The long-haul flight typically takes its toll on the body, not least when more than one time zone is factored into the travel equation.
And while jetlag remains the disorder most instantly associated with long distance airtime, holiday-makers are often as likely to bring home a cold as a souvenir.
A study, crossing numerous international borders and involving 170 travelling participants, has found that half the people who suffer from respiratory illness after long-haul flights are likely to benefit from the use of the herbal medicine echinacea.
“Intercontinental air travel can be stressful, adding extra strain on a passenger’s physical and psychological health,” lead researcher Dr Evelin Tiralongo (pictured) from Griffith University’s School of Pharmacy on the Gold Coast says.
“The results of our clinical trial suggest that taken before and during visits overseas, echinacea treatment may have a protective effect against the development of respiratory symptoms during that time.”
The trial involved economy class passengers on commercial return flights from Australia to America, Europe and Africa who travelled between 15 and 25 hours and had less than a 12-hour stopover.
Half of the participants took alkylamide standardised echinacea tablets during their travel period, while the other half took a placebo tablet.
“In the past interventions such as air humidification and oxygen supplementation have been trialled to investigate if they help reduce adverse reactions to long distance flights,” Dr Tiralongo said.
“However, no research so far has investigated the possible benefit of a herbal medicine.
“Herbal medicines, among other complementary medicines, are used by two in three Australians, and echinacea is one of the most widely used herbal medicines.”
The trial findings will be discussed at a workshop, hosted by Griffith’s School of Pharmacy, on Integrative Medicine for Pharmacists during the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s annual conference which starts on the Gold Coast on Thursday.
For the trial, treatment started 14 days before flying overseas and was completed 14 days after returning to Australia. Participants completed three surveys during this period, 14 days before travelling, immediately after their return (within a week) and four weeks after their return.
Air travellers were questioned about upper respiratory symptoms, jet lag duration, headache, sleep disturbances and cold sores in each of the surveys.
Both groups experienced respiratory illness during travel but only 43 percent of those taking echinacea tablets showed symptoms of respiratory problems worth treating immediately after travel, compared with 57 percent of those taking the placebo tablet. Four weeks later, only 25 per cent of people taking echinacea showed symptoms worth treating, compared with 39 percent of those on the placebo.
“Although respiratory symptoms for both groups increased significantly during travel, the increase of these symptoms among the echinacea group was significantly lower than for the placebo group.”