Flying today can be a real hassle. Long check-in lines, cramped seating, and flight delays are pretty much the norm. And if you’re like the thousands who notice that they seem to get sick whenever they take to the friendly skies, you’re not imagining it. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back this up — about 20% of all air travelers experience respiratory infections that require them to seek medical care. That rounds out to about 152 million people who started out in a plane and ended up in a doctor’s office.

Sitting in an enclosed, crowded plane with dry cabin air can set you up for some sniffles. Follow these 7 quick and easy tips to do all you can to try to keep healthy when flying:

Pick a pepper. Help support your immune system by noshing on an immune-boosting salad that’s loaded with the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E: toss together kale, spinach, red bell pepper, and toasted sunflower seeds. Top that salad with grilled flank steak strips or shrimp — lean meats and seafood contain Zinc, which helps the immune system work properly. Kick up the vitamin C by seasoning the salad with a citrusy dressing: orange juice, olive oil, salt and fresh-ground pepper.

Pack a travel health kit. Include not only prescription medications, but the prescriptions themselves, as well as these following commonly-used over-the-counter medications:

  • Antidiarrheal
  • Antihistamine
  • Decongestant
  • Anti-motion sickness
  • Pain or fever reliever (such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
  • Mild laxative
  • Antacid
  • Antifungal
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Sleep aid
  • Altitude sickness pills
  • Water purification tablets

Ask about shots. If you’re traveling internationally, you may need certain shots or medicines. Check with your local or county health departments for pre-travel advice about what you’ll need to get. Some even run their own travel clinics, which provide vaccines and other health services for travelers.

Sanitize everything you touch. Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you on the plane, and use it after you read a magazine, pass someone a drink or snack, use the toilet, etc.  Even if you wash your hands after using the airplane lavatory (and you should), how do you know others have done the same? Germs love to live on doorknobs and handles. After returning to your seat, use the hand sanitizer.

Drink up. The air inside a plane is generally drier than a home or office environment. Dried-out nostrils don’t work as well to filter out germs. In addition, dehydration decreases the body’s ability to acclimate to high altitude. Drink plenty of water before your trip and as often as possible during the flight. Also, reduce your alcohol and caffeine consumption before and during the trip to help stave off dehydration.

Walk that aisle. According to the CDC, anyone traveling more than four hours, whether by air, car, bus, or train, can be at risk for deep vein thrombosis or leg blood clots. To help increase blood flow and prevent blood clots, make sure you move your legs often when on long trips — and exercise your calf muscles. Pull each knee up toward the chest and hold it there, with your hands on your lower leg for 15 seconds; repeat up to 10 times. And take periodic walks up and down the aisle.

Make it cooked. Poor hygiene in local restaurants may be the largest risk factor for travelers’ diarrhea, which affects up to 50% of international travelers, the CDC reports. Make sure the food you eat is freshly cooked and hot and that utensils are clean. Try to avoid some of the riskiest foods, such as raw or undercooked meat and seafood, and unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables.

Reach for elderberry. Parts of the elder tree—such as the berries and flowers—have historically been used for immune stimulation and to treat colds and flu. A study recently published in Nutrients followed air travelers for two years. One group of flyers was given a unique, proprietary elderberry formula (provided by Iprona AG, Italy), and the other group was given a placebo. Among the participants in either group who contracted a cold, those who took the elderberry formula were sick for only 5 days, while those in the placebo group were sick for 7 days. The elderberry group also reported far less severe symptoms, and experienced better overall health after their travels.


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