Sneeze You Later

Aug 24, 2017

Sneezing, headaches, stuffed noses, running noses … Common colds are the worst. And really, there’s nothing really “common” about them. According to John Hopkins Medicine, colds are the result of more than 200 different viruses.

Yet there’s one particularly bad strain.

The Airplane Cold.*

We all thought the classroom was a breeding ground for germs, but the Journal of Environmental Health Research reported that colds might be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during normal daily life on the ground.

The study “Common cold transmission in commercial aircraft: Industry and passenger implications” settled on a single likely cause for sources of higher transmission of colds on aircrafts: low cabin humidity.

Most airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs 10 percent lower. At very low levels of humidity, the natural defense system of mucus in our noses and throats dries up. The system—called the “mucociliary clearance system” is the first line of defense in our bodies against harmful germs and bacteria.

In low humidity, it’s crippled. It doesn’t protect against germs quite like it’s supposed to.

So you just have to work a bit harder to beat those germs. If you’re hitting the airwaves with your students, share these tips to help keep your group healthy.

1. Stay hydrated.

Not only can drinking plenty of water counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel (which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, fatigue and more), but it can fortify your natural immune mechanisms to function better.

Sipping water or some other fluid regularly throughout the flight may be more effective than gulping down a lot of water at one time—it helps keep your protective system from long dry spells.

2. Keep your hands clean.

From shaking hands to touching the armrests, your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with germs. Viruses that cause colds can survive for hours on your skin and other surfaces. The simple act of washing your hands with hot water and soap, however, provides fortification against the microorganisms.

3. Don’t forget to floss.

OK. You don’t have to floss on the plane. Using a germ-killing mouthwash during your flight, on the other hand, could help add another layer of protection while also keeping your throat moist.

4. Take your vitamins.

The effect of vitamins on colds is unproven, but a lot of people swear by them. Start taking multivitamins a few days before flying, and vitamin C could help reduce the severity or duration of symptoms.

5. Wear a face mask.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cite airborne germs as one of the top two sources of cold virus infection—and washing your hands ain’t got nothin’ on airborne germs. Wearing a face mask may not be your preferred line of defense, but it could be an effective tactic nonetheless.

* Just so we’re clear: The “Airplane Cold” is not a scientifically real cold.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Teach & Travel.