9 Ways Doctors Avoid Getting Sick During Holiday Travel
Chances are, your holiday season is going to involve some degree of traveling—and with all of the germs flying around this time of year (sometimes literally), the odds of you getting sick during your journey are, unfortunately, on the incline.
But don’t freak out just yet: Even though becoming immune to colds and flus isn’t a wish that Santa can grant, there are plenty of tricks you can tuck up your sleeve to lower your odds of a sniffle-saturated holiday.
Along with classics like washing your hands profusely, packing sanitizer, and making a career out of not touching your face, the following travel hacks to avoid getting sick aren’t just MD-approved—they’re also used by them personally.
1. Hold Your Breath
Cold and flu viruses are transmitted by droplets, such as mucus from a dirty tissue or surface, or getting sneezed or coughed on. Even yuckier, these droplets can travel up to six feet away. “If I’m walking and have to pass someone who has just sneezed or coughed, I hold my breath until I’m at least six feet past them,” says Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist and pediatrician Tsippora Shainhouse, MD.
2. Bust Out the Nasal Spray
“I spray both nostrils with xylitol nasal spray before and during flights,” says Dana Cohen, MD, New York-based integrative physician and author of Quench. “Bugs can’t stick to the xylitol, which may help prevent infections, like colds and other airborne illnesses.”
3. Load Up on Vitamin D
Another favorite trick of Cohen’s is making sure her body’s vitamin D reserves are well-stocked, as it’s a super-important vitamin for immune function. (One study found that adults with lower vitamin D levels were twice as likely to catch the flu, compared to those whose vitamin D levels were higher.) The best dose to take is unclear, but depending on body weight, the Vitamin D Council recommends that adults take 5,000 to 10,000 IU per day.
4. Avoid the Mixed Nuts
Sure, leaving out bowls of nuts, mints, and other candies for guests is a thoughtful gesture, but other hands have been diving into those bowls—and you don’t know where they’ve been, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center of Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. Because not everyone washes their hands, steering clear of free treats could also mean sidestepping a viral infection.
5. Wear a Hoodie
There’s no way to know how clean the seat backs are on airplanes, and face or mouth contact (say, while napping) could lead to an infection. For that reason, “I wear a hooded sweater to avoid my face touching the seat when leaning back or on my side,” says Goldberg.
6. Keep Lip Balm on Standby
During winter travel, we’re usually stuck in a crowded airport, plane, or train and exposed to dry forced heat, which can seriously dehydrate the body, says Mia Finkelston, MD, board-certified family physician who treats patients via LiveHealth Online, a telehealth app. Besides drinking water and increasing her intake of water-rich fruits and veggies, Finkelston considers lip balm an important partner-in-crime during her travels. “Even the slightest skin cracks can offer an entryway for pesky germs,” she says. Applying lip balm throughout your flight, for example, can help prevent dry, cracked lips and lessen the risk of infection.
7. Remember Your Wrists
“Flu germs last for 15 minutes on exposed skin,” says Monte Jay Goldstein, MD, medical director at Ramapo Valley Surgical Center in New Jersey. “That may not seem like a lot of time, but in that 15 minutes, we may touch our face up to 65 times.” His go-to move? Washing not just his hands, but wrists too—they’re frequently exposed to germs, thanks to our penchant for leaning on things with them. Once you’re all cleaned up, use a different paper towel to turn off the faucet from the one you use to dry your hands.
8. Take a Breather From Dairy
“Studies show that dairy foods can increase the thickness of mucus secretions in the nose, which can easily attract a virus or bacteria,” says Jason M. Abramowitz, MD, ear, nose, and throat physician at ENT and Allergy Associates in New York. While mucus can trap a virus and clear it from the body, sometimes the virus can trojan horse its way into the lining of the nose and, eventually, start to multiply, invade nearby cells (how rude!), and domino into a nasty cold. The fewer opportunities viruses have to loiter in your nostrils and sneak past security, the better.
9. Freshen Up
“A health hack while traveling that may not be common knowledge is brushing your teeth after a trip,” says Finkelston. “I find that doing this after a long (or even a short) flight can help rid your mouth of germs and help you fight off any lurking sickness.” Similarly, it’s always a good idea to shower after traveling—or at the very least, change into fresh attire.