Whether you’re traveling through airports, bus stations, or even by cruise ship, you’re going to come into contact with many other people and the chances of catching an illness are scaringly realistic. But can the actual physical activity of traveling cause you to get sick?
If you think about it, traveling puts your body through quite a lot of stress even if you don’t realize it. When you travel, you subject your body to changes in air pressure, climate and temperature changes, loss of sleep, and the stresses of planning your travel or staying on schedule. Some recent studies do in fact suggest that traveling, especially flying, can have a negative effect on your immune system, thus making it easier for you to get sick.
We’ve had the pleasure of discussing the matter with Family Physician Dr. Joe Anzaldua, MD, who offered his thoughts on whether or not traveling can weaken your immune system and how travelers can prepare their bodies for flying.
How Can Flying Affect My Health?
It may not be a total surprise, but if you’re traveling during late hours or taking red-eye flights causing you to lose sleep, this sleep deprivation can negatively affect your health. According to Dr. Anzaldua, this disruption of sleep cycles affects your circadian rhythm, which can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to getting sick. Science Magazine also suggests that “nutrition and light are important environmental factors that directly regulate the immune response.” This essentially means that if the body receives light signals at times it is not used to, this can prevent the production of T-cells, which would normally help boost your immune systems.
Experiencing changes in temperatures or weather climates is also believed to impact the immune system as well as our metabolic processes, although Dr. Anzaldua explains that the mechanics of how this happens is not well understood yet. If you will be flying by plane, you will without a doubt experience quick changes in air pressure, which can put a strain on your blood flow and oxygen levels. In addition, Dr. Anzaldua states that “the air inside plane cabins tends to be less humid, which automatically predisposes passengers to dehydration. Additionally, changes in air pressure can affect oxygen levels, which can have a negative impact on people with lung disorders and serious heart conditions”.
On top of all of this, the physical and emotional stress of traveling (packing, making sure you catch your flight on time, following a set itinerary, etc.) can affect and weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to certain infections. To most of us, these are things we wouldn’t normally think about while preparing for our next vacation but to some of us, these factors could make the difference of catching an illness or not.
Always Be Prepared
In order to ensure safe and healthy flying, we’ve compiled a short checklist for frequent travelers to follow to avoid increasing their chances of getting sick during or after their travels:
- ALWAYS stay hydrated
- AVOID drinking caffeine or alcohol while in the air
- MINIMIZE contact with high contamination areas (tray tables, arm rests, seat pockets)
- USE sanitizing gel or cleansing wipes frequently
These tips may not stop you from getting sick altogether, but it’s certainly better to be as prepared as possible. Always be conscious of how you feel physically and pay attention to the needs of your body; the last thing you want is to wind up stuck in a hotel room because you came down with an illness.