Preventing Illness on the Road
Christmas and New Year’s Day are literally around the corner…. I’ve spoken to many of you who are excited to get out of town and visit friends and family. One concern many of my patients have expressed to me is: How can I avoid getting sick, from either my allergies or infections, on my trip? I’ve done some research over the years and I think have come up with some good tips to ensure a healthier travel experience.
If you are traveling to a friend or family that has a pet, cat or dog, and you are allergic, there are some sensible things to do. First, if you are on allergy drops, continue to take them while on your trip to maintain protection – unless you get very sick. Second, make sure to take preventive medications a few days before you travel. Topical medications like nasal sprays (ex. Flonase, Nasonex), eye drops (Elestat or Pataday) or inhalers (Advair, Flovent) are the best way to add extra protection before you get the exposure.
Also, if possible ask your host if they can make sure the room where you are sleeping is off-limits to the pet- this is critical: the worst reactions I see is when a person sleeps in a room where the pet has been staying for long periods of time- even if it’s not when they are sleeping there. The cat dander especially stays airborne for up to 4 months! If you develop symptoms while you are there, you should use antihistamines, such as Zyrtec or Claritin (both are over-the-counter) which will give added relief. Try to get out of the house during the day to get some periods of fresh air.
If you are staying at a hotel, dust mites – and possibly mold – are the allergens to be concerned about. This is especially true if you are traveling to a warm, humid climate (Florida or the Caribbean). What can you do realistically? You can tell the hotel management that you are allergic to dust and mold and would appreciate a thorough cleaning of the room – especially the headboard area. This area gets overlooked in cleaning and is literally right by your head, where you are breathing in all that dust. This may sound obvious, but ask them to make sure the sheets were changed from the prior guests and if possible washed in hot water (over 135 degrees) which kills the dust mites. If you want to be fanatical (but to me not unreasonable) bring your dust mite covers, at least for your pillows and see what a difference this can make. If you smell mold in your room, pump up the AC. Mold spores don’t like cold temperatures.
This one’s simple but overlooked: ask for a smoke-free room. You probably think most people don’t smoke anymore, but there are many European travelers to the U.S. with the weak dollar and they are smokers. The chemicals in the smoke last in the room for days. The hotel staff will try to spray air-freshener all over the room, but the smoke fumes linger and are damaging to your sinuses and respiratory tract- making you more prone to infection.
Don’t use the bathrooms on the plane! Of course, unless you have to. The bathrooms on the plane are germ-infested! I have gotten sick several times before I read an article explaining what is going on in these bathrooms. My advice is to put on rubber gloves. I do this all the time. I have my lavender or blue latex-free gloves in my carrying-on bag and if the urge to go to the bathroom gets too much, I put on my gloves and take my chances. So far, over the last 8 years, I haven’t gotten sick on a trip. If you forget a pair of rubber gloves, no problem- the TSA security has plenty of those gloves as they examine your bags: ask politely if you can have a pair or two.
Get some sun if you are going to a warm climate. Do it safely and try not to burn on your first day or two. In the Northeast, all of us get a paucity of Vitamin D during the cold, dark winter months. There is no substitute for good old sunshine. Start out with at least an hour a day, and slowly build up an extra half-an-hour on top of that. It is a good idea to use sunscreen on your face, but let your arms and legs go sunscreen free to soak up the Vitamin D. Many of the new studies clearly show Vitamin D strengthens our immune system- and many new allergy articles show it helps decrease allergies- it’s also great to clear up your eczema.
I hope these tips make your holiday allergy and infection-free. Have a great time!
Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island