- Travelers should pack basic items like sunscreen and insect repellent when taking a trip.
- Travelers should also hydrate to protect from heat stroke and dehydration.
As millions of Americans hit the road for what is expected to be the busiest summer travel season yet, a member of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) advises travelers to pack a healthy dose of common sense measures to prepare for and prevent common health issues that arise during travel.
Shirley L. Sharp, DO, MS, FACOFP, a board-certified physician in family and emergency medicine and faculty member at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, presented a session on travel preparation at the ACOFP’s recent annual convention.
“Summer vacations are meant to be fun, so no one wants to be sidelined from things like altitude sickness, sunburn, or traveler’s diarrhea from drinking unpurified water or questionable food prep hygiene,” said Dr. Sharp. “Travelers should be mindful of the area they are visiting and consult their primary care physician to discuss any vaccinations they might need if traveling abroad, as well as a plan for medical care particularly if they have chronic, high-risk medical conditions.”
If you are traveling this summer, Dr. Sharp recommends you:
If traveling to a high-altitude destination, such as Colorado or Utah, it is important to discuss your trip with your primary care physician. The prescription medication acetazolamide can help people tolerate travel to high altitudes, but patients need to be evaluated by their physician prior to travel to determine if it is an appropriate and needed medication. In general, a slow ascent is recommended, and Dr. Sharp suggests sleeping at a lower altitude upon arrival and slowly ascending over a couple of days. The most common symptoms of altitude sickness are headache, nausea, or fatigue. If you have trouble breathing or any worsening symptoms such as visual changes or confusion, Dr. Sharp says the fastest – and main – treatment is descent.
Pack sunscreen and mosquito protection.
Exposed skin can lead to painful sunburns and increase the incidence of mosquito or tick bites, which can cause Lyme disease and babesiosis. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher, and cool, breathable polyester long-sleeved shirts and pants should be worn to protect from insects and ticks. DEET mosquito repellents and nets are also useful, especially when hiking in areas where ticks are present – particularly in the Northeast, Southeast, and increasingly in the Midwest due to changing weather patterns. You should discuss special considerations for protecting young children from sun exposure and insects/ticks with your family physician or pediatrician.
Mask up to protect from wildfires.
As so many areas of the country are experiencing poor indoor air quality this summer, Dr. Sharp advises travelers to bring an N95 mask to protect their lungs from the smoke from wildfires blanketing the country.
Take red tide precautions.
Toxic red tides in Florida and some parts of the gulf coast of Texas are forecasted this year, which can lead to respiratory issues in patients with asthma and cause significant skin and eye irritation. Dr. Sharp also warned that eating shellfish from these areas can potentially cause shellfish poisoning, characterized by abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, numbness to extremities, muscle aches, headaches, and vertigo.
Hydrate, but consider your water’s source.
While staying hydrated is very important to prevent dehydration and heat stroke in warm temperatures, it’s equally important to make sure your drinking water is free from parasites, bacteria and viruses if bottled water is not available. Dr. Sharp recommends that if you plan to drink stream water while camping or hiking, make sure the water is boiled as it will kill most organisms that can cause traveler’s diarrhea. If boiling water is not possible, several companies sell portable filters, but Dr. Sharp advised making sure it is certified for “cysts and oocyst” reduction in the care of parasites.
Get back to basics.
Make sure that you pack basic necessities, such as any prescription medications you take regularly. If you do, be sure to bring enough for the trip plus a few days extra in case you encounter travel delays. Also, pack any over-the-counter medications you may need (i.e., acetaminophen, cold or allergy medicines, etc.,). Anti-itch ointments, band-aids, and hand sanitizer are also good travel essentials. Dr. Sharp also added that home remedies include aloe vera gel which works well for sunburn, ice packs that help with itching from bug bites, baking soda to use on unbroken skin over bites, and calamine lotion for mosquito bites.
Be mindful of personal safety.
Regardless of where you travel in the U.S. or abroad, be mindful of your surroundings and consider personal safety when planning travel. Travelers should consult the U.S. Department of State website for travel advisories about dangers in other countries.
Understand international traveling requirements.
For some geographical areas, there are required vaccines that are needed before entering the country. These vaccines are very country dependent but are largely required in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America – primarily to prevent yellow fever and malaria, which could be potentially life-threatening. Dr. Sharp advises patients with chronic conditions to discuss their international travel plans with their primary care physician for vaccination advice, as well as recommendations on best practices and care for their medical issues while abroad.
“As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, I always encourage my patients to think about their health from an overall wellness, preventative standpoint, and preparing for common health issues that could arise while traveling is no different,” said Dr. Sharp. “Travelers should always consider the overall health of everyone in their party, with particular consideration for young children, who may have different guidelines when using certain products like sunscreen or mosquito repellents. Your primary care physician is a great resource for any medical-related travel questions and can help you prepare for common ailments and prevent them as much as possible.”
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