How to stay well on holiday
Summer has arrived and whether your fancy is a sun-kissed beach, the wind through the trees on a sun-dappled lake or soaking up the culture on a historical tour, holiday excitement is everywhere. Sadly, as a GP, I've lost count of the medical miseries I've heard about that could have been easily avoided.
Nobody expects to get ill on holiday, but it does happen. The EHIC European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to the same state-provided medical treatment as an 'insured' local resident if you get ill in the European Economic Area. It's still worth taking out travel insurance as other countries don't have the same 'free' NHS treatment. Get an application form at your post office, ring 0845 606 2030 or apply for one online.
Fortunately, with a few sensible precautions both before and during your holiday, you should be able to ensure that the only mementoes you bring back from holiday are happy ones!
Hangover holiday hell
You're in the holiday mood and of course you want to let your hair down a bit. But don't forget that a hangover can ruin your fun as effectively as any tummy bug. Beware spirits (it's easy to underestimate your intake); alternate alcoholic drinks with soft ones; and don't drink until the evening. Best of all, find out if your hotel serves non-alcoholic cocktails - just as much fun without the side effects!
Tummy bugs are even more common if you're outside Western Europe, the USA or Australasia. The mantra for food:
- Avoid buffet food where possible in hot countries - germs multiply with terrifying speed in warm temperatures
- You may think you're avoiding drinking the local water, but that's exactly what you'll do if you put ice in your bottled drink!
- If you're not absolutely sure of the food, boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it
- Don't let your guard down where food precautions are concerned because you're in a smart hotel. The kitchen may be clean and hygienic but the flies that settle on the food don't care where they are.
You'll be fine if you're holidaying in Europe, but anywhere further abroad can bring jetlag as a consequence. Your body clock finds it harder to adjust to shorter days than long ones, so you'll suffer more when you travel from West to East (when the clocks go forward). Top tips to reduce the effect include getting plenty of sleep before you go; going to bed earlier on the nights before you travel East; having a stopover en route if possible; avoiding alcohol and caffeine, but drinking plenty of other fluids on the journey; and staying outside in daylight as much as possible when you arrive.
Staying safe on the plane
Although not common, clots on the leg - deep vein thrombosis, or DVT - are a risk if you're flying for more than four hours. To cut your risk, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids; avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate you; and get up regularly and walk up and down the cabin. Every half hour, turn circles ten times with each ankle to keep circulation flowing in your calves
Exotic locations - make sure your memories are happy!
If you're going to a far-flung destination, it's highly likely you'll need travel immunisations in addition for those recommended for everyone living in the UK. Even if you travel regularly, it's worth checking with your practice nurse if they're up to date at least eight weeks before your trip - it can take eight weeks for some immunisations to work.
As well as precautions to avoid jetlag and holiday tummy bugs, be aware that malaria is a real risk in some countries. Your nurse can advise if you need to take tablets - do complete the course. In addition, take steps to avoid insect bites - cover ankles and arms with loose-fitting clothes, especially in the evenings; sleep under a mosquito net if one is provided; and use insect repellents containing the chemical DEET (ask your pharmacist).
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.