Health and Beauty
Your practical guide to a safe and happy vacation
With the holiday season starting, many South Africans will soon be heading off to destinations around the country in search of some rest and relaxation.
“Although unforeseen accidents and illnesses are unavoidable, the necessary planning and preparation will ensure that they do not wreak havoc with your holiday,” says Dr Rene Leitch, who practises at Netcare Alberlito Hospital’s emergency department and has trained and worked as an emergency doctor for many years.
“Some of the most common illnesses or accidents that happen on vacation can be managed with over the counter medicine, home remedies and items found in a standard first aid kit. However, it is always wise to prepare for any eventuality in advance, for example to find out where the nearest hospital and medical centre to your holiday destination is situated in the case you or a family member may need expert care,” she adds.
Here are a few handy tips and some advice from Dr Leitch, which will help keep you and your loved ones happy and healthy while on holiday:
Travellers’ diarrhoea or acute gastroenteritis:
“The vast majority of stomach infections are viral, which means that antibiotics are not needed to treat them. Often, symptoms can be managed with rest and oral rehydration solutions. You can also make your own, effective oral rehydration solution by mixing six teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt with a litre of clean water,” says Dr Leitch.
“Over the counter medications for stomach cramps and diarrhoea can also provide some relief. However, it is very important that you tell your pharmacist or doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions or allergies when asking for the medication. See your nearest doctor or visit an emergency department for assistance in the event that symptoms persist or if they become more severe,” she adds.
According to Dr Leitch, prevention is key and it is therefore best to avoid exposure to direct sunlight between 10:00 and 15:00, which is the time of day when UV rays are at their strongest. “Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, and generously apply sunscreen with a high protection factor at least thirty minutes before going outside. Remember to reapply your sunscreen frequently, especially after swimming,” she suggests.
Typical home remedies for sunburn include applying a cold compress to the area as well as aftersun gel or moisturiser. If you have been sunburnt, your body will be dehydrated and it is therefore important to drink plenty of water. Over the counter medication that may help to relieve the symptoms of sunburn, include anti-inflammatory medicine and analgesics. Once again, make sure that you tell your pharmacist or doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions or allergies before asking for medication.
“If you start to show symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting, dizziness or confusion you may well be suffering from heat stroke and should get medical attention as soon as possible,” cautions Dr Leitch.
“Always be very careful when around water and never overestimate your swimming ability. Be particularly vigilant around water if you have young children,” Dr Leitch warns. “Even the strongest swimmer can be swept away by a strong current or large wave. Be cautious when swimming in the sea, as there are many unpredictable currents and rips in the ocean, as well as sudden drops due to sandbanks forming beneath the water. Only swim in the designated areas marked by lifeguards, and never go swimming in the ocean at night.”
“Dams and rivers can be equally dangerous, especially during the summer rainy season. Never dive into shallow or murky water that you do not know the depth of, as you could sustain a head or neck injury that could lead to paralysis,” she adds.
Stings and bites
Malaria: It is important to consult a travel health doctor or your family practitioner a few weeks before visiting a malaria area, as some malaria medication must be taken well before entering a malaria area,” suggests Dr Leitch.
Insect and spider bites: “If you get bitten or stung by an insect or spider, clean the wound with a diluted antiseptic solution or apply antiseptic cream. Never scratch, prick, suck or cut the affected area, as this does not aid healing and may create a risk of infection. If you are known to have a severe allergy to bee stings, be sure to have your epinephrine auto-injector on hand at all times and inform your travelling companions of your allergy.
“It is normal for a sting or bite to cause slight redness, pain and swelling, but any excessive skin reaction, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhoea or change in the voice can be an indication of a severe allergic reaction which could be life-threatening and requires immediate emergency medical attention,” warns Dr Leitch.
Snakebite: If left untreated, a snakebite can be life-threatening. It is therefore imperative to get to an emergency room as soon as possible to receive anti-venom when appropriate. It is always best to try give a description or photo of the snake that bit you so that the doctors will know what type of poison they are dealing with,” adds Dr Leitch.
“The best way to avoid getting stung or bitten is by reducing or preventing your contact with insects, spiders and snakes. The following tips will help you to avoid stings and bites while on holiday,” concludes Dr Leitch.
- If you go camping or travelling, make sure you are aware of the insects, spiders and snakes that are commonly found in the area you are visiting and ensure that you have the proper gear including shoes, gloves, socks etc. to protect yourself.
- Always have insect repellent handy, especially if you are spending time outdoors.
- Take extra care during dusk and dawn when many insects are at their most active.
- Avoid lifting rocks and stones, especially in areas that are usually undisturbed.
- Do not provoke or handle any insects or spiders and especially not snakes.
- If you are travelling to a region where any insect or spider related illnesses are endemic, make sure you take the proper preventative medication and that you have received the appropriate vaccinations.