Traveling can take a major toll on your body. Whether you’re traveling across the country for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation or you’re traveling a few states away to visit a distant relative, making the trek may lead you to catching what is known as the “airplane cold.” There have been various studies on this phenomenon, including research from The Wall Street Journal and the The Journal of Environmental Health Research.
The Wall Street Journal found that traveling by airplane can increase the odds of catching a cold by up to 20 percent. The Journal of Environmental Health Research conducted a study that found colds to be 113 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during regular life on the ground. According to the latter study, it’s easier for someone to catch a cold on an airplane due to the lower cabin humidity (which is said to be caused by the high altitude that planes fly at). But how high do most commercial airplanes fly? Usually between an elevation of 30,000 and 35,000 feet. At this altitude, humidity can run up to 10 percent lower, and while this number may seem low, it can have a tremendous effect on the human body.
When humans are placed in an environment with low levels of humidity (even just 10 percent lower than normal), it causes our natural defense systems to weaken. The mucus in our throats and noses will start to dry up, thus establishing a tolerant environment for cold and flu germs to reside.
If you’re wondering how you can avoid catching the airplane cold while traveling this holiday season, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a look at a list of tips and tricks that will help you ward off unwanted germs and keep your immune system strong while traveling this year.
Wash Your Hands
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people rush through the airport without ever taking the time to wash their hands.
As soon as you arrive at the airport, you start touching a myriad of things. First, you have to check-in for your flight, so you search for the appropriate airline ticket counter and make your way to a self-help kiosk, where you can print your flight ticket and any airline bag tickets you may need. As you touch the computer screen that thousands have touched before you, you don’t give much thought to the germs you’ve just picked up, and you make your way to the security line. Here, you’ll be asked to take off your shoes, which are one of the biggest carriers of germs. Once you make it through security, you decide to stop at a nearby airport kiosk for a snack. You shuffle through the different bags of chips, hand the cashier a few dollars and some change (money is one of the worst germ culprits out there), and you’re on your merry way to your gate.
Luckily, the simple act of washing your hands with water and soap is one of the best ways to avoid the transfer of harmful microorganisms. William Spangler, M.D., the Global Medical Director with AIG Travel, says, “Washing hands with soap and water is always the best choice, but hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent has absolutely been proven to be effective against reducing the number of microbes. Nowadays, there are so many options to choose from and I would strongly encourage travelers to have a hand sanitizer with them at all times. Attaching it to either a handbag or carry-on luggage is the best option, so it is easily accessible while traveling.”
Do Your Best To Ward Off Stress
To say that traveling is stressful would be an understatement. There are many details that go into planning a trip, like booking your airplane ticket, figuring out airport parking options, waiting in a never-ending security line, and making sure you’ve packed all of the essentials. According to Dr. Myles Druckman, an acclaimed author on international health risks and a leader of International SOS Assistance, Inc., there are many reasons why people get stressed during travel. “The reasons why [we get sick] include the added stressors of travel like jet-lag, dehydration, heavy lifting and for many, and increased physical activity,” he says.
Touch As Little As Possible On The Plane
Making it through the airport germ-free is one thing, but making it through your flight is another. Airplanes experience such a large traffic flow of people each day, some of the surfaces that are commonly touched by flyers can be incredibly filthy.
Don’t believe us? Maybe you’ll trust an expert. Jennifer Lu, DO, a medical physician at St. Jude Medical Center in California states, “The tray tables in front of you and the control knobs for the overhead vents have been shown to have the highest number of bacteria. You can decrease the number of germs in these areas by using a disinfecting wipe. If you don’t have those handy, avoid touching your face or eating without washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer first. At the very least, don’t eat food directly off the surface of the table. Use a napkin as a barrier between your food and the table.”
Drink Plenty Of Water
Did you know that drinking water does much more than keep your body hydrated? Drinking plenty of water has actually been shown to strengthen the body’s preemptive immune mechanisms to function at a higher rate. If you drink enough water before, during, and after your travels, it will help to counter the effects of dehydration, such as headaches, cramps, fatigue, and stomach issues.
If you’re thinking about downing a ton of water before your flight, it is recommended that you sip water throughout your journey instead. This can be more effective at fighting off the airplane cold, since you’re being proactive about protecting your system from long, dry spells.
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