• Dr. Tania Dempsey

How To Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

The truth about why we always get sick after traveling

The number one reason people get sick from traveling is because of stress. Traveling can be very stressful for a lot of reasons: you don't like being on an airplane, you need to figure out what you are going to pack for carry-on vs. check-in, you need to sleep in a strange bed in a strange hotel in a strange city, and you might have to change time-zones and lose sleep either on the way there or the way back. Stress is a major trigger for getting sick. Stress lowers the immune system making it more difficult to fight off colds and other infections that you can be exposed to while traveling. Crowded airports and planes with people coughing and sneezing all around you is a surefire way to pick up a bug.

Why it is common for people to get sick when they're flying

It is common for people to get sick within a few days of flying. There are several reasons for this. For one, travel can be stressful and can interfere with your normal sleep cycle. This can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick. In addition, planes are breeding grounds for germs. Everything from the tray tables, to hand rests, to pockets in the back of the seats, to the lavatory. Every surface on a plane can be loaded with bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can make you sick.

What really causes you to get sick on planes

One thing that was once thought to be the cause of many illnesses acquired during travel is the air in the plane. It is often said that the air is recirculated throughout the plane and this air carries the infections from other passengers that you eventually breathe in. Actually, this is only half true. 50% of the air comes from outside the plane brought in by compressors in the jet engine. That other 50% is recycled air that passes through HEPA filters 15-30 times an hour, so it is pretty clean. What is more likely to get people sick on planes is the surfaces that they touch. You are more likely to get sick from your seat and the area around it then you are from someone that is sick in another section of the plane.

Use these travel hacks to protecting yourself from getting sick on a plane while traveling:

1) Bring hand sanitizers, wipes and disinfecting clothes in your carry-on bag. Wipe down all the hard surfaces around your seat. Use your hand wipes after using the bathroom on the plane, since the surface around the sink has the greatest number of germs so washing your hands might not be enough. In addition, the water itself might not be clean. The EPA has found coliform bacteria, like E.coli, in the water supply on some planes. Hand washing is important in preventing illness. In a pinch, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer might be a decent substitute but there is nothing like good old soap and water to wash away germs that you might have picked up while touching door handles, railings or toilet seats while traveling in an airport.

2) Stay hydrated. Drink enough water before, during and after the flight, since flying can be dehydrating. Planes have very low humidity so it can dry out mucus membranes and airways, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to get into the respiratory tract. Drinking enough water, at least 1 cup for every hour in the air, can help prevent the dryness of the air from causing an issue. Avoid coffee, soda other caffeinated beverages and alcohol that can dehydrate you even more.

3) Avoid eating sugar and processed foods. Sugar and processed foods can suppress the immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick.

4) Sleep. Keep your sleep schedule consistent and aim for 8 hours of sleep to help maintain a strong immune system. If your travel takes you to another time zone, expose yourself to daylight and avoid taking naps so that you can get to sleep in time.

#health #stress