Summer health – fact or fiction?


18 March 2021

AXA Health's Medical Director, Dr Yousef Habbab examines some common summer health myths to help you separate the facts from the fiction.

Myth 1: You can get colds more easily when on a flight because of recirculation of air in the plane 

Dr Habbab says: "This is a very common myth but it is a myth none-the-less. On aircrafts all air is filtered so all the air coming through the cabin and flowing from the ceiling – though it may smell stale sometimes – is clean. 

You’re most likely to pick germs from fellow passengers. Viruses that cause coughs and colds spread through close physical contact and droplets from sneezes and coughs. Touching a contaminated surface and then eating can also increase your risks. Be sure to wash your hands or use antibacterial hand gel before tucking in to your in-flight meal!

That said, travellers are often tired and more stressed than usual, which can contribute to naturally lower immune system defences and make people more susceptible to picking up a bug. So, that may be the origin of this particular summertime myth." 

Myth 2: Drinking on a plane can help prevent jet lag

Dr Habbab says: "It always throws me when I hear people say this, because having alcohol on a flight is one of the worst things you can do to prevent jet lag! Jet lag occurs as the body adjusts to different time zones. It tends to hit us harder when travelling from west to east as our body has an easier time adjusting to longer days (east to west) than shortened ones. As a rule of thumb, every hour of difference takes a day to overcome. But, by minimising alcohol consumption, and taking meals, sleep, exercise and light exposure to meet that of the local timezone, you can help to beat jet lag at the source." [Brazier, 2017]

Myth 3: Drinking gin and tonic keeps the mosquitoes at bay

Dr Habbab says: "Unfortunately this urban legend is definitely a myth. The amount of quinine – the chemical alleged to keep mosquitos away – is so small in a normal gin and tonic that it doesn’t provide meaningful protection. [Mulligan, 2018] But, if you’re wondering what will help to prevent the mozzies from biting, I have several hints:

  • Make sure you apply insect repellent directly to your skin and not just to your clothes (though the extra protection won’t do any harm!). Insects are incredibly good at finding gaps in clothing, so skin-level protection is a must.
  • If you’re one of those unlucky people especially prone to insect bites, remember to cover up your arms and legs, particularly at dusk. [NHS, 2019]
  • Calamine lotion and antihistamines will help to quell the itch when it does happen – and be sure to watch out for any signs of infection.  [NHS, 2019]. For more about insect bites and stings, read our article on how to protect yourself from stings and bites."

Myth 4: You can get sunburnt through a window

Dr Habbab says: "There may be some truth in this. Ordinary glass absorbs 97 per cent of the UVB rays that cause sunburn and some skin cancers, and 37 per cent of the less harmful UVA radiation. This translates to a protection of about SPF30 [Villazon], so you can still get burned with long enough exposure. Car windscreens have a plastic layer bonded between two layers of glass and this blocks all the UVB and 80 per cent of the UVA, making sunburn very unlikely. As some of the sun’s rays do pass through certain types of glass, this can affect skin aging. So your skin can age more if exposed to sun – even through a window. [Admin, 2019]

When it comes to being sun-safe, though, you should take steps to protect against skin damage from both UVA and UVB rays. When selecting a sunscreen, go for the highest UV factor you can find and read the label to fully understand the protection it offers. Reapplying regularly is a must. UV exposure peaks between the hours of 11am and 3pm; so wherever possible, avoid direct exposure during these times. And, if you can’t, why not try a stylish sun hat! [NHS, 2019]"

References and further reading

Brazier, 2017, Jet lag: What it is and how to beat it. (Accessed 18 March 2021)

Mulligan,2018, Does gin and tonic really repel mosquitoes. (Accessed 18 March 2021)

NHS,2019, Insect bites and stings. (Accessed 18 March 2021)

Admin, 2019, Can you get sunburned through the window of your car? (Accessed 18 March 2021)

NHS, 2019, Sunscreen and sun safety. (Accessed 18 March 2021)

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