Staying healthy: 6 Tips to Avoid the "Airplane Cold"

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Cold/flu season is here, and one of the easiest places to spread germs is on an airplane. Many travelers have noticed an increased susceptibility to catching a cold after flying; it turns out this common perception is very much grounded in reality.

According to an extensive study published in the Journal for Environmental Health Research, colds are almost 100 times more likely to be transmitted on an airplane than during normal activities on the ground. The study’s authors speculate this is most likely due to three factors: close quarters, shared air, and (the most likely culprit) extremely low humidity, which reduces the body’s natural defences against germs. So, in the hopes of keeping your vacation a happy and healthy one, we thought we’d share a few tips on How to ward off the dreaded Airplane Cold.

1. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water before and during your flight will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, but can actually fortify your natural immune mechanisms to function better. On an airplane, where your nose and throat are your first line of defense against cold germs, staying hydrated will give your membranes a better chance of trapping germs.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these drinks will only exacerbate dehydration. Drink small amounts of water regularly to keep your throat from prolonged dry spells. Don’t rely on the drinks cart! Purchase a bottle of water (or fill up a reusable container) once you are through security.

2. Keep your hands clean. Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu and other germs. Scientists report that the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on objects such as armrests. However, the simple act of washing your hands with hot water and soap is a highly effective way to stop this transfer of harmful microorganisms.

If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight snacks or meals, and after your flight as well.

Of course frequent trips out of your seat and down the narrow airplane aisles aren’t always possible. The simple solution is to bring along a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which is easy and convenient to use. (You may want to bring a small bottle of moisturizer as well, to counteract the drying effects of the sanitizer.)

3. Use disinfectant (sparingly). When you first sit down at your seat, take a moment to give the plastic parts, like the armrests, a quick once over with a disinfectant wipe. Do the same with your seatback tray. There’s no need to be militant about this, but a simple wipe will lessen the risk of germ transmission, without raising your neighbour’s eyebrows.

4. Oral hygiene helps too. Just as keeping your hands clean can prevent germ transmission, using a germ-killing mouthwash in-flight may add another layer of protection while simultaneously helping to keep your throat moist. (Just make sure your mouthwash bottle is three ounces or smaller to comply with liquid carry-on rules.)

5. Take your vitamins. While not everyone buys into the efficacy of this drugstore remedy, many vitamin-takers report fewer and less severe colds. A regular multi-vitamin, or perhaps a dose of vitamin C and Echinacea won’t do you any wrong, and it might do your body good. The latest research suggests zinc can be helpful.

6. Wear a face mask. Airborne germs are one of the top two sources of cold virus infection; some travelers have taken to wearing masks either to prevent infection, or to avoid spreading germs if they are already infected. Not everyone is comfortable wearing a face mask (myself included!), but this may be an effective prevention tactic.

And now, precautions in place, you can relax and enjoy your vacation, hopefully cold-free.
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