Why Do I Always Catch a Cold When I Fly?

Well, it’s happened again! I have a slight cold! UGH! Without fail, I catch a cold nearly every time I fly. So, I decided to do some research to find out why, and interestingly, many travelers reported that they seem to get sick every time they fly, too. Why?

According to a new study, it’s not because of the type of air on board. Whether your plane circulates fresh air – or re-circulates cabin air – it doesn’t seem to make a difference. More likely, it’s the confined space of the aircraft, says Derek Johnson, MD, assistant professor of pediatric allergy and clinical immunology at Temple University Children’s Medical Center in Philadelphia. “It doesn’t matter if you’re breathing re-circulated or fresh air. If the germs are there, you’re going to get sick,” he tells WebMD.

YUCK! Just imagine – hundreds of people spend hours packed into a small space, sharing desert-dry air that dehydrates sinus cavities and inhibits the ability to fight germs. Plus, airplanes are really dirty – dozens of different people in them every day touching the tray tables and arm rests, and leaving their germs behind. And while the planes are cleaned up every night, they’re not sanitized. Droplets in the air, like when somebody sneezes, are one of the big causes of colds, but actually touching stuff that people with colds have touched, like the tray tables or arm rests, are even worse and are the more likely culprits. If you touch a cold virus germ, then touch your face, you’ve exposed yourself to the virus.

It’s actually pretty disgusting, and it’s no wonder I always seem to catch some dang cold.

To help prevent catching colds, you must wash your hands frequently. Get up out of your seat and wash those hands FREQUENTLY in that tiny, little bathroom, or bring hand sanitizer and sanitize! Unfortunately, if you’re like me and prone to catching colds, you will pick them up on planes.

Some other tips I discovered:

– Avoid eating on the plane if you can

– Take some extra vitamin C to keep your immune system up

– Avoid touching your face

– Drink lots of water or fruit juice while on the flight

– Avoid caffeine and carbohydrated drinks that contain lots of sugar (which will dehydrate you), and especially alcohol, as this dehydrates you the most

– Disinfect surfaces to prevent the spread of viral and bacterial infections (I actually saw a woman doing this once and thought it was over the top, but now I will be doing the same thing!)

– Turn the air nozzle to a medium air flow and point it in front of your “face space,” with the idea of creating turbulence that could jettison any stray microbes

Now that summer is upon us, I’m sure we’ll eventually find ourselves on a plane, so I hope this helps you stay healthy! Happy traveling!

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