Checkup on health: Plan for the unexpected when traveling
By Klea D. Bertakis, M.D.
Going on a trip soon? If so, you’re probably planning your itinerary carefully. But are you dealing with potential health concerns by assuming all will go well?
Everyone hopes that problems won’t arise while traveling. But you’ll be smart if you think ahead: If the unexpected occurs, you’ll be better able to cope.
After sitting on a plane for ten hours, you snatch your heavy suitcase off the luggage carousel and feel a sharp spasm in your lower back. Instantly you know that you’ve made a wrong move … and that you’ll be spending your trip looking at the hotel ceiling.
Traveling is hard on backs. Long periods of inactivity alternating with hefting luggage into awkward spots, such as car trunks and overhead compartments, is a recipe for disaster.
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Minimize the chance that a back injury will occur. Add exercises to your daily routine to strengthen your back well before you go, especially if you have a desk job. When on the road or in the air, get up every hour or so and walk around and stretch.
Avoid huge suitcases that will become too heavy to lift comfortably once filled with souvenirs. Supply everyone, including kids, with small backpacks along with luggage on wheels that they can cart around themselves.
If you do strain your back, avoid more prolonged sitting if possible and don’t overdo bedrest. Move gently and walk as you are able. Spend some time every day in the swimming pool. Apply bags of crushed ice as soon as possible, then take hot showers if it makes your back feel better. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for pain, but don’t exceed the recommended dosage. See a doctor if extreme pain continues for more than a few days.
If travelers' diarrhea strikes
Where ever you go, find out about the safety of the tap water. If in doubt, avoid ice and water and stick with bottled water, sodas and hot drinks. Don’t eat uncooked shellfish or fresh salads.
If vomiting or diarrhea strikes, keep in mind that potentially life-threatening dehydration can occur quickly, especially in young children. Bring along packets of oral rehydration powder to mix with bottled water, or stock up on bottled fluids and encourage drinking as soon as symptoms develop.
You may wish to bring along an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication such as loperamide to use in case of emergency. In most cases it’s best to let the problem run its course naturally, but it’s handy if you develop problems while in the air or if no bathroom will be nearby for much of the day.
High-risk individuals, such as people who have AIDS or an inflammatory bowel disease, should talk with their doctors about bringing along antibiotics in case of illness.
When you need help overseas
In the event of a serious accident or illness, you may not want to stay long in the country you’re visiting. But you might not be in good enough shape to travel on a commercial flight. Many companies offer “air ambulances” which provide medical evacuation, but they come at a steep price ($100,000 for a distant country), and they may demand cash up front.
Find out ahead of time what overseas services your health insurance covers. Medicare does not provide for hospital or medical costs outside the United States. Many policies will pay for hospital costs, but few cover medical evacuation. For U.S. government travel information, check out http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html#health.
Traveling to foreign countries
Find out ahead of time what overseas services your health insurance covers.
In an emergency while in a foreign country, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for advice about doctors, hospitals and arrangements to get home.
In an emergency while in a foreign country, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for advice about doctors, hospitals and arrangements to get home. They can assist you in transferring funds from the United States, but won’t provide you with money.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides complete information on vaccination recommendations and disease outbreaks at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/, or call the international travelers hotline at (877) FYI-TRIP. Some immunizations need to be given a month before departure, so plan ahead.