Top tips for healthy travelling

Accidents and illnesses happen everywhere.

Being overseas and in a happy holiday mood doesn't confer immunity.

So, it pays to be prepared. But the good news is that few people need to amend travel plans - or not travel at all - for health-related reasons.

"Very few conditions - some serious heart complaints are one example - require patients not to travel," says Dr Marjan Kljakovic, professor of general practice at the Australian National University in Canberra.

"It's a good idea, if you've had medical treatment, to discuss travel plans with your doctor."

Despite more elderly people travelling, Dr Kljakovic - who sees patients in general practice - says there's been no surge in illnesses.

"They're usually well prepared.

"Even with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), we haven't seen an increase. I encounter a couple of cases a year and have done for many years. They're usually related to long-haul air travel."

Accidents occur suddenly and unpredictably.

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"I remember the case of a man who tripped while overseas on holiday," Dr Kljakovic recalls. "He fell and hit his head.

"It seemed minor at the time - but the impact ended up killing him."

Within Australia, potential health issues - whether accident or illness - are less worrisome because travellers are covered by Medicare and private health insurance. But outside the country "it's important for people to hold appropriate insurance," notes Dr Kljakovic.

He adds that some insurance companies won't cover the elderly - so it pays to shop around.

Here are some tips for healthy holidays.

ALTITUDE: Travel companies often recommend allowing a day or two to acclimatise before strenuous activity in high-altitude countries such as Nepal, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Altitude sickness is unpleasant: symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, stomach upsets, dizziness, and sleep disturbance. In rare cases, people become seriously ill.

ANIMAL BITES: No, it's not just rabies (for which immunisations are often recommended; see below). Non-rabid animals can inflict nasty bites, causing painful wounds that may become infected.

Sound advice is not to pet monkeys, squirrels, dogs or other animals while overseas on holiday. (Several travellers are killed by wild animals each year on walking safaris in game parks.)

DESTINATION: Pick another destination if climatic factors will spoil your enjoyment - for instance, if humidity causes extreme discomfort or if very dry air makes your skin crack painfully.

DVT (DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS): For long air trips, doctors often recommend wearing compression socks. They're long (to just below the knee) and apply light pressure to the legs - where DVT most often occurs - to encourage blood to move more efficiently through limbs.

Though it's relatively rare, higher-risk individuals (people who've recently had surgery, for example) should ask doctors whether taking a prescribed blood thinner (anti-coagulant) is warranted.

EARS: Why do babies scream when an aircraft is on descent? Because their ears hurt. Doctors say ear pain is the most common travel affliction in adults, too.

Air pressure in the middle ear should be the same as that outside your body.

The ear's Eustachian tubes help keep it this way. On aircraft, pressure changes rapidly during take-offs and landings play havoc with this.

So, air pressure in the middle and outer ears becomes different - and eardrums are pulled towards the brain. In most cases this is merely painful but in very rare instances eardrums perforate.

Swallowing helps many people while others find chewing gum or sucking sweets helpful. Some say taking decongestants prevents pain. Symptoms are worse if you have a blocked nose.

Advice sometimes given is not to travel if you have a cold - but, if you've booked a trip for particular dates, this solution may not be practical. (People susceptible to another complaint, motion sickness, should get a seat over the wing, advises the US-based Aerospace Medical Association.)

EXHAUSTION: Don't try to pack too much into your day. Trying to see too many sights, particularly in a hot climate, can lead to exhaustion. Aside from tiredness, symptoms include dizziness and confusion. Related hot-climate risks: painfully blistered feet and raw, itchy groins. (For the latter, over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are available in most countries).

FOOD AND DRINK: Travellers' diarrhoea is much more common than serious food poisoning. Changed diets (such as spicy food for someone used to blander fare) are sometimes responsible.

Another hint: avoid buffet salads or peeled fruit and check bottled water is sealed (so that it's not just tap water transferred to a plastic bottle).

Eat at busy restaurants popular with locals. If trying street food, stick to fresh-cooked hot fare and go to well-frequented hawker stalls.

For travellers diarrhoea, some tourists take over-the-counter Loperamide pills (Imodium is the best-known brand but cheaper home brands are available); others prefer diets of boiled rice and black tea.

INSURANCE: It's important. But prices and coverage vary widely so shop around. Elderly travellers should check what they'll be covered for because many policies have age-related exclusions - and some companies won't do business with over-65s.

Cheapest policies commonly have the most exclusions. Make sure repatriation of the insured, if injured or deceased, is covered - and, if you're not travelling alone, be sure the policy includes accommodation and travel for a companion. (Travel insurance policies normally also cover non-health problems - including baggage loss and costs associated with cancelled flights.)

MEDICATIONS & IMMUNISATIONS: Don't leave home without them. They're as important as photocopying your passport and noting credit card numbers.

Take a copy of prescriptions with you because some drugs are illegal in certain countries unless prescribed. Don't assume you can buy your medications at your destination because some may not be available and others may be hard to find with different brand names.

Pack medications in hand luggage in case your checked luggage is lost. With immunisations, speak to a travel medicine expert to check what's needed for your destination.

Dr Kljakovic makes two points: firstly, some immunizations are expensive so it's important to check what's recommended; secondly, don't leave your shots to the last minute because a few immunisations require two injections a couple of weeks apart.

SUNBURN: At any resort area, despite widespread publicity about avoiding sunburn, it usually takes only a few minutes to spot formerly white or pink people who've turned agonisingly lobster-hued.

Commonsense has been dumped. Holidays - or, at least, part of them - are wrecked. Even with sunscreen, it's good policy to limit time in the sun.

As Dr Kljakovic puts it, echoing the view of many travel experts,:

"Commonsense is the most important item people can take with them. Take the necessary precautions - and then enjoy your holiday."

AAP

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