One hardly plans for falling sick while on a trip. If overseas, we presume that our travel insurance will save the day. An important distinction that most people tend to overlook is that insurance helps prevent financial loss, but does nothing to mitigate travel health problems themselves.
Even if you have insurance, it’s best to keep a watchful eye out for the warnings of common medical emergencies, so that you can be better prepared to deal with them.
While you won’t be able to prevent other people from being careless, you can still take some steps to mitigate the risk of serious injuries ruining your perfectly planned holiday.
Below, we have created a list of common health issues when traveling, and how to prevent or overcome them.
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4 Most Common Travel Health Problems
1. Altitude Sickness
Falling ill due to altitude while high up in the mountains is a travel-associated ailment that can seriously derail plans. People who tend to visit or have lived in the mountains for extended periods of time often don’t suffer from altitude sickness.
If you are traveling to the mountains for the first time, and especially if you’re going to be staying high up, keep a close eye out for these symptoms: random nausea, dizziness, migraine-level headaches, breathlessness, and swelling of the extremities.
Altitude sickness can in some cases prove fatal, or cause a person to fall into a coma if untreated. Therefore, don’t just pop an aspirin for that headache you’ve got if you are above 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). Seek medical advice immediately.
Here are three important things to note:
- Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) tends to be more dangerous for people with cardiovascular or lung issues.
- Just because you didn’t get it on a previous trip does not mean you’re immune to future sickness.
- AMS is common and generally harmless, but if you contract AMS, use this as a warning sign that you are at risk for deadlier forms of AMS.
Here’s what you can do about it:
- Don’t “jump.” Don’t hop more than 1,000-1,500 feet at a time. Take at least a day to get acclimated to each new level of altitude before moving onto the next. This helps your body adapt to the lack of oxygen at higher points on the mountain.
- Keep your water intake high.
- Follow a light, but high-calorie diet. Also, avoid exercise for the first 24 hours until you’ve acclimatized.
Remember, at the onset of symptoms, stop climbing. At the worsening of symptoms, descend immediately. When in doubt, ask a doctor.
2. Trauma, Sprains, Fractures, and Concussions
All of the above are most commonly caused by slips, falls, or drops. Incidentally, vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death for Americans traveling abroad for business or leisure, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Unknown or poorly maintained streets are a leading culprit for sprains and fractures, as is high-curbed pavement. Wear comfortable shoes, and plan your activities according to your fitness level. Don’t go on a 10-mile trek if you are prone to asthma.
If someone on your trip does get a fracture, sprain, or concussion, don’t panic. For fractures, keep movement minimal and ensure that the patient is hydrated. For concussions, limit bright lights and movement of the head and neck region. For wounds, stem any bleeding, pad open wounds, and consult a doctor. But, most importantly, in all cases, seek medical attention immediately.
3. Cardiovascular/ Pulmonary/ Respiratory Problems
No one wants to think about suffering a stroke or heart attack while on vacation. It is usually the last thing on everyone’s mind.
We tend to assume that heart attacks only occur in high-stress environments, and forget to consider what to do should one actually happen.
While the only thing to do for any of these problems is to seek rapid emergency medical attention, here are some things you can do to prevent the onset of said complications:
- Carry your medications. If you plan to go on a trip for 20 days, take medicine for 30 days.
- Carry prescriptions and medical history files. These will come in handy at customs if you’re carrying a large number of pills, as well as in ER scenarios. They can tell foreign doctors what to do, and what not to do for treatments.
- Check your insurance. Finding the right insurance can be the difference between life and death. Double-check that your destination or activity is covered by phoning your agency. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all insurance agencies cover accidents faced while traveling in-flight or aboard a ship.
If you know that you are prone to these problems, limit your salt and alcohol intake as much as possible, and try to slot in 30 minutes of exercise daily.
Allergies are the most frequent among common travel illnesses. You’re well enough to not warrant medical attention, but trips are ruined for their remainder.
Carrying your pills, sprays, and inhalers can be the difference between your trip being memorable or terrible.
Most allergic outbreaks can be dealt with by using an over-the-counter antihistamine. However, in some cases, allergies can cause severe asthma attacks, or even fatal anaphylactic shock.
To avoid succumbing to allergies, do your research. Knowing if any of your allergy triggers are present in the area you’re visiting will help you plan accordingly.
To stay healthy during your vacation, consider getting an allergy test done, as you never know what you’re allergic to until you actually react to it.
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Get Insured to Tackle Travel Health Problems
You can catch diseases from traveling to foreign countries, but don’t let that deter you from a vacation.
- Travel insurance. Domestic travel insurance plans don’t provide coverage for travel health problems outside of your country. Even if they do, you will be subject to higher copay, deductible and coinsurance, and it will still not cover many travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation, repatriation of remains, lost baggage and more. Therefore, consider opting for a travel insurance plan. Also, save the numbers of your country’s nearest consulate or embassy on your phone.
- Know Yourself. No one knows your body better than you do, so plan accordingly. If you know you are at risk of asthma attacks, don’t plan strenuous activities, and make sure to pack extra inhalers.
- Research. If heading off the beaten track, memorize the locations of the nearest first-aid centers, and inform someone about the route you are planning to take. This can help emergency services and search-and-rescue teams to find you should anything go wrong.
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