What the Yuck: Does flying make me sick?
July 8th, 2011
12:23 PM ET

What the Yuck: Does flying make me sick?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

I have to travel a lot for my new job. Will I get sick more often if I'm a frequent flyer?

That's a good question - more and more of us worry about coming down with something from the recycled air on planes. But actually, that air is probably better for you than most air in office buildings. It's well filtered before it's blown back out, so it shouldn't make you sick.

However, being in a closed cabin with all those other passengers (some of whom may be sick without showing symptoms yet) can increase your chances of catching a cold, flu virus, or some other nasty bug.

And it's not just the others on your flight you have to worry about: Previous fliers might have left behind more than a completely-filled-in Sudoku—namely, germs—on the seat, seatbelt, magazines, headrest, or overhead bin.

That's why it's a good idea to bring antibacterial gel with you (in a container smaller than 3 ounces, of course) and even some antibacterial wipes (for wiping down your seat). Use the gel frequently while traveling, and especially before eating.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Matt

    I travel by air quite frequently on long-haul (12+ hour) flights. The most important things you can do are to wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face, particularly your mouth, nose, and eyes. This will reduce the opportunities for introducing bacteria and viruses into your body.

    Other things I do, and I rarely get sick, are:

    Use a paper towel to open the toilet door to protect yourself from all the people that don't wash their hands. Try to get plenty of sleep to help keep your immune system strong. Also, use those anti-bacterial wipes on your tray table, and don't eat any food that falls onto it. They are very rarely cleaned, and pretty much never sanitized.

    Other than wearing a face mask, there's not a lot you can do to protect yourself from fellow passengers who are sneezing and coughing out nasties.

    July 8, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Marion

    Why a face mask works for me: In the late 90's, I began having to fly 6 to 8 times a year.More often than not I ended up sick after a plane flight. I decided to use a face mask every time I flew, and just deal with the potential embarrassment. After all, wearing a mask was less embarrassing than being sick instead of functional after I reached my destination.

    Since so many experts kept saying a mask wasn't likely to help, I was pretty surprised when it turned out to help a lot. Eventually I realized that the mask keeps me from touching my nose, eyes and mouth by accident. Since I only take it off to eat, or drink water, I can make sure my hands are sanitized first.

    This has completely been worth it to me. Using the precautions that Matt lists above, plus the mask, has virtually eliminated my sick-after-flying problem. Plus, the mask I use (from Icanbreathe.com) also blocks most particulates so I have no asthma problems from jet exhaust or mold in the cabin, and its carbon layer absorbs perfumes that I would react to. It's been a huge win.

    July 8, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BS

      Great SPAM. Totally not believable. If it's your hands touching your face, you'd just use hand sanitizer and spare yourself the potential embarassment of wearing a mask for no good reason. (Of course, your story is totally made up....)

      July 10, 2011 at 16:51 | Report abuse |
  3. samuraishonan(at)bloodspot(dot)com

    My philosophy is that germs are healthy. I bite my nails to keep up with it. Yes, I have asthma too, but wearing a mask is a waste of time.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply

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