Frequent fliers, have you ever wondered why it seems easier to catch a colds or flu after flying? Totobobo Mask can help!
What is Airplane Cold?
Have you ever wondered why colds and flu seems more prevalent after flying than usual?
A well designed survey (*1) discovered that 1 out of 5 airline passengers have reported that they were developing symptoms of cold or flu within 5-7 days after the flight. This is 5-113 times more than the typical transmission rate at ground level! (depending on how it is measured)
The Journal Of Environmental Health Research Study (*2) examines potential causes of transmission within the cabin, for example, Enclosed spaces, Concentrated leves of pathogens, Proximity between passengers, etc. But none of these factors are as significant as the weakening of the immune system due to extremely low cabin humidity.
During my earlier career I used to travel a lot for work. There were times when I was sick for 1-2 days after flying… headache, weakness, fatigue, nausea and other symptoms of a cold. It turns out that this is not unusual. It is a well known phenomenon call Airplane Cold or post-flight sickness.
“The natural human defence system against colds is known as the Mucocilliary Clearance System, which consists of a layer of thin mucus that is kept in motion by beating cilia. This protective system traps viruses and bacteria and moves them from the nose and throat to destruction by acids in the stomach. However, when the air is dry, the mucus becomes too thick to be effectively moved by the cilia. This leaves more viruses and bacteria to cause upper respiratory tract infections. The typical relative humidity in aircraft cabins for flights over an hour is below 10% for most of the journey, often dropping to less than 5% on longer flights. It has been shown experimentally, using saccharin, that under these conditions the Mucociliary Clearance System either slows dramatically or stops. This would suggest that it is the low relative humidity in aircraft cabins that increases susceptibility to colds rather than a higher viral load in the air.”
Most commercial airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs at 10 percent or lower. At very low levels of humidity, the “natural defense system” of mucus in our noses and throats dries up and is crippled, creating a much more favourable environment for bacteria and germs to infect us.
From dry winter to dry cabin
The dry air problem reminds me of my experience with Totobobo mask during a dry winter in Beijing several years ago. The air was so dry and cold that I have to keep the mask on for most of the time, not only for air pollution but mostly to regulate the moisture level in my breathing. That experience inspired me to try wearing the mask on my flight back, it was a pleasant surprise. I no longer needed to drink a lot of water (and lesser toilet visits), I felt a lot more comfortable during the flight and no longer have that familiar throat irritation after sleep. No more flu like symptoms afterward!
Since then Totobobo mask becomes part of my flying kit and I also recommended to my friends.
Other useful tips
Apart from keeping the mask on, try not to use your hand to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. The tray, armrest and the back pocket are hotbeds for bacteria and viruses. Drink more water to keep your body hydrated. Avoid alcohol and coffee too. If you have nasal congestion, you can take sips of water, chewing gum, forcing yourself to yawn to relieve ear pressure. For long haul flights, get up and stretch your body every few hours. Rest well and get some sleep.
*1 Zitter J (2002) Upper Respiratory Tract Infections Among Airline Passengers. Journal of the American Medical Association 288 (23), 2972-2973.
*2 Common cold transmission in commercial aircraft: Industry and passenger implications
What Causes Airplane Colds: Low Cabin Humidity
disruption to a person’s circadian rhythm can compromise their immune system