Avoid Illness While Traveling This Holiday
A record-breaking 112.5 million people — more than a third of all Americans — are expected to travel this holiday season, including 102 million who will take their trips by car. Nothing ruins a long-awaited vacation faster than getting sick or being in medical distress.
We turned to Dr. Niket Sonpal, an New York internist and gastroenterologist, for some tips on how to avoid health consequences while 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. DVT can cause leg pain or swelling, but also can occur with no symptoms. For travelers, this can happen on long trips where you are not moving. Sonpal recommends 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, Sonpal suggests Dramamine Non-Drowsy Naturals, Dramamine’s first non-drowsy formulation. It contains the clinically tested ginger dosage required for preventing and treating motion sickness. Other sources of ginger, including candies, gums 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, an over the counter nausea medication that does not cause drowsiness, on hand.
Avoid bloating on a plane
If you get gassy on a plane, you aren’t alone. “As the pressure around you decreases, the gas in your belly isn’t constrained as much and it expands,” Sonpal explained. “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.
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! Sonpal suggests 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 are up to date on your shots. If you are traveling to an area where you are at risk for picking up an illness like malaria, you might be prescribed preventative medication. Sonpal suggests that, “People should use the 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 Eastern Standard Time to Pacific Standard Time (3 hours) can cause jet lag. With some international travel from the United States, the time difference can be as much as 12 hours. If you are 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 are flying west. If possible, eat meals closer to the time you will be eating them at your destination. Sonpal suggests 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 take along
Sonpal stresses never to 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
- Anti-biotic 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 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 for travelers:
- The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (membership required, but it is free)
- Joint Commission International
- The International Society of Travel Medicine