Travel Health: How to Fight 7 In-Flight Ailments

With travel comes health risks, but you can take steps to stay healthy in transit.

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Allergies

Like viruses, allergens run rampant on airplanes. In such a small space, it's nearly impossible to avoid airborne allergens like pollen and even pet dander. But the larger concern here is food allergies, particularly peanuts. In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration unsuccessfully attempted to ban peanuts on airplanes in response to the growing number of complaints from allergic passengers. While some airlines have switched to serving pretzels or cookies, many defend their legume service, claiming that passengers still demand the old stand-by snack.

How to fight it: To battle allergy attacks on airplanes, you must be proactive. If you are affected by airborne allergens, take medication about an hour before taking off, suggests the Mayo Clinic. You can also sport a protective face mask; it may not be the most stylish accessory, but it'll keep your nasal passage allergen free. If you have food allergies, you can request specially prepared meals when you reserve your seat. And as for those pesky peanuts, most airlines will accommodate you by serving a non-peanut snack if notified in advance. Flight attendants can also set up a "buffer zone" by serving non-peanut snacks to anyone seated near you.

[See: In Pictures: Worst Cities for Spring Allergy Sufferers]

Food Poisoning

Ever wonder where your airplane meal comes from? Well first, each meal is prepared in an on-the-ground flight kitchen, much like a catered meal is prepared before an event. The food is then rapidly chilled and stored until it's ready to be packaged. Once it's portioned and packed, meals are delivered to the gate, loaded onto planes, warmed, and served to passengers. While there are food-safety regulations in place, the complexity of this system leaves room for mistakes, like improper storage temperatures and cooking techniques, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How to fight it: The answer is simple: Bring your own food. The only way to guarantee a food-poisoning-free flight is to avoid the airplane meals altogether.

Stress

Every time you fly, you're subjecting yourself to stress, which can lower your immunity. Getting to the airport in time, coping with luggage, navigating security, adjusting to cramped conditions, and dealing with a lack of sleep is a lot to handle in a short time frame. And if you're afraid of flying or prone to air rage—extreme misconduct on airplanes usually caused by inability to handle the stressful situation—you could be in for a very long trip.

How to fight it: Take steps to reduce stress throughout your trip: Arrive at the airport several hours before your flight to avoid feeling rushed, and pack light to minimize the number of bags you need to check. While in transit, employ stress-relief techniques (like deep breathing and counting to 10) and distraction methods, like reading a book or playing a game. Phobias (such as a fear of heights or a fear of cramped spaces) are tougher to conquer; if you're unable to cope with your fears on your own, experts suggest that you may want to consider therapy to learn to manage situations like flying. If you're prone to air rage, make sure you get plenty of sleep before your trip and practice stress-relief techniques when you feel overwhelmed.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a fancy term to describe the formation of blood clots caused by long periods of immobility. DVT is often referred to as "economy class syndrome" in reference to the cramped conditions you'll experience while flying coach. Clots usually develop in your arms and legs. The larger the clot is, the more it restricts blood flow between your heart and the rest of your body, which can cause paralysis, stroke, or heart attack.

How to fight it: The most obvious way to prevent blood clots is to move. A brisk walk before boarding will get your blood flowing, while simple exercises like leg lifts, flexing, and ankle and shoulder rolls will help keep your blood moving throughout the flight. Elastic flight socks (available at most pharmacies) can also help prevent DVT. Those who are at a higher risk of blood clots as a result of obesity, cancer, pulmonary embolism, or smoking should talk to their doctor, who may prescribe blood thinners to prevent in-flight DVT.