Created on: October 08, 2008 Last Updated: February 13, 2009
Travelers are haunted by many different fears while getting on an airplane, but one of the most realistic is often overlooked: germs. While the stories about stale, recirculated air are a myth (commercial airplanes actually circulate the air more often than most office buildings), a plane is still a perfect place to pick up germs and viruses. A large number of strangers packed into a small space for an extended period of time are bound to share more than conversation. So how can you protect yourself?
First, it's important to prepare before your flight. Try adding extra Vitamin C and probiotics (either a supplement or fortified yogurt) to your diet the week before your flight. Get a good night's sleep the night before, because a well-rested immune system is a stronger immune system. Being well rested will also help you deal with the stress of traveling, and recent studies suggest that stress can weaken your defenses. It's also important to drink plenty of fluids the day of your flight. Airplane air is notoriously dry, so being fully hydrated will keep your energy reserves and immune system strong.
Once you are on board, there is still more you can do to protect yourself. If the person next to you or behind you is sneezing or coughing, don't be afraid to ask the flight attendant if you can move your seat. They may not be able to accommodate you, but it can't hurt to try, and surprisingly few people do.
We are constantly being warned to wash our hands often to avoid exposing ourselves to germs and viruses by touching our eyes, nose, or mouth. This is not very practical in flight. Bring hand wipes with you, and be sure to use them before you eat. Be careful throughout the flight to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth as little as possible, if at all. Be conscious of the fact that arm rests, seat backs, meal trays, etc. have been touched by millions of people and you will probably pick up something when you touch them, so it is important that the spread stops at your hands.
Keep in mind one fact about the pillows and blankets available on commercial airliners. They have been slept on, sat on, drooled on, and who knows what else, and they are not cleaned enough. Don't even consider using them! Dress in layers that allow you to adapt to the temperature in the cabin, and use a jacket or sweater as a substitute pillow.
If your flight is longer than half an hour, it's a good idea to get up and stretch at intervals during the flight. In addition to keeping you limber and making sure your joints will still work when the plane lands, moving around will get your blood pumping, circulating oxygen more efficiently to every cell in your body and keeping your defenses strong.
After your flight, continue to drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate yourself. Try to take it easy (as much as you can!) after the flight. Flying does put physical stress on your body, so you need to give it time to recover. Many people also recommend irrigating your nasal passages with a saline spray or wash to clear any germs you inhaled before they work their way into your system.
Flying can be a stressful situation that exposes a traveler to many opportunities to get sick. A strong and well-rested immune system, in addition to careful in-flight hygiene, can get you to your destination with your good health intact.
Learn more about this author, Kimberly Schiller.
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