Why do we often get sick on vacation?

Have you noticed that you or your loved ones sometimes get sick, barely having time to go on a long-awaited vacation after tiring work? But so much time and effort was spent on finishing all the work on time before the holidays … And this does not happen necessarily in winter: summer holidays, trips to the beach and even short weekends after work can be spoiled by a cold.

This disease even has a name – vacation sickness (leisure sickness). The Dutch psychologist Ed Wingerhots, who coined the term, admits that the disease has yet to be documented in the medical literature; however, many know the hard way what it is like to get sick on vacation, as soon as you finish work. So, is it really a ubiquitous affliction?

No systematic studies have been conducted to find out whether people are more likely to get sick on vacation than in everyday life, but Wingerhots asked more than 1800 people if they noticed a vacation sickness. They gave only a little more than a positive answer – and although this percentage is small, is there a physiological explanation for what they felt? Almost half of the people who participated in, explained this by the transition from work to vacation. There are several theories on this.

First, when we finally get a chance to relax, the stress hormones that help us get the job done are out of balance, leaving the body more prone to infections. Adrenaline helps to cope with stress, and it also strengthens the immune system, helping to fight infections and keep us healthy. Also, during stress, the hormone cortisol is produced, which also helps to fight it, but at the expense of the immune system. All this sounds plausible, especially if the transition from stress to relaxation occurs abruptly, but not enough research has yet been done to confirm this hypothesis.

Again, do not rule out the possibility that people are sick before going on vacation. They are just so busy and focused on their goals that they do not notice the disease until they have the opportunity to relax on vacation.

Undoubtedly, how we evaluate our symptoms also depends on how busy we are at the time of the onset of the disease. Psychologist James Pennebaker found that the less things happen around a person, the more they feel the symptoms.

Pennebaker held . He showed a film to one group of students and every 30 seconds he asked them to rate how interesting the episode was. He then showed the same film to another group of students and watched how often they coughed. The more interesting the scene in the movie was, the less they coughed. During boring episodes, they seemed to remember the sore throat and began to cough more often. However, while you are more likely to notice the symptoms of an illness when there is nothing to distract your attention, it is clear that you will notice a headache and a runny nose, no matter how immersed in work you are.

A completely different hypothesis is that the disease overcomes us not because of work stress, but precisely in the process of rest. Traveling is exciting, but always exhausting. And if you are, say, flying on an airplane, the longer you are in it, the more likely you are to contract the virus. On average, people get 2-3 colds a year, on the basis of which the researchers believe that the probability of catching a cold due to one flight should be 1% for an adult. But when a group of people were examined a week after flying from San Francisco Bay to Denver, it turned out that 20% of them developed a cold. If this rate of infection persisted all year round, we would expect more than 56 colds per year.

Air travel is often blamed for increasing the chance of contracting the virus, but that didn’t matter in this study. Researchers have identified another reason: on an airplane, you are in a closed space with many people who may have a virus in their bodies, and there is also a low level of humidity. They hypothesized that the dry air on planes could cause the mucus that traps viruses and bacteria in our noses to become too thick, making it harder for the body to send it down the throat and into the stomach to break down.

Wingerhots is also open to other explanations for why people get sick on vacation. There is even an assumption that this is a response of the body if a person does not like a vacation and experiences negative emotions from it. But the lack of research in this area makes it impossible to single out one explanation from others, so a combination of factors can also become the cause of the disease.

The good news is that vacation illnesses don’t happen all that often. What’s more, as we age, our immune system has more time to produce antibodies, and the common cold visits our bodies less and less, whether we’re on vacation or not.

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