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July 16, 2008 > Taking a Vacation this Summer?

Taking a Vacation this Summer?

Stay Healthy During Your Travels by Planning Ahead

For many Bay Area residents, summertime means vacations and travel time. While fun and exciting, traveling can also expose you to different schedules, new foods, water your body isn't used to, and other issues that may affect your health.
"The best way to stay healthy when you travel is to plan ahead," says Dr. Barbara Kostick, a family practice physician and medical director of Washington Hospital's Community Health Services.
The first step is to consider your destination and what special needs you may have depending on where you are going. For example, you must get immunized for certain diseases when traveling to some foreign countries.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers detailed information about diseases and other issues to consider while traveling abroad at www.cdc.gov. Visit the site before you visit your physician and write down any specific questions you might have related to your health. If you have a chronic disease like asthma or diabetes, make sure to ask your doctor about your special needs.
Kostick advises travelers to make an appointment with your doctor a couple of months before your trip, especially if you have a chronic illness or need specific immunizations to travel. This will give ample time for the immunization's for full protection to "kick in" before you leave, which takes about six weeks and order any needed medications.
"Make a one-page medical history log that can be tucked in with your passport," suggests Kostick. Include information about immunizations, chronic diseases, prescription medications, allergies, and any surgeries you have had. Name the person who can make medical decisions for you while traveling if needed. Include someone who is traveling with you as well as a contact back home. Also, if you have a copy of a recent EKG, take it.
"Taking your medical history with you is like taking an umbrella," Kostick says. "It usually doesn't rain when you have an umbrella."
Keep your medicines with you, and not in checked baggage, the doctor advises, and make sure you have enough to last the entire time you will be gone. Include your prescriptions and any over-the-counter products you use or might need for pain, upset stomach, diarrhea, colds, congestion, and allergies. If you take vitamins or other supplements, take enough to last the trip. A small first-aid kit with antibiotic cream, bandages, antiseptic wipes, sunscreen, insect repellant and hand sanitizer can also come in handy.

Avoiding Jetlag
Jetlag can be a problem on long flights. Crossing several time zones can get your body out of sync. You can start preparing yourself by adjusting your sleep schedule several days before you travel. Move your bedtime or wake up time up or down an hour depending on the direction you are heading. If you are going East, start getting up earlier.
Staying hydrated also helps to combat jetlag. Drink plenty of water and juice and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which cause the body to eliminate water.
To fend off disease, carry a small bottle of saline nasal spray and use it to keep your nose hydrated.
"If you keep the lining of the nose intact, you are less likely to get sick," Kostick says. "Chew gum or suck on hard candy to keep mucous membranes moist."
Hydration is important, but so is movement, especially on a long flight. Get up and walk in the aisle every two hours and do exercises in your seat. Move your legs, wiggle your toes, shrug your shoulders, and turn your head from side to side.
Stay nourished. Bring along some healthy snacks such as nuts, raisins, trail mix, dried fruit or granola bars.
At Your Destination
When you arrive, start on local time right away. If it's daytime, take a walk outside where you'll be exposed to natural light. Try to stay awake until your regular bedtime. The sooner you are in tune, the better you'll feel.
If you have any doubts about the quality of the water, stick to bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing your teeth. Be aware that even if the water supply is good, you still might have some diarrhea.
"When you travel to a foreign country, expect to have some loose stools because food and water are different than what you are used to," says Kostick.
Eat well-cooked meats and fish, and avoid food from street vendors. Make sure all dairy products are pasteurized and fresh fruits and vegetables are adequately cooked or well washed and peeled.
If sightseeing is the highlight of your trip, wear comfortable clothing and shoes. When spending time outdoors, wear a hat and use sunscreen. If you have a favorite brand, take plenty. It may not be readily available where you are.
"My best advice for staying healthy while traveling is to do what your mother told you - get adequate rest, eat your breakfast, and have fun," Kostick says.

You can also learn more traveling tips on InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel on Comcast 78. "Healthy Travels" is an informative program that offers travel tips to keep in mind before you head off on your next trip. The InHealth program schedule is published weekly in this section of the Tri-City Voice and is posted on Washington Hospital's website, www.whhs.com.

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