How Not To Get Sick On A Plane (And Other Flying Health Tips)

Friday, April 17, 2009


NYT travel health expert opened up his mailbag this week to answer readers’ questions ranging from how to avoid getting a cold on a plane to whether cosmic radiation will turn your unborn fetus into a member of the X-Men. Here we go:

1) Does saline spray ward off respiratory ailments while flying?

  • Yes. Dr. Gendreau recommends spraying the salty solution up your nose to help moisten your ear, nose and ear parts which helps ward off microorganisms, especially when breathing notoriously dry airplane air. (Washing your hands like you have OCD helps too.)

2) Should I take decongestants when flying? What about downing bottles of water in-flight?

  • Yes and Yes. Though decongestants dry you out, they’ll help those who experience painful ear pressure while flying. Drinking lots of fluid (well, maybe not booze and caffeine, sorry) is probably the easiest and best way to stay hydrated and cope with the dry air (see above). Of course if you’re in an A380, you can take a nice, steamy shower which probably helps a bit.

3) Will jet lag turn me into a horrible, offensive monster for much of my trip?

  • Yes. You’re messing with your circadian rhythm, and if there’s one bad mofo that you don’t want to mess with, it’s your circadian rhythm. Dr. Gendreau says that you need “re-synchronization of the internal clock” which “typically takes one and a half days for every time zone crossed eastward and one day for every time zone crossed westward” to fully get over jet lag. He says to get ready by adjusting your sleep beforehand and try doping up on melatonin to help adjust.

4) Will cosmic radiation cause my child to grow up with the ability to move objects with his mind?

  • No, but that would be really cool. Radiation due to solar flares does occur on flights, but it’s really low and you and your hopelessly bland baby will probably not be exposed to nearly enough to have any impact. For any hope of imparting supernatural powers, vacation in Chernobyl this year.

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