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Three holiday health hazards to guard against

Tips for staying healthy while traveling

Photo (c) Wavebreakmedia - Getty Images
It’s no secret the holiday season means a greater likelihood of getting sick, but understanding the three major reasons people get sicker during the holidays will keep you a step ahead, regardless of your plans.

Factor number one: crowded public spaces and high exposure to germs. Airplanes, hotels, and other pit stops along the way can harbor all kinds of health hazards, from cold-ridden fellow travelers to germ-laden public spaces.

A 2002 study found that an average of 20 percent of plane passengers surveyed reported respiratory infections within five to seven days of flying.

Factor number two: disrupting your regular sleep cycle. Whether due to jet lag or crossing time zones, limited or poor sleep will weaken the body’s immune response, leaving travelers more vulnerable to infections.

A 2015 study showed participants who logged less than six hours of sleep a night over the course of a week were four times more likely to come down with the common cold than those who slept more than seven hours.

Factor number three: stress. Increased stress relating to work deadlines, family relationships, and financial obligations can also take a toll on your body’s ability to ward off illnesses this time of year, explained Dr. Gabriel Neal, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Protecting yourself

While you may not be able to change the fact that you’ll have to spend time in airports or deal with other holiday-related stress, there are several actions you can take to mitigate your risk of infection while traveling over the holiday season.

  • Get a flu shot. “The influenza virus is very common and can cause severe illness. Streptococcus Pneumoniae is a bacteria that can cause pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections among others,” Neal told ConsumerAffairs, adding that both of these are preventable with vaccination.

  • Wash your hands often. Frequent hand washing can also help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds -- especially after handshakes and physical greetings.

  • Stay hydrated. Give your immune system some support by drinking plenty of water, especially if you’ll be flying. Studies show flying tends to have a dehydrating effect on the body.

  • Manage stress. Try to manage your stress by balancing work, home, and play and keeping a relaxed and positive outlook.

  • Try to keep your regular sleep schedule. Getting proper sleep can help you manage stress, which can in turn help you stay healthy.

  • Get up and stretch. “Holiday travel, especially travel that involves sitting for more than 4 hours at a time in a car, train or plane, can lead to a particularly bad health problem called deep vein thrombosis which is when a blood clot forms in the leg, and can be deadly,” Neal said. To prevent blood clots, he recommends walking around every 2-3 hours when traveling.

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