How to have a healthy summer vacation

This summer, whether traveling across country or around the world, you'll have a more enjoyable vacation if you plan ahead to stay healthy.

"While you can't prevent every health problem, there's much you can do to keep you and your family healthy when you're away from home," says Elizabeth M. Whelan, MPH ScD, president of the American Council on Science and Health in New York City.

Dr. Whelan suggests keeping the following health and safety tips in mind.

The healthy traveler

In addition to packing a small first aid kit, be sure to pack your health insurance card, a copy of your eyeglass prescription, copies of prescriptions for any medicines and the addresses and phone numbers of all your health care providers.

"If you have a chronic health problem, such as diabetes or heart disease, you may also want to carry a medical summary prepared by your doctor that includes an EKG," Dr. Whelan says. "You should wear an identifying bracelet or necklace if you have life-threatening allergies to medications or a medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or seizure disorder that could be rapidly problematic."

You should also bring a supply of any medicine you take routinely. "It's particularly important to bring an adequate supply of your prescription medicines if you're traveling abroad," Dr. Whelan says. "Drug names, doses and availability differ in other countries, and in some parts of the world, drug safety and effectiveness may not be up to U.S. standards."

Packing a supply of over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for common problems also can help. These include a pain reliever (aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen); an antacid (calcium carbonate/aluminum or magnesium hydroxide, an H2 blocker or a proton pump inhibitor); a laxative; medication to treat diarrhea (kaopectate or bismuth subsalicylate); an antihistamine (diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine); and a cough/cold remedy.

If you're traveling by air, put your prescription drugs in your carry-on bag, if your airline allows it. If you're traveling with young children, make sure all drugs are in containers with child-resistant caps. "It may be difficult to keep medicine out of reach the way you would at home," Dr. Whelan says.

Motion sickness

Nine in 10 people suffer from motion sickness at some point. If you're prone to it, the following precautions can reduce your symptoms:

  • Travel where there's the least motion: on a ship's deck or amidships, in a car's front seat and over a plane's wing.

  • Don't watch the waves when you're on a boat; look at the scenery when traveling on land. Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.

  • Eat and drink in moderation the night before you travel.

  • Avoid tobacco smoke and intense chemical and food odors.

  • Take OTC motion sickness medications such as Dramamine or Bonine as directed on the label.

If these tips don't provide relief, ask your health care provider to suggest a prescription medication such as a scopolamine patch.

Travelers' diarrhea

Many international travelers develop diarrhea. Carefully selecting food and beverages can help prevent the condition. In general, cooked foods are safer than raw vegetables, fruit and seafood. The safest drinks are hot coffee, hot tea and bottled soft drinks. Avoid beverages with ice, fruit drinks and milk.

Four evenly divided daily doses of bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) may help prevent some gastrointestinal infections.

"If you get diarrhea, take an appropriate over-the-counter medicine and consume lots of bottled water and non-caffeinated soft drinks to prevent dehydration," Dr. Whelan says. "Seek medical attention if the condition continues longer than a day or two, or if you have a high fever or blood in your stool."

Foreign travel

Make sure that your immunizations are up to date. Travelers to developing countries should consider getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. Countries in the tropics may require other immunizations, such as yellow fever.

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