As summer vacation time approaches, many of us will be heading to the airport to embark on a relaxing trip in an exotic location. While traveling by air does allow more time to spend at your destination, it can take a toll on your body. In theory, spring breaks and summer vacations should be a rejuvenating break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, I see many patients who come back from trips with a cold or flu. Here are five tips for staying healthy while traveling by airplane:
• Have a healthy immune system before you leave. While traveling by plane is the quickest mode of transportation for long trips, you also are in a small space with large groups of people who may or may not be sick. Give your immune system a boost before your trip even starts by making sure you are well-rested, eating right, taking a daily multiple vitamin and getting lots of exercise. It is never recommended to fly while ill, especially with a head cold, because of not being able to clear your ears or sinuses. This can lead to very painful ear and head pain and possibly rupture of your ear drum.
• Avoid stomach problems. While traveling, many people find themselves dealing with the uncomfortable problems of diarrhea or constipation, which often are caused by changes in diet. While a slice of pizza or a burger might be tempting while waiting for your flight, eat a salad or something rich in fiber to avoid stomach problems later. Once you reach your destination, try to abide by your normal diet as much as possible. An occasional splurge is acceptable during vacations so have some treats, but make sure the majority of your meals contain fruit, vegetables and protein.
• Stay hydrated. A cocktail might sound relaxing once you are in the air, but it also can cause dehydration. The air in aircrafts is dry to begin with, and alcohol only worsens the effects and could cause headaches and drowsiness. If you really want a drink, have only one during the flight and balance it out with two glasses of water. A good rule of thumb to stay hydrated when flying is to consume 6-8 ounces of water per hour of flight time.
• Stretch your legs. Most people become uncomfortable after sitting in the cramped seating arrangements during a long flight, but it especially is important for pregnant women to stretch during even a short flight. Expectant mothers should try to get up every hour and walk up the aisle to help prevent swelling. And they should avoid salty foods-like peanuts and pretzels-and instead bring their own fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water. It is always advisable for all adults to perform stretching exercises while seated, and ambulate when allowed by the flight crew and the flying conditions. Keep in mind air turbulence can occur at anytime, even in clear weather conditions, and you could injure yourself if you are unrestrained.
• Carry on your germ defense army. As you pack your carry-on bag, make sure you have a few essentials to staying healthy in flight, such as a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, tissues, eye drops and lip balm. You are more likely to touch your eyes and lips and carry germs to your face if they are dry. Also, bring your own pillow and blanket on board instead of using those handed out by the airline, which have been used by other passengers who could be sick.
If you have any health concerns before traveling, visit with your physician to discuss preventive travel medicine. If travel outside of the United States is planned, consult www.CDC.gov and look under Travel Medicine and the country (ies) that you wish to travel to. This website is an invaluable source of information on how to prepare to travel, during travel and after return to home base.
Dr. Daniel Callan is a family and occupational medicine specialist for Blount Memorial Business Health.