With travel season upon us, planning for your health and wellness while away is just as important as planning your trip itinerary. That’s the message of local pharmacists who advise travellers to take necessary steps to ensure they stay healthy on vacation.
“Travelling involves realities such as congested airports, airborne germs on planes, trains and buses, and changes in temperature, food and routine, all of which can play havoc with one’s health,” said Billy Cheung, Executive Director, Pharmacy and Professional Affairs of Pharmasave Ontario. “What many people don’t realize is that there are proactive steps that can be taken to ward off germs and illness while away.”
According to the International Travel Health Guide, up to 65 per cent of travellers heading to developing countries – including many popular vacation spots – report a health issue during their trip. The two most common illnesses are diarrhea and respiratory disease, with approximately one in 20 travellers seeking medical care while on vacation.
The No. 1 action Cheung recommends taking before leaving home is to speak with your pharmacist about any vaccines that may be required, depending on where you are headed as well as your age. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to see if there are destination-specific vaccines or medications – to prevent illnesses such as yellow fever, malaria or elevation sickness, for example – that are recommended at the time of your travel. He also suggests downloading the free CANImmunize app – a handy mobile way to store your family’s immunization records, and access information on vaccines specific to kids, adults and travellers.
To ensure your trip goes according to plan, Cheung emphasizes the importance of taking along a well-stocked travel health kit, including items such as:
Over-the-counter remedies: Top picks include pain and fever medication, cold or sinus caplets, anti-diarrhea pills, oral rehydration salts for managing fluid loss due to diarrhea or vomiting, antihistamines to treat potential allergic reactions to food or insect bites, decongestants (making sure there are no contraindications), antifungal cream, and hydrocortisone cream for irritated or itchy skin.
Motion sickness control: Items that may help prevent nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness include a Scopolamine patch, Gravol, ginger root, and wrist bands that exert pressure and stimulate the P6 acupressure point. To decrease the potential of sickness while in motion, Cheung also suggests focusing on the horizon, practicing mindful breathing, and avoiding reading and screen time.
Disinfectants: Hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes should be readily accessible in your carry-on or personal bag for regular use throughout your trip.
Insect repellent: The CDC, Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization all recommend DEET-based products for best defense against insect and mosquito-transmitted diseases, such as Zika and West Nile virus. While the concentration of DEET may vary between 10 and 98 per cent depending on the repellent brand, studies show that formulas containing at least 30 per cent DEET are most effective.
Blood clot prevention: With studies showing a higher risk of death related to deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) on flights longer than eight hours, Cheungrecommends investing in a pair of compression stockings – available in pharmacies. He also recommends an aisle seat to make it easier to get up and move around the cabin regularly, and doing calf-muscle exercises every hour or so. If you’re at increased risk – due to cancer, recent surgery, advanced age, obesity or pregnancy, for example – consult with your doctor, who may consider prescription medication options.
Prescription medication: Travel with a list of your medications, including your dosage and reason for taking them. Schedule an appointment with your pharmacist before you go for a medication review to gather all the information you will need. To keep your medication routine on track while on vacation, use a pill organizer and set daily reminders on your phone. Be mindful of time changes in order to dose at the proper intervals – particularly for time-sensitive medications such as oral contraceptives and insulin. To allow for unexpected mishaps, bring more than the amount of medication needed to last the entire trip.
Other travel essentials: Pack an assortment of first aid items – including thermometer, bandages, blister and wound care, tweezers and an antiseptic, after-bite cream, sunscreen (with at least 30 SPF and both UVA and UVB protection) and after-burn care.
Staying hydrated throughout your trip is important to ward off negative health symptoms, including leg pain, headaches and fatigue – just be sure the water is safe to drink, otherwise stick with bottled options.