|Catching a Flight? Don't Catch a Cold
USA Weekend Magazine, November 19, 2006
by Susan T. Lennon
Flying home for the holidays? You are up to 113 times more likely to leave the airplane with a cold than if you'd stayed on the ground, according to a University of Victoria, Canada, study.
And, if you already have a cold when you board, it will probably get worse. “Pressure differences during the flight plug up your inner ears and sinuses,” explains Neil Schachter, MD, author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu, “so when you step off the plane feeling terrible, you’re not imagining it.”
Take steps to protect yourself, prevent infection and minimize symptoms:
DECREASE PRESSURE EFFECTS – Schachter recommends taking an antihistamine if you have any sign of a cold. Decongestants also work, but can raise blood pressure.
STAY HYDRATED – Keep your mucus membranes working despite the dry air by sipping water throughout the flight (hot beverages are especially effective but avoid caffeine) and using a saline nasal spray.
MINIMIZE CONTACT – You catch more colds by touching rather than breathing, says Schachter, so don’t borrow your neighbor’s pen! But do wash your hands frequently and use lots of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Over 200 viruses – not bacteria – cause the common cold, so antibacterial products won’t help.
PACK PROTECTION – Zinc lozenges can reduce both the symptoms and duration of a cold – but use only one or two, advises Schachter, lest you lose your sense of taste or smell. Vitamin C can’t prevent a cold, but is a natural antihistamine, so it relieves symptoms without sleepiness. Chicken soup provides comfort and inhibits inflammation.