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Travel-Related Health Hazards

How to deal with and―better yet―avoid on-the-road health woes.

By Teri Cettina
Bungalow

Montezuma’s Revenge

Treatment plan: A travel-size pack of antidiarrheal medicine will probably be plenty to get you through this illness, also known as traveler’s diarrhea. (Kaopectate is best, says Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Norfolk, Virginia). Drink lots of bottled or boiled water to prevent dehydration.


Next time around: Avoid unsterilized local water. Americans are not used to the waterborne bacteria in other countries, so while your body readjusts, you get to memorize the details of your hotel bathroom for a good 24 hours. In addition, drink only sealed bottled water and use it to brush your teeth. Avoid raw vegetables, including salad greens that may have been rinsed in affected water, and peel all raw fruit. You can use tap water to wash your hands, but always use soap and the hottest water you can stand to kill any bacteria. And if you’re prone to the habit, this is yet another reason to avoid biting your nails.


“Jet Bloat” and Other Gastrointestinal Problems

Treatment plan: Eating late at night or sampling spicy local foods can give you a good dose of heartburn or indigestion. Raymond likes to travel with the antacid Gaviscon (available at drugstores). Over-the-counter activated charcoal pills, like CharcoCaps, are good for decreasing gas if you eat too many beans or get “jet bloat” from cabin-pressure changes on the airplane. Cabin-pressure changes are relatively mild, but they’re strong enough to inflate everything in your stomach and intestines a bit. For constipation, take a mild laxative (Phillips Milk of Magnesia or Dulcolax), drink plenty of water, and snack on high-fiber foods, like pecans and almonds.


Next time around: Avoid indigestion by eating fewer spicy foods and citrus. Keep intestinal gas to a polite minimum by drinking water or juice on the plane rather than carbonated beverages. Eat extra helpings of cooked vegetables, nuts, and peeled fruits to prevent constipation.


 

Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Treatment plan: If you notice swelling, pain, or unusual redness in one leg or if you feel short of breath, head to the closest hospital. Treatment usually includes intravenous, injectable, or oral doses of blood thinners. While rare (the American Heart Association estimates that one out of every 1,000 Americans develops DVT each year), DVT occurs when dangerous blood clots develop in your legs or pelvis, often the result of sitting in tight quarters such as in an airplane cabin for too long. (DVT made headlines in 2003 when it caused the death of 39-year-old NBC reporter David Bloom, who had spent a lot of time in the cramped quarters of a military vehicle.)


Next time around: The standard advice about stretching your legs during a long flight still holds. Get up every two hours to stretch or walk to the bathroom. If you worry about disturbing your seatmates, at least flex and bend your knees and rotate your ankles several times every few hours to increase blood circulation. Ask your doctor about preventive drugs and compression stockings if you’re prone to blood clots.

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