The summer months are well under-way, and we are all eagerly anticipating the record-breaking heat-wave that some farmer in Donegal has predicted, on the sound basis of his oracle ducks walking backwards across the farmyard. The more cynical of us may have booked a few days abroad while the patriotic “neo-hibernians” among us will be “chillaxing” on a “staycation”.
Regardless of where you are planning to holiday this year, it’s well worth putting a holiday health-care check-list in place to cover any health concerns that crop up.
In the last article , I took a detailed look at sun-screens so I won’t repeat myself except to re-emphasize. When heading to the sun, wear a sun-screen with a high SPF. Apply frequently, adequately and cover exposed limbs if they are turning red. It’s common sense.
I guess one of the more common health issues to affect people when holidaying, particularly when abroad, are stomach upsets and diarrhoea. When away, we usually like to take a break from cooking for ourselves as well. Most people will eat out more often than they do at home. We generally assume that the establishment preparing our food is taking all the necessary measures to ensure it is not contaminated with bacteria that could make us ill. However, the same emphasis may not be placed on food hygiene, in other parts of the world, as it is here in Ireland. This may be fine for the locals who have spent a life-time developing a robust digestive system to fend off threatening bacteria, but for our less-exposed systems it may all prove too much. A few general precautions should be adhered to. Avoid drinking tap-water, choose bottled water instead. Be wary of ice in drinks. Sauces and condiments that have been sitting in the sun all day, on the out-door restaurant table, may not be a wise choice either. Also, try to resist the temptation of the bowl of pretzels that have probably been on the bar counter since you were there this time last year.
For those who do pick up a stomach bug, it usually isn’t too serious and should run its course in a few days, as the body’s immune system kills off the offending bacteria. If the symptoms do persist for longer, then a trip to the doctor is advised if only to rule out anything more serious. The recent deaths in Europe as a result of E-Coli food poisoning should be warning enough that contaminated food can kill you.
When suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea, oral rehydration should be the first-line treatment to re-hydrate the body after fluid loss. This applies particularly in hot climates or where young children are involved. Dioralyte sachets, which are mixed with water to help restore the electrolyte balance and re-hydrate the body can be used. For adults, loperamide( Imodium) will help slow down intestinal motility to counteract the diarrhoea, until the body fights off the infection. For those with stomach discomfort, Domperidone (Motilium) will give some relief from that bloated, distended feeling.
Another holiday annoyance can be mosquito, or other insect, bites and stings. The destination will determine how much of an issue this will be. For tropical climates, good insect repellant with at least 50% Diethyl Toluamide (DEET) is recommended. At dusk it’s a good idea to cover limbs where possible to protect from bites and use a mosquito net when sleeping where appropriate. When bitten, the bite should be kept clean by using antiseptic cream or liquid. If it becomes inflamed or itchy, applying a small amount of hydrocortisone cream 1% (Cortopin), or taking an antihistanmine such as chlorpheniramine (Piriton) would help. Care should be taken to make sure the bite doesn’t become infected.
Antihistamines may also be worth bringing in case of allergies. While away, we may be exposed to allergens that we don’t normally encounter which could cause itchy skin rashes. Taking chlorpheniramine (Piriton) will reduce the body’s response to the allergen and should ease the discomfort and itching.
Before heading on holiday, it’s worth taking the time to put a small first aid kit together, particularly if young children will be present. It should include the usual selection of plasters, dressings and antiseptics for any bumps and cuts obtained in daily activities. Your holiday check-list should at least include Sunscreen, Insect Repellant, Paracetamol, Dioralyte, Motilium, Imodium, Antihistamines, Hydrocortisone Cream. Talk to your pharmacist for guidance on how best to use these products. Hopefully, it won’t be needed but it’s good to have all the bases covered. You can bet that the one time you don’t have it will be the one time you will need it. Your local pharmacist will be able to put a list together to specifically suit your holiday needs, whether you’re heading off as a family to Spain, on a package sun holiday ,or backpacking alone across Asia.
Cormac Harte M.P.S.I., Mahers Pharmacy, Clonmel