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Staying Healthy on the Road

Are you going somewhere this summer? If so, you’re not alone – millions of Americans will be hitting the road and taking to the skies for well-deserved vacations.  Whether you’re headed to the beach, the mountains or another country, you’re no doubt looking forward to the getaway. 

The last thing anyone wants on a long-anticipated vacation is to get sick or injured.  So how can you reduce your chances of this happening – and be prepared to deal with it if it does? 

Travel Checklist

There are several easy things you can do to prepare for your trip that will help keep you healthy.  For starters, if you take prescription medications on a regular basis:

  • Make sure you have all of your prescriptions refilled before you go, so you have enough medicine to last through your trip
  • Make sure all medications are clearly labeled

When you’re packing, here are a few essential items you should include:

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Allergy medicine (if you use it regularly)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Insect repellant (if you’ll be outdoors a lot)
  • Moisturizer
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Health insurance card

Traveling Smart by Air

Air travel can take us virtually anywhere in the world.  Air travel is safe for the vast majority of people, even those with chronic health conditions.  Nonetheless, those with chronic conditions should check with their primary care provider to see if there are any special precautions to take. 

Beat back the Germs!

Airlines are expecting a record number of travelers this summer – all those people in airports and on planes also mean a record number of germs!  Take a few precautions to guard against catching a bug that puts a damper on your vacation:

  • Wash your hands frequently.  Wash for 20 seconds, using soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • Use hand sanitizer after touching commonly-touched surfaces in the airport, like a door or escalator railing. 
  • Keep your hand sanitizer nearby after you have boarded the plane.  The overhead bin latch, air vents, safety instruction card and bathroom handles are among the germiest surfaces on aircraft, according to a report from Travel + Leisure.
  • Bring a few antibacterial wipes with you and wipe down your tray table before using it.

Stay Hydrated

Air travel can dehydrate you, so refill your water bottle once you’re through airport security.  The air inside a plane is much drier than what we are used to on the ground.  Protect against this by drinking plenty of water before, during and after your flight.  Remember, alcoholic beverages will have the opposite effect and will worsen the dehydration you experience on a plane. 

Air travel can cause your skin and eyes to feel dry also.  Keep some moisturizer handy.  Wearing glasses instead of contact lenses will reduce irritation in your eyes if they get dried out. 

Get Up and Move

Sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for us.  When we sit, our calf muscles don’t contract, preventing blood from circulating as it normally does.  Extended sitting is a risk factor for developing deep vein thrombosis, a condition in which blood clots form in the veins in the legs. 

“When you’re on a flight, try to get up and walk around or stand periodically, as long as the flight crew says it’s safe to do so,” says Dr. Stephen Brotherton, an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Fort Worth and Weatherford.  “If you can’t stand up, exercise your legs by extending them, moving them up and down and moving your ankles in a circular motion.  This will help promote circulation in your legs.” 

People who have been diagnosed with a circulation condition may also want to wear compression stockings, which help promote better blood flow and prevent swelling. 

Flying During Pregnancy

Airlines generally allow pregnant passengers to fly up to 36 weeks of pregnancy, although this may be stricter for international flights.  Pregnant women should check with their OB/GYN to confirm it is safe to fly. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests mid-pregnancy (14-28 weeks) as the best time to travel.  “The depleted energy and morning sickness associated with early pregnancy has usually subsided by this point,” explains Dr. Natalie Hughes, a Fort Worth obstetrician and gynecologist.  “And it is still early enough in the pregnancy that it is relatively easy to move around,” she adds.  

Other Air Travel Tips

When traveling by air, always pack your medications in your carry-on luggage. You may need to take your medicine on the plane if it’s a long flight, and you don’t want to risk being without it if your checked bag gets lost or delayed. 

Finally, are you prone to your ears popping when the plane begins its descent?  Take some chewing gum with you, which may help give your ears some relief. 

Staying Safe on the Open Road

Traveling by car removes a lot of the health stressors that air travel brings.  You don’t have to worry about sitting next to a stranger who is sneezing every two minutes or getting a germ bath every time you touch something.

“The biggest thing to remember if you are taking a road trip is to guard against fatigue behind the wheel,” says Dr. Alan Johns, a Fort Worth gynecologist and surgeon.  “Driving for hours on end gets monotonous and it’s normal to get sleepy.  That’s how a lot of car wrecks happen.”

Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination safely.  Everyone wants to get to their vacation spot as soon as possible, but don’t take unnecessary risks like driving all day and all night.  Make plans to stop for the night so you can get a good night’s sleep before continuing the journey. 

To make sure you are staying alert at all times:

  • Stop frequently to walk around, use the restroom and get some fresh air
  • Keep your radio on or stay engaged with conversation with your passengers
  • Never look at your phone when driving
  • Never drive after drinking alcohol

You also want to make sure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.  It’s a good idea to have it checked out before you go, so that you don’t have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.  Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have good tread and that your brakes are in good condition. 

It’s also important to have a flashlight and first aid kit in your vehicle.  

When Illness Strikes on a Trip

Sometimes, despite our best precautions, we can get sick when traveling.  If it’s minor, maybe you can get over it quickly with over-the-counter medications and rest.  But if it’s more serious – or you are not sure – you may want to see a health care professional. 

This is when it’s important to have your health insurance card with you and have a way to check and see what providers are in your insurer’s network.  Usually, the best way to do this is to log in to your insurance company website and search for providers in the area you are staying.  Most major insurance companies will be able to provide you with a listing of providers in their network. 

If you see a provider outside your network, your insurance will likely cover a smaller share of the charges.  Sometimes an out-of-network visit cannot be avoided, but it’s good to check first if you can.

If you are travelling internationally, make sure you understand your insurer’s policies before you leave on your trip.  Medicare and Medicaid do not cover health care costs abroad.  Some private insurance plans may reimburse for expenses incurred overseas, but likely at a lower, out-of-network rate.  Look into purchasing travel health insurance before an overseas trip to make sure you are protected against a large, unexpected medical bill. 

Proper Planning Makes for a Better Vacation

You and your family have waited and saved up for your summer vacation all year.  It’s a time to make great memories, experience new adventures and unplug from your normal routine. Don’t let it be ruined by a preventable illness or injury.  By taking a few easy precautions, you’ll increase the odds of an illness-free and injury-free vacation. 

This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians. 

This article contains information sourced from:

Cleveland Clinic

Johns Hopkins Medicine

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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