I don’t like surprises. At least not medical ones. So last summer, before I traveled to India, I prepared for minor medical emergencies that I might experience while far away from home. I’m glad I did, because several people on our trip ended up getting sick and missed seeing the “Pink City” of Jaipur. They missed dining at some amazing restaurants, too. Fortunately I stayed healthy the entire time.
Even if your summer plans are close to home, let me share with you ten things you can do to avoid getting sick.
1) Take two Pepto-Bismol tablets before eating strange or unfamiliar food. These tablets work by blocking the absorption of toxins produced by bacteria such as E. coli. Even if traveler’s diarrhea has started, Pepto-Bismol can reduce your symptoms. Bubble-gum flavored Pepto-Bismol is available for kids over age two. (While in India, I chewed two tablets before each meal.)
2) Apply After Bite to a painful insect bite. On one of our trips to Florida, my husband was photographing flowers in an arboretum and was stung by a flying insect, causing his arm to be quite painful. Fortunately, a volunteer at the front desk gave us a small stick of After Bite. Once my husband applied it, the pain went away almost immediately. We were soon back to photographing the hanging orchids and enjoyed a lovely (pain-free) lunch under an enormous banyan tree. (You can also check out Lanacaine and Dermoblast.)
3) Take along prescription antibiotics to treat a urinary tract infection. If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you know this type of problem can cause sudden pain and burning. This one bottle of pills can spare you from having to endure significant discomfort while trying to find a doctor. Fill the prescription before you leave home.
4) Take along a tube of mycostatin cream. This inexpensive over-the-counter cream is available at any drugstore. (Do this especially if you’re someone who is prone to vaginal yeast infections.)
5) Take along lip balm. But not one that contains oxybenzone, a chemical that can become carcinogenic on the skin and may lead to the development of skin cancer. Also, avoid giving your kids lip balms that contain petrolatum or artificial flavors. Look for products containing coconut oil or natural beeswax. And if you’ll be out of doors a lot, look for a lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
6) Wear good quality sunglasses. UV radiation from the sun has been linked to cataracts and other eye disorders like macular degeneration. Be sure to buy sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays. Wear your sunglasses even on overcast days and especially when the sun is high in the sky, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Remember, sunglasses aren’t just fashionable, they’re essential!
7) Wear sunscreen without oxybenzone. Sunscreens come in two kinds: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
Studies show that some chemical sunscreens can mimic estrogen and cause a disruption of one’s own hormones. The most concerning chemical in sunscreens is oxybenzone. It has been linked to low testosterone levels and low sperm counts in males and menstrual changes and endometriosis in females. Mineral sunscreens aren’t toxic. Plus they don’t penetrate your skin, so they don’t reach underlying tissues.
Also be on the lookout for a preservative called methylisothiazolinone. It is a major irritant and in 2013 was named “allergen of the year.” When children in particular were exposed to this ingredient, serious skin allergies occurred.
What about sun protection factor (SPF)? The FDA has long contended that SPF higher than 50 is misleading. Studies do NOT show that products with SPF greater than 50 are better at preventing skin cancer.
For a complete list of safe sunscreens, visit the Environmental Working Group’s website.
8) Be sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations. During summer, you might want to wear flip-flops or swim shoes. While fun to wear, flimsy footwear doesn’t protect your feet from rusty nails on a playground or sharp objects hidden in the sand. Be sure that you (and your children) are up to date on your tetanus shots.
Also, if you’re traveling to countries like Mexico, Costa Rica or India, get a hepatitis A vaccine. The best time to get a hepatitis A vaccine is two to four weeks ahead of your departure date. A booster is given six to twelve months later.
For a complete list of destinations and recommended vaccines, see Travel Smart: Get Vaccinated.
9) Wear insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes and ticks. Both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommend three active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus
Off Deep Woods is a known and trusted brand, containing 25% DEET and will be effective for up to eight hours. Repel Dry Family Insect Repellent is 10 percent DEET and is safe for children. (Note: It only lasts four hours.) Products with picaridin appear to irritate the skin less than DEET. If you are looking for an all-natural product, try Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent or Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. Both appear to be effective at keeping insects away for six to seven hours. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used in children under age three. (Note: DEET has no age restrictions.)
According to the EWG, products with 20-30 percent DEET are the most effective at protecting against the mosquito that carries the Zika virus. Products with 20 percent picaridin are also effective. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is less effective and Vitamin B1 and essential oils are not effective.
All products work against mosquitoes, but not all work against ticks. To find the repellent that’s right for you, go to click here.
10) Carry a first aid kit. In fact, you should keep one in your home and in your car. This kit should include a number of items including Band-Aids, bandages, antiseptic wipes, a finger splint, a roll of medical tape, scissors, and tweezers. Medications such as Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Benadryl, Tagamet or Zantac, cortisone cream, and Neosporin ointment can also be useful.
Note: If you or a family member has allergies and needs to carry an Epipen, keep it in an accessible place. Always take at least two Epipens with you. While on vacation, remember to take one with you into a restaurant or to the beach.
See the Red Cross website for a complete list of what to keep in your first-aid kit.
One final thought before you head out… no matter where you vacation, always know the location of the nearest hospital or emergency room.
Note: This blog contains general guidelines and is not meant to replace the medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare provider.