Staying healthy while traveling by air
You’re trapped in a long metal tube with strangers who are coughing, hacking, sneezing, blowing noses – and with every breath, you’re taking in recirculated air. Yummy!
For all of its conveniences, air travel can also be a little like being stuck in a flying petri dish for as little as a few hours to, depending on the distance to your arrival destination, up to and beyond an entire day.
At best, you’re embarking on that long-deserved vacation to far-flung places. At worst, you’re returning from those far-flung places and have to be back at work tomorrow. At either end of the spectrum, you need to stay healthy. You don’t want to spend your hard-won time off huddled under the hotel blankets shaking through the chills. Conversely, you can’t call in sick to the office because you just used up all your time off sprawled out on a beach with limbs akimbo.
The question becomes: Outside of encasing yourself in a hermetically sealed, human-sized Ziploc baggie, how can you stay healthy on your flight? While there are no foolproof guarantees, there are a few helpful tips and suggestions that can serve as your vanguard against the onslaught of pathogens swirling around you in flight.
Be Mr. (or Mrs.) Clean
You don’t have to shave the noggin, sport a saucy gold-hoop earring and don an extremely tight white T-shirt to enact the spic-and-span treatment on your immediate surroundings. Pack some alcohol-based wipes in your carry-on and go to town on all flat surfaces including the armrests, seat belt and table tray. While you’re at it, a little hand sanitizer is always a safe bet before you eat or drink. Sure, you can wash your hands in the airplane restroom, but you still have to touch that doorknob don’t you?
Enjoy the view
Choose a window seat when making your flight reservation. In an article in the Washington Post, Quay Snyder, president and CEO of the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, noted that air comes into the cabin from the top and exits through floor vents by the windows, meaning that the person in the window seat benefits from that air flow. In addition, a 2018 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people in the window seat leave their seats less often and come in contact with fewer fellow passengers. As a bonus, people in the window seats don’t have to worry about someone climbing over them to get to the aisle or uncomfortably invading their personal space to check something in the overhead baggage area.
In the same Post article, Snyder made note of the low humidity levels on an airplane, which increases dehydration in some passengers. He suggested having a drink to counteract the humidity level, but steer clear of alcohol and caffeine because they can increase the production of urine as well as disrupt sleep and exacerbate jet lag. Due to altitude, less oxygen is getting to your brain, which can also expediate the effects of alcohol.
Particularly for longer flights, it’s important to get up every now and then and walk up and down the aisle. Airline passengers are at a higher risk for developing deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clot that typically forms in the legs. The jokes abound regarding the tight fit and lack of leg room of airplane seating outside of first class. But every cliché springs from a kernel of truth. There’s a reason deep vein thrombosis is also referred to as “economy class syndrome.”
Consult a medical professional
Altitude and pressure changes can cause difficulties for those who have recently been ill or underwent a surgical procedure. It may be a wise decision to consult a doctor about any concerns when making travel plans. With more than two-dozen locations, Great Lakes Bay Health Centers have been providing high-quality and affordable health care and health education services to the residents of the Great Lakes Bay region since 1968. For more information on how we can help you, visit greatlakesbayhealthcenters.org.
Fly the healthy skies.