Summer Travel: How to Avoid Illness & Other Medical Consequences While Traveling by Dr. Niket Sonpal
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. According to AAA, more than 41.5 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend by car, plane or train. Nothing ruins a long-awaited vacation faster than getting sick or being in medical distress. Here are some tips on how to avoid health consequences will traveling:
Avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis: Deep vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Deep vein thrombosis can cause leg pain or swelling, but also can occur with no symptoms. For travelers, this can happen on long haul trips where you are not moving. I recommend if you are flying or on a train to move around the cabin to get the blood flowing in your legs. If you are driving, take a break at a rest stop and walk around. Compression socks are also another option to prevent DVT.
Don’t Get Nauseous: People can experience motion sickness on virtually any mode of transportation. To combat this, I suggest Dramamine® Non-Drowsy Naturals. It contains the clinically tested ginger dosage required for preventing and treating motion sickness. Other sources of ginger, including ginger candies, ginger gum or ginger ale, may not contain a full clinical dose. For someone who is already experiencing nausea while traveling, it is a good idea to keep Emetrol on hand, which is an over-the-counter nausea medication that does not cause drowsiness.
Avoid Bloating on a Plane: If you get gassy on a plane, you’re not alone! As the pressure around you decreases, the gas in your belly isn’t constrained as much and it expands. This can make you feel bloated or become distended. It is essential to avoid foods that cause gas or have salt. Skip the tomato juice in flight and stick with non-carbonated water. Avoid alcohol, cruciferous vegetables, dairy and high-sodium snacks such as salted peanuts or pretzels. Foods that are protein packed, magnesium-rich and high in vitamin C are good options.
Sanitize Your Surfaces: Planes and trains are a breeding ground for illness. The former are awful due to re-circulated air. Most travelers would be appalled if they really knew how germy their tray tables are! I suggest sanitizing wipes for your tray table, seat belt clip and hand rests of your seats on planes and trains. When you exit a restroom on a plane or train and touch the door handles, be sure to use hand sanitizer even if you already washed your hands.
Get Your Shots Before Traveling Abroad: Before you even book your trip, make sure you’re up to date on your shots. If you’re traveling to an area where you’re at risk for picking up an illness like malaria, you might be prescribed preventative medication. People should use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for recommended vaccines for travel abroad or see a travel clinic. The health risks posed to Americans vary based on the country they are traveling to.
Don’t Touch the Ice: When traveling to a different country, most people are very cautious about only drinking bottled water. Many folks forget that ice is simply frozen water and put it into their soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. Contrary to what one might think, freezing water does not kill bacteria. The only way to be sure it is safe is if you boiled the water and then froze it.
Avoid Jet Lag: Even a relatively short time change from EST to PST (three hours) can cause jet lag. With some international travel from the U.S., the time difference can be as much as twelve hours. If you're traveling east, try going to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before your departure. Go to bed one hour later for several nights if you're flying west. If possible, eat meals closer to the time you'll be eating them at your destination. I suggest that you set your watch to the new time before you leave. Once you reach your destination, try not to sleep until the local nighttime, no matter how tired you are.
Essential Medicine/Supplies to Travel With: Never check your medication with your baggage – always keep it in your carry on. Have a fresh re-fill on prescription medication with extra doses in case you get stuck at your destination. In addition, here are some essential over-the-counter meds/supplies to travel with:
- Benadryl for allergic reactions such as insect or bee bites.
- Pepto Bismol for diarrhea.
- Laxative such as Dulcolax.
- Antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin.
- Common cold/sinus remedies such as Mucinex or Claritin.
- Pain relievers such as Tylenol or Motrin.
- Anti-nausea medication such as Emetrol.
- Motion sickness medication such as Dramamine. (If you are the driver, be sure to take the non-drowsy version.)
- Electrolyte tablets for dehydration.
- Hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching from rashes, bites, poison ivy, etc.
- Aloe to soothe sunburned skin.
- Digital thermometer.
- Nasal spray to prevent clogged ears while flying.
- Eye drops.
- Epi-Pen if you are prone to severe allergic reactions.
How to Find a Reliable Physician If You Are Traveling Abroad: The U.S. embassy in your destination country can help you locate medical services and will notify your family and friends in the event of an emergency. When selecting a doctor, make sure that he or she can speak your language. The following resources provide lists of doctors and clinics that can care of travelers:
- The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (membership required, but it is free)
- Joint Commission International
- The International Society of Travel Medicine
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