the season to travel more and get exposure to more colds and flu. What can you do about it? Many people swear that they get colds right after airplane travel. There’s some evidence to suggest that air travel does increase your chances of getting sick. But there are some measures you can take to prevent them.

It’s a common belief that we catch colds because of close proximity to so many other people in a closed space, some of whom are coughing and sneezing. Other reasons are that public surfaces are not properly cleaned or disinfected. But the culprit may be something else: low cabin humidity. As we all know, airplane cabins are notoriously dry, and this causes our throat and nasal passage, which is our first line of defense, to be devoid of moisture, and less able to fight off germs. “Most commercial planes fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs at 10 percent or lower. At very low levels of humidity, the “natural defense system” of mucus in our nose and throat is compromised,” allowing germs to take up residence. Our mucociliary clearance system, which is made up of the tiny hairs and mucosal lining, is what fights off harmful germs and bacteria.

Read for more details.

So what you can do to prevent colds and flu and jet set to your heart’s delight? A few simple measures can make the difference between a healthy holiday and one spent between the sheets.

  • Stay hydrated! Water or hot drinks like herbal tea are best, since coffee and alcohol can be dehydrating. Hot drinks are especially effective, since they fire up our system to produce more moisture in the mucosal lined passages. Sipping water throughout the flight is more effective than drinking a large amount before or after your cabin time.
  • Nasal mists, like Ayr, can also be effective at maintaining moist nasal passages, and thus fortifying one of our first lines of defense.
  • Wash hands frequently with hot water, soap and even alcohol-based wipes like Purell. Because we share armrests, remote controls, bathroom surfaces, and tray tables, microorganisms can be transmitted easily and make us more prone to sickness. Using alcohol based wipes may make it easier to keep hands clean during long flights, so you don’t make enemies with your seat-mates.
  • Rinse with mouthwash with help kills germs and keep your throat moist during the flight.
  • Take vitamin C in any form, like Emergen-C or Airborne. This is another tried and true remedy to ward off colds during travel. Although there’s no conclusive evidence regarding these remedies, many travelers say they work well.
  •  Wear a face mask to prevent transmission of airborne microorganisms. This can be effective, although this may be difficult for many of us who may already be feeling confined or claustrophobic during a flight.
  • Wear compression socks to avoid deep vein thrombosis during long flights. Although this falls under a different category of staying healthy, it’s important to note that long periods of little or no movement of your legs and body can result in this potentially life-threatening condition. Long car, bus, or plane rides can cause the blood to pool and potentially clot, setting the stage for this event.
  • Use ear plugs for changes in elevation during flights and rides through varying elevations. This can help prevent earaches. Ear-planes or Flite-mate are two common brands.
  • A first aid kit can be extremely useful for those unexpected cuts, bruises or any variety of mishaps that may happen when exploring new places. Compact, lightweight kits can be found at any drugstore.
  • For those lucky travelers headed to sunny climes, use polarized sunglasses and sunscreen of at least 30 UVA strength; above this is considered of little value. 30 is a minimum to protect against those UV rays that are damaging to skin and eyes.
  • Insect repellent with at least 15-30% of DEET, although heavy-duty, is a must for those traveling to places at risk of bites from mosquitoes that are more dangerous than the DEET itself. The only other substance that proved as effective was Picaridin,  (at least 20%) which is a synthetic formula from the black pepper plant. Both can be found online, and were rated by Consumer Reports as being the most effective ways to keep both ticks and mosquitoes at bay.

So, eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy your travels wherever you may be headed. With a few precautions, you’ll arrive at your destination robust and ready to tackle whatever challenges may lay ahead!

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