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Some Helpful Tips When You’re Sick Of Getting Sick When You Travel

traveling when sick

It’s cold and flu season, and if you didn’t notice that by looking around at your dripping, sneezing friends and family, you’ll definitely become aware of the situation if you’re passing through an airport. There may be nothing worse than waking up, mouth agape, from a plane nap to a cacophony of phlegmy coughs rattling throughout the rows of contagious passengers.

Are winter travelers doomed to catch whatever the the hell PhlehgmBoi in 17D has? Maybe. “You’re more likely to catch an illness or infection while traveling,”says Dr. Constantine George, EPITOMEDICAL Chief Medical Officer and founder of the doctors on demand app, Vēdius. “Whether you’re flying in an airplane and forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with so many people in a closed cabin, or driving from city to city with a disrupted sleep schedule while exposing your body to new germs and environments, traveling puts much stress on your immune system. Studies show you’re anywhere from 20 to 113 percent more likely to catch a cold while traveling.” Which means you need to be proactive.

The odds are not stacked in your favor when you’re on the road, so we interviewed medical professionals about how to avoid the plague as best as possible. Here’s what they told us.

Don’t let stress get to you
Getting to the airport is stressful. Waiting to check your bag is stressful. Going through security is stressful. That stress is bad for body business. “The reasons why [we get sick] include the added stressors of travel like jet-lag, dehydration, heavy lifting and for many, increased physical activity,” says Dr. Myles Druckman, a published author on international health risks and a head honcho at International SOS Assistance, Inc. “Just the stress or fear of flying can increase risk of illness.” U.S. Olympic Sports Nutrition Consultant Dr. Mike Israetel agrees. “First of all, be as stress free as you can,” he says. “Whatever about traveling you can’t change, don’t worry! And if you can relax, do it.”

Wash your damn hands
Literally all of the surveyed doctors mentioned the basic Health 101 suggestion of washing your hands often, and for 20 seconds at a time. Don’t just focus on your palms, but scrub those filthy fingers, too. If you can’t find a sink for hand washing, go for hand sanitizer as a backup. “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,” says William Spangler, M.D., Global Medical Director with AIG Travel. “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.”

Consider the mask
It could help to put a barrier between you and the rest of the germy world. “You could wear a mask, but in the US that is usually not something people are very comfortable doing,” says Devon Davis, MD, Director of Medical Operations with travel risk and crisis management firm Global Rescue. “In other places like Asia, mask-wearing is quite accepted, particularly during a high illness season. Sometimes, though, there’s not much you can do about your seatmate coughing in your space except to try to change seats—if you’re lucky.”

Nobody wants to suddenly come down with the flu on day 1 of vacation.

It’s cold and flu season, and if you didn’t notice that by looking around at your dripping, sneezing friends and family, you’ll definitely become aware of the situation if you’re passing through an airport. There may be nothing worse than waking up, mouth agape, from a plane nap to a cacophony of phlegmy coughs rattling throughout the rows of contagious passengers.

Are winter travelers doomed to catch whatever the the hell PhlehgmBoi in 17D has? Maybe. “You’re more likely to catch an illness or infection while traveling,”says Dr. Constantine George, EPITOMEDICAL Chief Medical Officer and founder of the doctors on demand app, Vēdius. “Whether you’re flying in an airplane and forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with so many people in a closed cabin, or driving from city to city with a disrupted sleep schedule while exposing your body to new germs and environments, traveling puts much stress on your immune system. Studies show you’re anywhere from 20 to 113 percent more likely to catch a cold while traveling.” Which means you need to be proactive.

The odds are not stacked in your favor when you’re on the road, so we interviewed medical professionals about how to avoid the plague as best as possible. Here’s what they told us.

Don’t let stress get to you
Getting to the airport is stressful. Waiting to check your bag is stressful. Going through security is stressful. That stress is bad for body business. “The reasons why [we get sick] include the added stressors of travel like jet-lag, dehydration, heavy lifting and for many, increased physical activity,” says Dr. Myles Druckman, a published author on international health risks and a head honcho at International SOS Assistance, Inc. “Just the stress or fear of flying can increase risk of illness.” U.S. Olympic Sports Nutrition Consultant Dr. Mike Israetel agrees. “First of all, be as stress free as you can,” he says. “Whatever about traveling you can’t change, don’t worry! And if you can relax, do it.”

Wash your damn hands
Literally all of the surveyed doctors mentioned the basic Health 101 suggestion of washing your hands often, and for 20 seconds at a time. Don’t just focus on your palms, but scrub those filthy fingers, too. If you can’t find a sink for hand washing, go for hand sanitizer as a backup. “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,” says William Spangler, M.D., Global Medical Director with AIG Travel. “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.”

Consider the mask
It could help to put a barrier between you and the rest of the germy world. “You could wear a mask, but in the US that is usually not something people are very comfortable doing,” says Devon Davis, MD, Director of Medical Operations with travel risk and crisis management firm Global Rescue. “In other places like Asia, mask-wearing is quite accepted, particularly during a high illness season. Sometimes, though, there’s not much you can do about your seatmate coughing in your space except to try to change seats—if you’re lucky.”

Know that airplane food isn’t doing you any favors
None of the health experts seemed too concerned about the safety of food served on airplanes, however that doesn’t mean it’s particularly healthy for you. “Unless you travel with an airline in their first class cabin, many of the options are principally processed, energy dense but nutritionally poor options that do not support physiologic optimization,” says Dr. Ryan M. Greene, an osteopathic physician (D.O.) and medical advisor for The Madera Group. “If you can bring your own nutritious food options, those tend to be better tasting and also better for you. Seeking out whole food, plant-based options when available are excellent and easily transported options that can sustain one while waiting for travel or during a flight.”

Touch as little as humanly possible
You know what’s gross about an airplane? A lot. “The surfaces that people frequently touch are the dirtiest surfaces on the plane,” says Jennifer Lu, DO, Family Medicine physician with St. Jude Heritage Medical Group and St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California. “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.” Basically just….don’t touch anything, and you’ll be fine.

 

 

By Natalie B. Compton

 

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