Of course you’ll have a list of medicines to pack when you go away, but there are some surprisingly simple ways to stay healthy this summer.
Book your vaccinations early
For some destinations the required or advised vaccinations need to be given up to three months before travel, so it’s important to plan well ahead. The site www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk gives up-to-date information for every country. GPs can provide the necessary jabs, or for reputable specialist travel clinics there’s a link on the fitfortravel website to the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Cuts or scrapes
In tropical climates, take extra care over even minor wounds, or scratched insect bites, as they can easily turn septic. Spray-on plasters are ideal for such conditions. Easy to pop into a bag or pocket, simply spray on and you have a waterproof, antiseptic covering that wears off after a few days. If, despite cleaning a wound, some dirt remains then there is a risk of tetanus. If you’re not up to date with those shots, seek medical help.
Holiday heart syndrome
On holiday you want to let your hair down. If that includes indulging in more alcohol than normal, it’s men who are more likely to suffer consequences than women. Holiday Heart Syndrome is the term coined for atrial fibrillation (the most common abnormal heart rhythm) triggered by binge drinking. Symptoms include a ‘quivering’ heart muscle, palpitations, fainting, chest pain. It's not normally life-threatening, but it can lead to congestive heart failure. Boston University Medical Center carried out a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and while they concluded that even moderate drinking (two drinks daily) could lead to this syndrome, though only for men, most other experts criticised those conclusions. However, none of the experts disagree that men downing six or more drinks a day are at risk.
In worst-case scenarios, biting insects transmit killer diseases, such as malaria, Japanese Encephalitis and Dengue Fever, which can be prevented by using bite avoidance measures. Also, itchy lumps from bites can become infected. So prevention is best. All repellents work on the principle of disguising our odour. DEET remains the longest lasting and highly effective repellent, but it can cause skin irritations, even melt plastic (be careful with spectacle frames), and some find the odour unpleasant. Products containing Picaridin are highly effective – not quite so long lasting, but with less risk of irritation, no odour and it doesn’t melt plastic. For pregnant women and small children (aged two or over), an effective, safe chemical is Saltidin, non-irritating to skin, nontoxic, and long lasting. The only natural option recommended by outdoor experts is Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, though it does need to be reapplied about every two hours.
Can you recognise sunstroke?
Faced with someone who’s confused, hostile, vomiting, with a crashing headache, you could think they’re drunk. But, if they also look sunburnt, and their skin is hot and dry, these may be signs of heat stroke (hyperthermia). Normally, when the body overheats it pushes out cooling perspiration. When the heat regulating systems are overwhelmed, the perspiration defence can fail and the inner temperature climbs. That causes a decrease in blood pressure, possibly with fainting or dizziness, and the heart rate may pump up trying to increase the blood’s oxygen supply. Sitting in a bath of tepid (not cold) water and drinking cool water are the most effective self-help measures for lowering the temperature. If the person’s temperature hits 40oC, they fall unconscious, or are exhibiting signs of confusion, get urgent medical help.
Mint tea caution
Across the Middle East mint tea is often the drink of choice – refreshing and usually a digestive aid. Those who suffer from severe heartburn or GORD (Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) may, however, find mint has the reverse effect. Mint can relax the sphincter at the bottom of the oesophagus, allowing stomach acid to travel back the wrong way. So, if you suffer from reflux, give the mint a miss!
An out-of-synch body clock can ruin the start of a holiday, or make returning to normal life more of a struggle. Flying east is the toughest on our circadian rhythms: for instance, flying from the UK to Thailand, or from the US to Britain. And, of course, remember to set your clock to the destination time as soon as you board the flight and sleep, or stay awake, accordingly. So, if it’s night-time when you board, but daytime at your destination, try to keep awake as long as possible. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic drinks (alcohol will just dehydrate you). It may not help the jetlag but will stop you getting dehydrated and help you feel more refreshed when you arrive.
Boosting Vitamin D
While excess sun exposure can bring risks of skin cancer and cataracts, too little sunshine on our skin can lead to vitamin D deficiency. That’s a major problem for bone health and is also increasingly linked with a range of major diseases, including some cancers. Consequently, experts have tried calculating how much sun is enough. There’s no one-size-fits- all guide. How much sun we can take depends on: skin type, age (older bodies are less able to make vitamin D) and the amount of UVB in sunlight, which changes with season, time and latitude. The latest advice from leading organisations – including Cancer Research UK – suggests 13 minutes of midday exposure, three times a week, with a third of the body’s skin exposed (ideally sunscreen free). Be sure to keep exposure to less time than it takes for your skin to redden and burn.
A combination of hours in a plane seat, sleeping in a strange bed and pounding the tourist trails can stress the back muscles and spine. For lower back pain using lumbar supports can help ease the strain – if you don’t carry one with you, try a rolled up towel, or small pillow in the hollow of your back. For a downloadable programme of exercises for managing back pain visit www.backcare.org.uk, enter First Aid for Back Pain in the keyword search to find options for dealing with back pain. Back problems can be aggravated by sitting for long periods, so, on flights, walk up and down the aisle when possible, which, of course, will also help prevent fluid pooling around the ankles and the risk of blood clots, or DVT. Remember: when you are sitting keep circulation pumping by raising and dropping the heels, and rotating the ankles.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, always pack a spare pair of glasses. That way if you break or lose your specs, or lenses become uncomfortable, you’ll still be able to focus. As an added precaution, keep a note of your lenses prescription in your wallet. Plane travel is dehydrating, leaving eyes dry, too. Pop some eye drops into your hand luggage, both for comfort and to avoid blurry vision from dry eyes. For sunglasses, designer may look impressive but some could end up harming your eyes! Look for the British Standard BSE N 1836:1997 for good UV protection. Other tinted lenses mean the pupils open wider, allowing in more UV light than normal, possibly leading to permanent damage to the cornea or conjunctiva.