We lose a day of a two-week break sorting out niggly health complaints, according to a recent survey, says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones. But how do we achieve that holiday health?
One of the most common holiday health problems is traveller’s diarrhoea, which may be due to unusual foods and drinks. But we can also pick up bugs that upset our normal balance, or bacteria, viruses or parasites from contaminated food, especially abroad.
Prevent by drinking and cleaning teeth with (sealed) bottled water, and avoid ice, ice cream, uncooked eggs, unpeeled fruit and salads.
Treat by drinking plenty of fluids. Use anti-diarrhoea tablets (from the pharmacy) only if essential – for example, if you need to travel.
Seek advice if you’re dehydrated (feel thirsty, faint or have muscle weakness), pass fresh blood, have a high fever or if diarrhoea or tummy pains are severe.
If you usually get constipated away from home, prevent it with extra fluids, fruit/veg/whole grains and exercise. Treat with artificial roughage, such as ispaghula husk, or a pharmacy laxative, such as senna. Seek advice if you have severe tummy pain or distension, vomit, pass blood or stop passing wind.
Cuts and grazes can lead to infection. Ensure tetanus jabs are up to date, treat bleeding by pressing with a clean cloth until it stops, then clean the wound and cover with a plaster.
Seek advice if bleeding continues, if wounds may need stitches or are contaminated with soil, grit, glass or gravel and for animal bites. Also seek advice if a wound later becomes red, swollen, contains pus, or you become feverish or unwell.
Activity-related strains and sprains can be prevented with appropriate footwear and equipment. Treat with rest, ice (15 minutes, four times daily), a support bandage and elevating the affected part. Anti-inflammatory tablets, such as ibuprofen, may help.
Seek advice if pain, swelling or disability is severe.
Indigestion and overindulgence
Prevent acid reflux, heartburn and wind by limiting rich foods, alcohol and fizzy drinks. Treat with an antacid, such as Gaviscon, or acid suppressants (omeprazole or ranitidine), and sleep propped up. Seek advice if it’s severe, persistent or causes chest, arm or back pain, as heart pain can mimic indigestion.
Allergies can affect eyes, too. Prevent by avoiding pollen and holidays or situations that trigger your allergies, or use a preventive steroid nose spray. Treat with antihistamine tablets, a decongestant nose spray and/or eye drops.
Seek advice if pharmacy medicines don’t work, or you become wheezy or breathless. Find out more about allergies at allergyuk.org.
These can be due to travel stress, or the relief of everyday pressures. Prevent by staying well hydrated, going easy on the alcohol and sticking to normal eating and sleeping times.
Treat with rest and a pharmacy painkiller. Seek medical advice if headaches follow a head injury, or are linked to neck stiffness, fever, vomiting, vision problems or a rash that won’t disappear when pressed with a glass.
Too much sun can burn and raise skin cancer risks. Prevent by using sunscreen with a high protection factor against ultraviolet A and B, wearing a hat and staying in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
Treat with extra fluids, paracetamol and aftersun lotions. Seek advice if sunburn is extensive, causes blistering or you feel feverish, shivery, dizzy or unwell.
5 Ways To Stay Safe On Holiday
1. Pack a small first-aid kit. This will ensure you don’t have to spend time looking for a pharmacy, and will keep you in good holiday health.
2. But DO ask your pharmacist’s advice before taking pharmacy medicines if you take other drugs or have other medical conditions.
3. Find out how and where to get medical help locally in an emergency. In the UK, phone 111 or visit nhs.uk
4. Take enough of your usual medicines with you, as well as your ‘repeat prescription’ list.
5. Seek medical advice earlier if the sufferer is a child, very elderly or frail.