Commentary by David Pletzer, MD
With summer travel season approaching, many families are planning air travel to favorite destinations. While traveling by plane is convenient, there are some health concerns to keep in mind for a more enjoyable trip.
Keep germs at bay. You’re much more likely to catch a cold on an airplane than other places due to the close quarters and stale air. To help protect against germs, avoid grabbing seat backs when walking down the aisle, and use a paper towel when opening the plane’s bathroom door. Use hand sanitizer often while on board and in airports. Also bring your own pillow if you plan to sleep on the plane.
Stay hydrated. To combat dry air, be sure to drink plenty of water before boarding the plane and during the flight. Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating, so avoid both while flying. Using a saline nasal spray before the flight can help prevent mucus membranes from becoming too dry.
Protect your ears. Changes in cabin air pressure can cause ear pain, especially in children. During takeoff and landing, offer an infant the breast or a bottle to encourage swallowing, which helps keep the eustachian tubes open. Chewing gum, yawning or swallowing are good remedies for older children and adults to avoid ear discomfort.
Bring healthy snacks. Snacks available for purchase or provided by airlines can be full of fat, extra calories and sugar. Consider bringing your own food on the plane. Lean turkey on whole-wheat bread and veggie pita are good choices and will ensure you have something substantial in your stomach to help prevent motion sickness. Fresh fruit and almonds are easy to pack in carry-on luggage.
Minimize jet lag. If you’re flying across time zones, normal body rhythms can be disturbed, resulting in physical symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, gastrointestinal issues and inability to sleep. Jet lag only lasts a day or two, but to help relieve symptoms, drink plenty of water during the flight, eat small high-protein, low-fat meals and consider adjusting your sleep schedule for a few days before your trip.
David Pletzer, MD, specializes in family medicine. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Allisonville, 11530 Allisonville Road, Ste. 190, in Fishers. He can be reached by calling the office at 678-3850.