Medical Minute: Staying Healthy While on Vacation

Information Courtesy of Dr. Alfred Casale, Geisinger Health System

It’s officially summer vacation season — and nothing can take the fun out of a vacation quite like getting sick. Whether it’s a cold, the flu or gastrointestinal troubles, you’re going to remember the vacation for all the wrong reasons if you fall ill. Although you can’t always prevent getting sick, there are some things you can do before, during and after your vacation to help you stay well.

  • Rest up and de-stress: You may be planning to rest and relax on your vacation, but resting before your trip can help keep you healthy. Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is a key component in boosting your immune system. Research has shown that insufficient sleep can increase your risk of catching a cold or flu. Stress has also been shown to lower your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy. Remember, relief is on the way!
  • Fuel up on vitamins and supplements: Vitamins have been credited with the power to boost your immune system and help counter stress, lowering your risk of catching a cold or flu. Start taking vitamin C leading up to your trip and continue to take it throughout your vacation. You may also want to take probiotic supplements before and during your vacation to improve your gut’s ability to cope with unusual vacation eating patterns and foods.
  • Visit your doctor: If you’re planning to travel internationally, make an appointment to see your primary care physician first. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may need vaccinations, especially if you’re going to certain parts of developing countries. Your doctor will be able to tell you what vaccines you may need, as well as provide you with education and prescriptions for illnesses like malaria and traveler’s diarrhea. If you’re on prescription medications or are managing a chronic health condition such as diabetes, your doctor can ensure that you don’t run out of your medications and that you know how to take care of yourself away from home.
  • Prepare to fight germs: If you’re flying to your vacation destination, make sure you pack a TSA-friendly bottle of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in your carry-on bag. There’s an incredible number of germs for you to pick up in an airport, a plane and any other form of public transportation. Bringing hand sanitizer will help you keep your hands clean even if you don’t have access to soap and water. Wash your hands frequently when soap and clean water are available.
  • Pack to protect your health: If you’re planning to spend time outside, make sure you have sunscreen and insect repellent with you. You’ll need both to protect yourself from sunburns, mosquito-borne illnesses and the discomfort of insect bites. Besides any prescriptions you’re taking along, consider packing antihistamines, Pepto-Bismol™ or another antidiarrheal medication, decongestants, medicine for pain or fever, antacids, and cough suppressants or expectorants. If someone falls ill, having everything you need can help you manage symptoms and better enjoy your vacation time.
  • Drink plenty of water: The average person needs to drink two liters of water per day — and that’s without doing any major physical activity in an average-temperature environment. Staying hydrated is important, especially on vacation. Slight dehydration can mean headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, muscle weakness and fatigue. Dehydration can occur much more quickly in high temperatures. If you’re visiting a hot climate, make sure to drink plenty of fluids, allowing your body to sweat and maintain a normal temperature. Staying hydrated is important during air travel, too. The air in a plane has a humidity of 10 to 20 percent, compared to a typical indoor humidity of 30 to 65 percent. The lack of humidity increases your risk of dehydration. Staying hydrated doesn’t just mean drinking plenty of water — it also means avoiding beverages that can dehydrate you, including caffeinated beverages and alcohol.

Whether you’re heading for the beach, the mountains, an exotic foreign destination or to your grandchildren, summer travel can be exciting and fun; just be health conscious and stay well.

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is associate chief medical officer for Geisinger and chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery. Geisinger Health Systems has been a member of The Chamber since 2005.