After packing shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses for that long-awaited sunshine holiday, don’t forget another essential for your summer family getaway – a well-stocked first aid kit.
Looking after your health, both by packing medical essentials and taking sensible precautions to avoid falling ill while you’re away, could make all the difference between a brilliant break and a holiday from hell.
Research this week suggested that more than half of holidaymakers (54 per cent) get a tummy bug with diarrhoea and vomiting while they’re away, while 33 per cent have had constipation during their holiday, and a third have suffered from itchy and sore prickly heat rashes.
“You really don’t want health problems ruining your holiday,” says Dr Imran Rafi, chair of clinical innovation and research at the Royal College of GPs. “It’s important to think about prevention from the outset.”
Stomach bugs, causing diarrhoea and/or sickness, are one of the most common holiday health problems. Dr Rafi says it’s important that precautions are taken, particularly in areas with poor sanitation.
“People with low immune systems, children and older adults are particularly at risk through contaminated water and unsafe food, which increase the risk of illness,” he says. “So drink water that’s been boiled, avoid ice in drinks, and eat freshly prepared food that’s served hot where possible.”
GP Dr Roger Henderson says diarrhoea is typically caused by irritation of the gut, or viral and bacterial infections, frequently picked up from food or drinks consumed on holiday.
“Additionally, holiday stomach bugs can often spread easily in places where hygiene practices aren’t the standard we’re used to, and commonly in resorts or cruise ships where there are large numbers of holidaymakers.”
Dr Henderson suggests travellers pack oral rehydration sachets to help combat the effects of diarrhoea if necessary.
A third of people are thought to suffer from constipation on holiday, and it can be upsetting and uncomfortable. “A change in time zones, variable eating habits with lack of fibre, lack of fluid in hot climates and lack of exercise can all contribute, and by concentrating on these factors, constipation can be avoided,” says Dr Rafi.
A simple trick is to make sure you’re drinking more water. Also, eating high-fibre foods including fruit, vegetables and cereals can help.
Laxatives may be available over the counter if the problem is particularly bad.
SICK OF TRAVELLING
Travel or motion sickness is a temporary disturbance of the balance and equilibrium system based deep in the inner ear, explains Dr Henderson, due to the repetitive, rhythmical movements associated with being on an aeroplane or in a boat or car. Symptoms include turning pale, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and dizziness.
Here are Dr Henderson’s top tips to help avoid the problem:
• Don’t eat before travelling, and avoid fizzy drinks.
• Don’t read during the journey.
• Try to focus on a fixed object in the distance, such as the horizon.
• Get some fresh air, and avoid smoke.
• Sit in the middle of the boat or aircraft where the motion is felt least.
• Anti-sickness tablets taken an hour before travel often help, but may cause drowsiness.
• Natural treatments include ginger, and wearing acupressure bands on the wrists.
Most people are aware of the damage too much sun can do to the skin, including cancer and premature ageing, yet many ignore the warnings and end up with painful sunburn .
“Avoid being outside between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest, and always use sunscreen with a minimum skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15,” says Dr Henderson.
Generally, insect bites are merely an itchy annoyance, but sometimes they can cause serious illnesses. Mosquito bites, for instance, can cause yellow fever (for which pre- holiday vaccinations are available) or malaria (anti-malarial tablets can be taken before and during travel).
You should contact your GP around eight weeks before travelling to check whether vaccinations or other preventive measures are needed for the country you’re going to. More information can be found through the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s website (www.nathnac.org).
“Presentation of symptoms may be delayed for many months after returning back home from a malaria-affected country,” warns Dr Rafi, who advises that air conditioning, bed nets, insect repellents and staying covered up by wearing trousers and long-sleeved clothing may help reduce the risk of being bitten.
If you’re not travelling in a malaria-risk zone, it’s still worth being bug-aware. It’s estimated that nearly half (48 per cent) of holidaymakers get bitten or stung. Bites can be treated by washing the area with soap and water and then applying a cold compress to reduce swelling.
If the bite is painful, paracetamol or ibuprofen may help, or use a spray or cream that contains local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1 per cent) to help prevent itching and swelling.
Prickly heat is usually caused by blocked sweat glands, with the excessive sweat under the skin causing a local skin reaction which appears as red, itchy, raised spots, says Dr Rafi.
To avoid the uncomfortable condition, he advises holidaymakers to wear loose cotton clothing and reduce exposure to heat. Those prone to the rash may find the use of steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, helpful. Soothing barrier creams, and antihistamine tablets may also help.
Dr Henderson recommends packing plasters, fluid replacement sachets, paracetamol, antihistamines, antacids, antidiarrhoeals, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory creams and anti-nausea tablets.
• Anthisan Bite And Sting Cream, £3.49, Boots: Instant soothing relief, this cream helps reduce inflammation too.
• Dioralyte Relief, £4.25 for six sachets, Boots: Suitable for adults and children aged one upwards, these handy sachets replace lost fluids.
• Good ’n Natural Ginger Root Capsules, £8.39 for 100 capsules, Holland & Barrett: A natural remedy to ease travel sickness.
• Holland & Barrett Aloe Vera Gel, £3.99, Holland & Barrett: Lovely and cooling, quick and easy relief for sunburn and heat rash.