By Esther Crain
Photo by Getty Images
You’ve triple-checked your hotel reservations, packed your bags and gotten your pre-vacation mani-pedi to boot. But if you haven’t given much thought to some of the health issues that could crop up while you’re traveling, it’s time to start troubleshooting. Read on for seven problems you might face when far from home—and how to prevent and treat them so you can enjoy the R & R that you deserve.
Developing heartburn, also known as acid reflux, on vacation is pretty common. For starters, you’re probably (let’s be honest) eating more than you’re used to; a full belly puts pressure on the valve separating your stomach from your esophagus, allowing stomach acid to wash upward. Reflux is especially likely if you’re treating yourself to rich or spicy foods.
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Get back on track: An over-the-counter antacid that contains calcium carbonate offers fast relief, says internist Holly Phillips, MD, a medical contributor for CBS News. Another OTC option, Prilosec, stops reflux before it starts. If you’re prone to getting heartburn, consider stashing both in your purse. Caught with no meds? Sit upright so gravity eases acid back down where it belongs. Then sip water to help clear out your esophagus.
Yesterday you killed it at surf school. Today your muscles are killing you. “We call it DOMS: delayed-onset muscle soreness,” explains Jordan Metzl, MD, sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and author of The Exercise Cure. ”It happens even if you’re reasonably fit—you simply engaged different parts of the body more intensely than usual.”
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Get back on track: Keep moving, but “go with gentler activities, like walking or a low-key bike ride, to increase blood flow to the muscles, which helps them recover,” Dr. Metzl says. Ease soreness with ice or a cold bottle of water; popping a pain reliever, like ibuprofen, can also help. Next time you hit the surf or trails, warm up first—like you would at the gym at home—to avoid more aches.
Intense heat has you sweaty, flushed and light-headed. It’s normal to be thirsty and sluggish on a hot day. But when you’re dealing with heavy perspiration, dizziness, rapid breathing or a racing pulse, you might have a more serious medical condition: These are all signs of heat exhaustion. As it intensifies, it may progress to heatstroke, which can be life-threatening.
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Get back on track: Seek shade or air-conditioning and stay still; drink lots of water and even spritz yourself with it, Dr. Phillips suggests. Once you’re feeling better, make sure you sip H[subscript 2]O constantly, even if you’re not thirsty. Don’t stray too far from an AC or at least a cool resting place. If your symptoms persist, call 911 or get some kind of medical attention ASAP—heatstroke may have already set in.
That queasy feeling is the result of crossed wires in your brain. “Your balance system detects movement,” Dr. Phillips says—on a boat or train, for example. “But if your eyes can’t see the motion, your brain can’t figure out what’s happening, so it thinks toxins are present.” The result: Your stomach starts churning.
Get back on track: If you’re stuck on that ferry for a while, see if a fellow traveler can spare an OTC anti-nausea tablet, like Dramamine. If not, try this mind trick: “Look out and note the motion of the water or curves in the road,” Dr. Phillips says. “Roll down the window so your skin can sense movement. It syncs up what your eyes see and your balance system detects.” Riding shotgun may also help. Finally, munching on snacks and taking deep breaths can keep the vomity feeling at bay.
Your feet are a mess of blisters.
So your feet are a mess of blisters: blame lots of time walking that you’d usually spend sitting at a desk or behind the wheel. Factor in foot sweat and swelling thanks to the heat or new shoes that haven’t been broken in, and it’s no wonder your tootsies are suffering.
Get back on track: To reduce swelling, ice your feet or soak them in cool water, then keep them elevated. Dab an antibacterial ointment on blisters and cover with an adhesive bandage. If a blister gets angrier, you might be better off lancing it: Clean a needle with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, puncture the edge of the blister so fluid is released and cover with antibacterial ointment and a bandage, Dr. Phillips says. Even better, prevent blisters in the first place by breaking in new shoes, especially ones with straps, before leaving home and wearing cotton socks when possible to avoid chafing.
Forget burned: Your skin is as red as a lobster. If you blister and peel and have a fever and chills, that points to sun poisoning, says Albert Lefkovits, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Get back on track: A drugstore moisturizer, such as Aquaphor, or an aloe lotion will provide instant relief. Even just a cool shower can help. Take a dose of aspirin or ibuprofen; it will ease painful inflammation. For the next several days, keep burned skin covered in loose clothes and out of direct sunlight so UV rays don’t further inflame it. As the skin peels off, it can get itchy and very dry, so keep applying lotion, as well as an OTC hydrocortisone cream. If the burn becomes oozy and more sensitive, see a dermatologist.
The caveat to all this: If your symptoms involve lots of very painful blisters, especially if accompanied by a fever or a general sense of feeling sick, see a doctor immediately—you may have a more serious burn, Dr. Lefkovits warns.
After a hike, you spot a rash.
Get back on track: The timing and appearance of the rash can help clue you in to what’s causing it (and how to treat it). Itchy redness that pops up around a bump is probably the result of an insect sting. Treat pain and itching with hydrocortisone cream, ice and/or an OTC pain pill. If an itchy rash shows up within a few days that appears in streaks and isn’t centered on a bump, blame poison ivy or poison oak. Apply hydrocortisone cream or take an antihistamine to lessen itching, and thoroughly wash any clothes you were wearing when you think you came in contact with the plant, to remove the irritating oils.
A rash that arrives between three days and a month later and appears in a spotted or bullseye shape might point to Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—two tick-spread illnesses. Unfortunately, they’re tricky to diagnose. “Not everyone develops a rash; sometimes people get symptoms such as joint pain, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and fever,” Dr. Lefkovits says. His advice: With or without a rash, if you experience these symptoms following time outdoors, see a doctor. Either illness can be treated with antibiotics if caught right away.
To safeguard against brushes with nature, wear pants and socks in the woods (not always comfy, we know) and carry bug spray with DEET, the most effective repellent. And it can’t hurt to do a post-hike tick inspection.
Of course, vacations are supposed to be spontaneous and fun. But by taking just a few precautions, the good times can last until you board that plane or train to head back home.