As you look forward to being reintroduced to sunshine on your long-awaited summer holiday, chances are you’re more concerned with finding your passport and flip-flops than packing a first aid kit.
But holiday health should be at the top of your priority list, as nothing will ruin your trip faster than falling sick or having an accident – and being utterly unprepared – as Holiday SOS author Dr Ben MacFarlane, who has worked as an emergency repatriation doctor, bringing sick and injured tourists back home from abroad, knows only too well.
“Everyone thinks they’re going to have a fantastic time on holiday, and try to ignore the fact that they might get ill,” he says. “But, statistically, some would fall ill even if they’d stayed home. When you add in all the things you do on holiday, like drinking more alcohol, taking part in risky activities, and being in a different environment with different food and weather, it multiplies the chance of health problems.”
Taking just a few simple steps before you go could make the world of difference . . .
Beat the bugs
Being bitten by insects on holiday could cause nothing more than a minor irritation. But in some parts of the world, bites can be life-threatening.
If you’re travelling to a malaria-risk region, speak to a doctor at least four weeks before you go, to ensure you get all the relevant jabs and pills you may need.
According to TV’s Embarrassing Bodies Dr James Logan, you should beware of old wives’ tales and invest in a decent insect repellent. The North Berwick-born tropical diseases expert says: “Some people think that certain foods make you repellent to mosquitoes such as vitamin B12, Marmite, alcohol or garlic. Although you can often smell it yourself if you have eaten garlic, no studies have shown that it repels mosquitoes. Nor is there scientific evidence to show that perfumes or high-pitched electronic devices work.
“Things that do work though – and are very important if travelling to tropical countries – are insect repellents and mosquito nets, especially if they are also treated with an insecticide. The best repellent on the market is one which contains DEET, a strong chemical proven to repel mosquitoes. For high-risk tropical areas the level of DEET should be above 30 per cent.
“In your back garden, or for the rest of
Europe, it is not necessary to use a high percentage of DEET, so use whatever safe or natural alternative works for you. PMD (p-menthane diol), which is derived from lemon eucalyptus can be a good alternative to DEET.”
He adds: “Other things you can do to protect yourself are wearing loose clothing with long sleeves or trousers as mosquitoes will even bite through jeans. Avoid going out at dawn and dusk when they’re most active, and have a fan on in your room as mosquitoes don’t like flying in strong wind.”
And as well as repellent, pack some soothing cream and antihistamines to treat any nasty bites you do get. They will also help with prickly heat and rashes.
Ban the burn
YES, everybody likes a tan. But not only does sunburn increase your risk of skin cancer, it can be extremely painful. Severe sunburn will even cause blisters, meaning you’ll be at risk of
According to the
Cancer Research UK website, the UK population has six different types of skin, and within each type the colour and tone vary.
Type one burns often and rarely tans, and these people tend to have freckles. Type two people are often light-haired and blue-eyed. They sometimes tan, but often burn. Type three usually tan – after a while. Type four often tan and rarely burn, while type five and six are naturally black-brown skin.
So once you’ve judged your skin type what do you need?
According to Jackie Partridge, cosmetic nurse and clinical director of Dermalclinic in Church Hill, the higher the SPF factor the better – no matter how well you think you tan.
“We recommend factor 50 for everyone,” she says. “And don’t just save it for sunny days – if there’s daylight get an SPF on. Eighty per cent of all lines and wrinkles that we treat at the
clinic are caused by sun damage.
“Even if you’re just holidaying in Scotland, you need to put on an SPF because there will by UVA and UVB rays getting through to your skin.
“There are some make-ups which have SPFs of around 15 but for proper protection use factor 50. And if you are somewhere hot, make sure you apply it often –
especially after swimming – and also use a good moisturiser as your skin will be dehydrated.”
BE BOOZE AWARE
EVERYBODY likes to let their hair down on holiday – and this can include drinking more alcohol than usual and generally taking less care.
“Probably the majority of upsets on holiday stem from alcohol – gastrointestinal problems as well as accidents,” says Dr MacFarlane. “It’s important to be sensible, even though it sounds boring.”
Don’t go overboard. If you are going out for a few drinks, stay in a group so that you’re not alone, should anything happen. Most definitely do not attempt to go swimming or start climbing on to walls or balconies if you’re intoxicated. It isn’t worth the risk.
ENSURE YOU INSURE
TOP of your priority list should be to buy appropriate travel insurance before you go. Yes, it’s an additional cost, but the few extra pounds is nothing compared with the bill of thousands you could be forced to pay should you require medical help overseas.
If travelling in Europe, get a European Health Insurance Card (www.ehicdirect.org.uk), which means you’ll get free health care.
And remember these are free. Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com has recently been campaigning to make sure people are not tricked into paying for EHIC cards.
“The European Health Insurance Card doesn’t cost a penny,” he says. “It can get you free or discounted medical care in all 27 EU countries, plus a few others. But over half the UK population doesn’t have one, and nearly four million will expire in 2012, so urgently check yours.
“Everybody who is travelling in Europe needs an EHIC. Even if you’ve already got travel insurance, it’s valuable extra protection, even if just for visiting the local GP with a query while you’re away.
“But watch out for websites demanding a fee for the EHIC. You’ll find internet sites that describe themselves as ‘reviewing’ or ‘forwarding’ services, charging about £10-£15 to process your application. They often look official, but scroll to the bottom and you’ll find a tick box asking for cash. Always use the official site, www.ehic.org.uk, to get yours for free.”
PACK AND PREPARE
MAKE room in your suitcase for a first aid box containing a few invaluable basics, such as painkillers, anti-diarrhoea tablets, antihistamines, antiseptic cream, handwash, plasters and dressings.
“Preparation is everything,” Dr MacFarlane stresses. “If you’re prepared, you can either avoid the common ailments people get on holiday, or deal with them yourself so you don’t need to go to a doctor.”
Make sure you’re in good health before you go, and pick up any regular prescriptions you need. It’s also useful to find out where the nearest English-speaking doctors or pharmacies are in your resort before you travel, for added peace of mind.
DON’T BE A CLOT
HOLIDAYS often start with a flight, which can increase the chances of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), particularly on long-haul trips.
Some groups are more at risk, such as people with previous clotting problems, pregnant women, smokers and women on the pill, says Dr MacFarlane. The condition is serious and, if not treated quickly, can be fatal.
Reduce the risk by moving as much as possible while in the air. Get up for a walk up and down the aisles, or do some leg and foot exercises in your seat.
Also, drink plenty of fluid and avoid alcohol, and seek help immediately if you develop any unusual swelling, pain and redness in your legs.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
STOMACH upsets are one of the most common holiday health complaints, and you don’t have to travel to exotic destinations to get food poisoning.
Symptoms can come on as soon as two hours after eating, or up to two days later. The resulting diarrhoea, and possible nausea and vomiting, can last from a day to more than a week.
“Make sure food is well cooked,” advises Dr MacFarlane.
“It’s a real worry with all-day buffets, where food may have been lying out for a long time.”
Check whether the tap water is safe to drink in the country you’re visiting. If it’s not, stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes and fruit and salad, which may have been washed in the water.
If you do happen to fall ill, anti-diarrhoea remedies and rehy-dration sachets can always help, and make sure that you drink lots of – safe – water to replace all of those lost fluids.
• Additional reporting by Gina Davidson