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Doctor, Doctor! Reader Remedies Put to the Test

Ingesting Chinese herbal remedies, eating candied ginger, and even swallowing Listerine were just some of the remedies that you, our readers, suggested for avoiding illness while traveling. When it comes to getting (or staying) healthy on the road, you offered solutions that were at times traditional, creative, and somewhat unorthodox. We compiled your best advice, then asked a medical professional for feedback.

“First,” says Dr. Abinash Virk, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Travel and Tropical Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, “people [should] not be sleep deprived when they’re traveling. Sleep is really important to make sure you’re healthy, and you’ll have a lesser chance [of getting] sick.

“Second, be prepared,” she says. “What are the risks on the plane, when I get to a place, and how [do I] handle them when they happen? If you’re prepared for diarrhea, respiratory problems, etc., you can better deal with a situation, should it happen.

“[Third], get preventive vaccines for things that are preventable. If you know you are going someplace that has a disease possibility and there is a vaccine for it, why not get vaccines that are safe and prevent sicknesses? I also tell [travelers] to use alcohol hand sanitizers on the plane and while traveling. Overall the chance is higher to pick up [germs] at the airport than on the plane itself, especially when touching hand rails, doorknobs, etc.”

Read on for Dr. Virk’s take on your remedies—and weigh in with your own opinion in the comments section below.

Cold and Flu

“Use a saline nose spray every 15-20 minutes to keep nose hydrated and clear of airborne germs,” recommends reader gemsam.

“This is a good idea,” says Virk. “It helps in terms of nosebleeds and itchy nose … There’s no harm in using a nasal spray to keep the nose moist. [It’s] more of a comfort thing than a particular prevention issue.”

“I take Airborne for at least five days prior to going on a holiday or any type of traveling,” says jacglen.

“I use Ganmaoling tablets—they seem to be effective against colds and flu—not masking symptoms but actually fighting the virus,” says reader patton9. “I get them at Chinese herbal medicine stores.”

“I’m not aware of any specific herbal remedy that has proven studies [to its effectiveness],” says Virk. “The caveat is some of these herbs have drug interactions, so if someone is taking medicine for other medical problems, they need to be careful. They can increase or decrease [the] effect of other medications.” If you’re taking prescription drugs and are interested in adding herbal remedies to your regimen, consult with your doctor first to ensure there will be no negative side effects.

“Take the high-immune energy booster like Emergen-C,” says krgarner.

“High doses of vitamin C have been shown to be helpful in treating colds. It’s not going to harm you,” says Virk.

“I was given the tip to gargle with mouthwash and then swallow the tiniest amount,” says lboragine. “This trick really seems to work when you are at the cusp of a cold. Don’t swallow too much of course; just a little amount will work.”

“I like Listerine. I think it’s a very good thing for dental and oral hygiene,” says Virk. “[It’s] totally fine to periodically gargle when you’re traveling, as some of these illnesses are respiratorally transmitted, and gargling won’t hurt you. But I don’t think swallowing Listerine is a good idea. It’s not meant for swallowing.”

Most interesting, however, were discrepancies in reader attitudes toward overhead ventilation on planes. “If I’m already seated and someone near me starts coughing, I’ll turn on the fan—create an air wall around my face,” says reader nhs. Reader phyman recommends a similar tactic: “Use the air jets over your seat to act as your personal protector by assuring vigorous air flow around your seat.” But reader ckm disagrees, saying, “[I] turn off the vent over my head; it’s just blowing filthy air right on you!” So, which perception is correct?

Virk sets the record straight: “I think there are some misconceptions out there about the air in the planes. First, the air in the plane is circulated cross-sectionally, three seats up and three seats down, not front to back in the plane. Number two it is more HEPA-filtered than even hospital operating rooms, so even an operating room has fewer cycles of air filtration than you have on a plane. Number three, part of the air that comes into the cabin comes from the atmospheric air and it goes through those really hot engines and is mixed with some of the intra-cabin recirculated air.

“The chance of getting something from someone on the plane is really low unless you’re sitting next to someone who is sick … if you’re sitting in row 10 and someone in row 35 is sick, you’re not going to get it unless you’re standing next to them in line for the bathroom or [have other close contact], but otherwise not.

“With the vents, there is a theory that if you have high-pressure vents and the air is coming down on you, [it] might be like a protective channel around you and the pressured air … might have some advantage in this protective enclosure. Getting infection directly from the vents—this chance is very little.”

Nausea/Gastrointestinal Distress

“A few years ago someone introduced me to ReliefBand, and that has transformed my traveling motion sickness problem,” says reader kbg. “Not only is there no more nausea or swimmy-headedness, but I can arrive fresh and without the drug-induced state that the medication and patches induced … It is my very best travel aid.”

As for the travel bands, “lots of people swear by them,” says Virk. “If that works for them, [they’re] totally fine.”

Reader chelseaamendoal wrote, “We always bring a few chunks of crystallized ginger to snack on. The ginger prevents the feeling of motion sickness and tastes delicious as well.”

“Ginger may help a lot of people,” says Virk. “[It’s] pretty harmless from that standpoint. [They] can take that.”

“My doctor told me to take Pepto Bismol tablets—one after every meal,” says Dragonwynd55. “She said the bismuth would kill any bug I may have ingested during the meal. Worked for me in my recent trip when everyone else got sick, and I remained Montezuma’s Revenge free.”

Pepto Bismol has been proven in medical studies for effectiveness and relief, Virk says, but be aware of potential side effects. “It was shown that if people take two Pepto Bismols before each meal, up to four times per day, that it does decrease the chance of diarrhea by about 65 percent,” she says. “But that’s a lot of tablets to be popping each day, so be careful. Also, it tends to constipate people … and there can be tongue discoloration.”

Jet Lag

“If you suffer from insomnia or need something to help you get used to a time change, take some magnesium. It will relax you right to sleep,” says reader chelseaamendola.

“You can also get a homeopathic remedy for jet lag,” says patton9. “It’s called ‘No Jet Lag’ and you take it before and during your flight to reduce stress on the body.”

Virk cautions that there haven’t been extensive studies on over-the-counter treatments for jet lag, and notes that most of the recommendations come from the remedy/treatment company’s own tests and data. “What the proof is behind it, I don’t know,” she says.

Your Turn

Do you consider yourself a healthy road warrior? Do you have a foolproof remedy that hasn’t been mentioned here? Leave a comment below and tell us your best tips for avoiding illness while traveling.

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