More Americans will be traveling on airlines and staying in hotels or AirBNB in the future and as a result are at risk for travel-related illnesses that can be avoided. It is estimated that one in five airline passengers will develop a cold within a week of flying on an airplane. This article will discuss some of the common ailments that can occur as a result of travel and what can be done to avoid them.
Many people believe large numbers of passengers in a confined space will result in breathing contaminated air. However, in most newer model planes, as much as 50% of cabin air passes through multiple filters, which capture 99.9% of particles. The real culprit has more to do with armrests, tray tables and everything else that passengers touch that contain bacteria/germs which can live for up to a week.
Solution: Swipe a disinfectant wipe over your tray table and armrests before eating or touching your face. I also recommend that you wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
If you are in an airplane for several hours, you are going to get sore even if you use a neck pillow. But if you move around, you can minimize stiffness and dangerous blood clots in your legs.
Solution: Get up and walk around every hour. That’s why it’s best to request an aisle seat. Another in the seat exercise is to place a tennis ball between your back and the seat and shift your body to roll the ball around. This will act like a mini-massage to loosen up your back muscles and provide a source of relaxation.
Overindulging throughout the trip may lead to stomach upset like bloating, constipation and the dreaded weight gain, especially after a cruise with unlimited food and limited exercise.
Suggestion: I suggest you look for healthy ingredients prepared but in a unique fashion so that the meals still feel special. Instead of entrées with heavy cream sauces, I recommend selecting fish or chicken with vegetables and fresh fruit for dessert. You might even consider bringing your own low salt spices like Mrs. Dash.
Drinking excessive alcohol on the plane or on the road can lead to the painful hangover that makes you swear you will never drink that much again. Most of these kinds of hangovers are a result of dehydration. You can prevent these hangovers by requesting bottled water on the plane or taking along a collapsible bottle that you can fill after passing through the TSA checkpoint, then alternating every alcoholic beverage with 8-10 ounces of water.
Suggestions to avoid an illness after a trip includes giving yourself a day of rest between the trip and work. For example, don’t extend the trip for as long as possible. Doing so doesn’t give your body time to return to your usual sleep schedule, especially if you cross more than two time zones. I recommend that if you have to return to work on Monday after a week or more away, come back by Saturday evening. This will give you two nights to readjust to going to bed and waking up early, which will decrease the likelihood of transient insomnia.
Bottom Line: Travel is very enjoyable and is also very stimulating. However, it places you at risk for medical problems. Take a few of these suggestions to heart and you will have a much more enjoyable trip and return healthy and ready to return to work.
Dr. Neil Baum is a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane Medical School.
He can be reached at 504-891-8454 or
through his website, www.neilbaum.com