Too much sun. Stomach complaints. Ankle grief. But canny travellers can always bounce back from these common issues, especially if they follow Dr Jane Wilson-howarth’s tips…
Common ills are all part of travel – here’s how to bounce back quickly
It takes the body about ten days to move fat around and readjust the salt loss from sweat that comes with a hot climate. This is why it is unwise to charge around trying to see every sight as soon as you arrive in the tropics. That is only likely to lead to burnout and heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke.
In the acclimatisation stage it is especially important to keep a careful eye on urine output – both its colour and quantity. Wise travellers produce a minimum of three goodvolume, light-coloured urinations per 24 hours. And anyone suddenly developing an appetite for salty foods shouldn’t read this as an unhealthy aberration, but must realise this is the body calling for help. Respond by adding salt to your food or drinking salty drinks – fresh lime sodas in India, for example, come as sweet or salty. And hot, thin soups are surprisingly refreshing in the tropics.
In hot climates it is really easy to keep insufficiently hydrated. If the ambient temperature is high, you’ll be losing water through sweat, and often you will be exercising more than at home – that is another reason to be sweating more. In addition, if your stools are a bit more liquid, you’ll be losing more fluid than usual via this route, too. So, if you feel weak and wilted, and especially if you have developed a headache, you’ll be astonished how much better you feel if you glug down at least a litre of clear fluid – fresh lime soda, 7Up, weak tea, coconut milk. But remember that a litre is a lot more than the usual volume of drink you are accustomed to taking.
Do also allow yourself some chill time. Travel is stressful, and if you are too goal-driven, you’ll have less time for people-watching and for those wonderful unexpected conversations you end up having with interesting locals when you just sit and enjoy.
When you have that feeling of things not being quite right in the gastrointestinal department – even if the symptoms are slight – it is important to listen to your body and give it a chance to heal. Don’t feel you have to keep eating to keep going.
If your appetite is poor, eat little – and choose low or fat-free, high carbohydrate foods (not fatty crisps but plain crackers, toast, boiled vegetables, rice, etc) with plenty of fluids. Fat is challenging for a sick gut to cope with, so be very slow to reintroduce much into your diet. Yoghurt, though, can be very soothing – both to an acid stomach and also to a diarrhoea-ravaged lower bowel; it provides friendly bacteria to recolonise the intestine.
A very common mistake that people make if they have been up-country or visiting places where the local diet is limited, is to overindulge upon their return. It is best to ease back into your normal diet over several days, initially limiting the amount of fat and spirits you consume, otherwise you risk bellyaches.
That lingering cold
Increasingly, big cities the world over have filthy air,
‘Keeping support on too long can weaken the muscles that stabilise a joint, so there is a balance to strike between protection and rehab’
and often a common cold that you picked up on the flight will linger longer than the usual week you’d expect.
The sinuses are spaces at the front of the skull that – like the nose – generate mucous. There is a design fault in the sinuses, though. Their drainage channels are halfway up, which means mucous can sit in them, only emptying when the head is tilted. This can lead to sinusitis. Mucous overflow is either manifest as a dribbly nose or a sensation that stuff is running down the back of the throat; often this causes a tickly cough.
As the body’s response to areal pollution is to generate more mucous, a persisting ‘cold’ in a congested city may be helped by steam inhalations. Boil a kettle, pour boiling water into a soup bowl or cup, then put a towel over your head and inhale. Doing that for a minute or two every hour for up to three times in a day will allow you to blow out the excess mucous, and that will also cure any pain at the front of the face. And if you are planning to spend a fair chunk of time anywhere urban, consider packing a pollution mask to wear while abroad.
A misstep or turned ankle can be oh-so common when pavements at your destination are rough or the terrain uneven. The first aid measure is to apply a cold compress (a wet cloth will suffice) and elevate the injured part above heart height. If the sprain is bad or you intend to continue rough hiking, the injured part will need strapping. But keeping support on too long can weaken the muscles that stabilise the joint, so there is a balance to strike between protection from further injury and careful rehab.
In addition, positional sensation is lost after a leg injury, so when the pain allows, people should practise standing on one leg with eyes closed to readjust. Physios say you should aim to be able to balance, eyes closed, on the injured leg for a full 30 seconds. This isn’t easy and takes some weeks to achieve, but when rehabilitation is overlooked, ankles are at risk of re-injury.