woman sneezing at airport

Holiday Travel Doesn’t Have to Mean Holiday Sniffles

It never fails. After making your way through airport security, through the sea of fellow holiday travelers to your gate, and then to your seat on the plane that will carry you home to family, it happens.

The person seated next to you begins sneezing. And coughing. And generally looking miserable. And through gritted teeth, you sigh and know that in a few days, you’ll be doing just the same.

A 2015 survey of 1,000 people by Crowdtap revealed that 66 percent said they’d be traveling for the holidays. Of those who said they’d be traveling, 82 percent said they worried about getting sick during their travels, but only 48 percent said they’d reconsider taking that trip if they came down with a bug.

In other words, 66 percent of America will be traveling this holiday season, and 48 percent of them will be schlepping along a whole host of germs.

And traveling can also set the body up for circumstances ripe for being at less-than-optimum immune health, said Arash Tirandaz, M.D., who is an internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

“Often when you travel you are tired, have not slept well, are slightly dehydrated due to the air pressure issues on a plane,” he said.  “You may have a lot of stress as you are worried about your travel.”

“You are also in a compact space and if you sit next to someone sick — due to your poor immune stress from sleep, dehydration, fatigue, and stress and everything else, you are more likely to get sick,” Tirandaz added.

There are several ways to try to avoid coming down with someone else’s bug. First stop? Make sure your immunizations are up-to-date, especially your flu shot.

“Everyone above the age of 6 months must get an annual flu vaccine,” said Edward Goodman, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas. And since the shot can take up to two weeks to reach full efficacy, it’s wise to plan ahead.

And know the signs and symptoms of the flu: fever, headache, fatigue, chills, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle aches and stiffness.

The Centers for Disease Control also has information regarding whether you should travel based on your health. You might want to nix that trip if you’re feeling ill and your symptoms include any of the following: a fever of 100° F or greater, a persistent and severe cough, diarrhea, or vomiting.

“Some airlines check for visibly sick passengers in the waiting area and during boarding. If you look like you may be sick, the airline may not let you get on the plane,” the CDC warns.

If you’re feeling fine, Tirandaz recommends relaxing about your travel plans and also mentions one time-honored way to avoid sickness: “Don’t get stressed out about travel — relax and everything will be OK,” he said. “Wash your hands and if you are sick use a face mask to prevent others from getting sick.”

And don’t skimp on the water. “Increase your fluids, and don’t skip meals prior to travel,” Tirandaz added. “If you suffer from allergies or sinus congestion use Sudafed or Afrin right before travel to open up your sinuses.”

Learn more about how to combat germs this winter by reading “Greet the Season, Not the Germs.”

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