After packing shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses for that long-awaited sunshine holiday, don’t forget another essential for your summer family getaway - a well-stocked first aid kit.
Looking after your health, both by packing medical essentials and taking sensible precautions to avoid falling ill while you’re away, could make all the difference between a brilliant break and a holiday from hell.
Research from health supplements company Nature’s Best suggests that more than half of holidaymakers (54%) get a tummy bug with diarrhoea and vomiting while they’re away, while 33% have had constipation during their holiday, and a third have suffered from itchy and sore prickly heat rashes.
“You really don’t want health problems ruining your holiday,” says Dr Imran Rafi, chair of clinical innovation and research at the Royal College of GPs. “It’s important to think about prevention from the outset, before you go on holiday, and to take sensible precautions to avoid discomfort and/or illness and sickness.”
Stomach bugs, causing diarrhoea and/or sickness, are one of the most common holiday health problems. Dr Rafi says it’s Important that precautions are taken, particularly in areas with poor sanitation.
“People with low immune systems, children and older adults are particularly at risk through contaminated water and unsafe food, which increase the risk of illness,” he says. “So drink water that’s been boiled, avoid ice in drinks, and eat freshly prepared food that’s served hot where possible.”
Dr Roger Henderson, a GP, says diarrhoea is typically caused by irritation of the gut or viral and bacterial infections, frequently picked up from food or drinks consumed on holiday.
“Additionally, holiday stomach bugs can often spread easily in places where hygiene practices aren’t the standard we’re used to, and commonly in resorts or cruise ships where there are large numbers of holidaymakers.”
He warns that while diarrhoea is usually thought of as a mild condition, it can quickly become serious due to dehydration. Children, teens and the elderly are particularly at risk, as loss of fluids and salts affects them more quickly.
Dr Henderson suggests travellers pack oral rehydration sachets to help combat the effects of diarrhoea if necessary.
A third of people are thought to suffer from constipation on holiday, and it can be upsetting and uncomfortable. “A change in time-zones, variable eating habits with lack of fibre, lack of fluid in hot climates and lack of exercise can all contribute, and by concentrating on these factors, constipation can be avoided,” says Dr Rafi.
A simple trick is to make sure you’re drinking more water when you’re in warmer climates, to make up for body fluids lost through sweating. Also, eating high-fibre foods including fruit, vegetables and cereals during your trip can help (though make sure you wash fruit in bottled water if you’re in an area with unsafe tap water).
Laxatives may be available over the counter if the problem is particularly bad.
Travel or motion sickness is a temporary disturbance of the balance and equilibrium system based deep in the inner ear, explains Dr Henderson, due to the repetitive, rhythmical movements associated with being on an aeroplane or in a boat or car.
Symptoms include turning pale, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and dizziness. Sometimes people may experience headaches and feeling exhausted too.
Most people are aware of the damage too much sun can do to the skin, including cancer and premature ageing, yet many ignore the warnings and often end up with painful sunburn which can ruin a holiday.
The worst pain usually occurs six to 48 hours after sun exposure, and the skin often peels off a few days later.
“Avoid being outside between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest, and always use sunscreen with a minimum skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 before going outside into the sun,” says Dr Henderson.
It’s advisable to use sun cream with higher SPF for children, and adults with naturally fair skin. Dr Rafi notes that these offer longer protection, but they still need to be reapplied regularly, particularly after swimming.
Pack some after sun lotion or cooling gel, so you have something soothing on hand, should anybody be caught out.