For a carefree holiday, arm yourself with a well-stocked first-aid kit and knowledge of common ailments.
Looking after your health by packing medical essentials and taking sensible precautions could make the difference between a brilliant break and a holiday from hell. Research from British health supplement company Nature’s Best suggests more than half (54 per cent) of holidaymakers get a tummy bug with diarrhoea and vomiting while they’re away, 33 per cent have had constipation and a third have suffered from itchy and sore prickly heat rashes on holiday.
“You really don’t want health problems ruining your holiday,” says Dr Imran Rafi, chair of clinical innovation and research at the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners. “It’s important to think about prevention from the outset, before you leave, and to take sensible precautions to avoid discomfort and/or illness and sickness.”
Here are the typical ailments you may face on holiday with doctors’ top tips on how to avoid them.
“Stomach bugs, causing diarrhoea and/or sickness, are one of the most common holiday health problems, Dr Rafi says. It’s important that precautions are taken, particularly in areas with poor sanitation.
“People with low immune systems, children and older adults are particularly at risk through contaminated water and unsafe food, which increase the risk of illness,” he adds. “So drink water that’s been boiled, avoid ice in drinks, and eat freshly prepared food that’s served hot, where possible.”
Dr Roger Henderson, a family doctor, says diarrhoea is typically caused by irritation of the gut or viral and bacterial infections, frequently picked up from food or drinks consumed on holiday.
“Additionally, holiday stomach bugs can often spread easily in places where hygiene practices aren’t the standard we’re used to, and commonly in resorts or cruise ships where there are large numbers of holidaymakers.”
He warns that while diarrhoea is usually thought of as harmless, it can quickly become serious due to dehydration. Children, teens and the elderly are particularly at risk, as loss of fluids and salts affects them more quickly than others. Dr Henderson suggests travellers pack oral rehydration sachets to help combat the effects of diarrhoea if necessary.
SICK OF TRAVELLING
Travel or motion sickness is a temporary disturbance of the balance and equilibrium system based deep in the inner ear due to the repetitive, rhythmical movements associated with being on an aeroplane or in a boat or car, explains Dr Henderson.
Symptoms include turning pale, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and dizziness. Sometimes people may experience headaches and feeling exhausted too. Here are Dr Henderson’s top tips to help avoid travel sickness:
Don’t eat before travelling, and avoid fizzy drinks. Don’t read during the journey. Try to focus on a fixed object in the distance, such as the horizon. Get some fresh air, and avoid smoke. Sit in the middle of the boat or aircraft where the motion is felt least.
Anti-sickness tablets taken an hour before travel often help, but may cause drowsiness.
Natural treatments include ginger, and wearing acupressure bands on the wrist.
Generally, insect bites are merely an itchy annoyance, but sometimes they can cause serious illnesses. Mosquito bites, for instance, can cause yellow fever (for which pre-holiday vaccinations are available) or malaria (anti-malarial tablets can be taken before and during travel).
Contact your family doctor around eight weeks before travelling to check whether vaccinations or other preventive measures are needed for the country you’re going to.
“Presentation of symptoms may be delayed for many months after returning back home from a malariaaffected country,” warns Dr Rafi, who advises that air conditioning, bed nets, insect repellents and staying covered up by wearing trousers and long-sleeved clothing may help reduce the risk.
If you’re not travelling in a malariarisk zone, it’s still worth being bugaware. It’s estimated that nearly half (48 per cent) of holidaymakers get bitten or stung while away. “There’s no doubt in my mind that some people seem to be tastier than others,” Dr Henderson notes.
Bites can be treated by washing the affected area with soap and water and then applying a cold compress to reduce swelling. Try not to scratch the bite, as this can lead to infection.
If the bite’s painful, paracetamol or ibuprofen may help, or use a spray or cream that contains local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1 per cent) to help prevent itching and swelling. If a person has an allergic reaction to a bite, the area may become very inflamed and swelling may spread. Seek medical advice if concerned and take an antihistamine tablet if necessary.
More information can be found on the UK National Travel Health Network and Centre’s website, www.nathnac.org.
Most people are aware of the damage too much sun can do to the skin, including cancer and premature ageing, yet many ignore the warnings and end up with painful, uncomfortable sunburn.
The worst pain usually occurs six to 48 hours after sun exposure, and the skin often peels off a few days later.
“Avoid being outside between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest, and always use sunscreen with a minimum skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 before going outside into the sun,” says Dr Henderson.
It’s advisable to use sunscreen with higher SPF for children, and adults with naturally fair skin. Dr Rafi notes that these offer longer protection, but they still need to be reapplied regularly, particularly after swimming.
Pack some after-sun lotion or cooling gel, should anybody need it.
The reasons for the high rate of constipation found among passengers include a change in time-zones, variable eating habits with lack of fibre, lack of fluid in hot climates and lack of exercise, says Dr Rafi.
A simple trick is to make sure you’re drinking more water when you’re in warmer climates, to make up for body fluids lost through sweating. Also, eating high-fibre foods including fruit, vegetables and cereals can help (though make sure you wash fruit in bottled water to avoid unsafe tap water). Laxatives may be available over the counter if the problem gets worse.
Prickly heat is usually caused by blocked sweat glands, with the excessive sweat under the skin causing a local skin reaction that appears as red, itchy, raised spots, says Dr Rafi. To avoid it, he advises holidaymakers wear loose cotton clothing and reduce exposure to heat. Those prone to the rash may find steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, helpful. Soothing barrier creams, and antihistamine tablets also help.
So what should your first-aid travel kit include? Dr Henderson recommends packing plasters, rehydration sachets, paracetamol, antihistamines, antacids, anti-diarrhoeals, antiseptic, antiinflammatory creams and anti-nausea tablets.
Try these suggestions from experienced travellers, too… PACK: Holland and Barrett Ginger Root Capsules, Dh60 for 100 capsules of 550mg WHY? This is a natural remedy to ease travel sickness. PACK: Fenistil Gel, Dh18.50 for 30g, Boots WHY? This cream provides instant soothing relief and helps reduce inflammation PACK: Neorlyte ORS sachets, Dh17 for 10 sachets, Boots WHY? These handy sachets replace lost fluids and help combat loose stools, and are suitable for children aged one upwards and adults. PACK: Holland and Barrett Aloe Vera Gel, Dh49 for 200ml WHY? Lovely and cooling, quick and easy relief for sunburn and heat rash – need we say more?
Avoid being in the sun between 11am and 3pm, doctors advise