Summer is the time to get outdoors and travel. Whether your family is headed for the beach, the mountains or even venturing overseas, smart preparation goes a long way toward helping to ensure a safe and healthy vacation. Here are some preventive health measures and treatment tips to help family members enjoy their time away from home.
Current measles outbreaks in California and throughout the U.S. and the world are a reminder of the importance of immunizations, especially if you are traveling to a foreign destination where sanitary conditions are less stringent, diseases are more common and vaccination rates are far lower.
Before you travel, consult your pediatrician and make sure your youngsters are up to date on all their childhood vaccinations. Depending on your destination, prevention for typhoid, yellow fever, malaria and other diseases may also be needed. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s vaccines website and CDC are reliable sources of information and pre-travel consultations and vaccines are available at places like MinuteClinic in select Southern California CVS Pharmacy stores.
Because pharmacies may not be convenient at your destination, it’s smart to pack a travel bag with some basic over-the-counter medicines.
Recommendations include a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen; an anti-diarrheal, especially since changes in diet and water can be an issue; a multi-symptom cold medicine; and an antibacterial ointment and adhesive strips for cuts and scrapes. If you’re flying, pills and chewables are preferred due to liquid restrictions. Disinfectant wipes or hand-washing gel, a small thermometer and first-aid kit can be packed in either a diaper bag or carry-on.
To help keep the body and mind fresh wherever you travel, pack card games, books, water bottles and healthy snacks such as trail mix, carrots and celery, and dried fruit in your carry-on to pass time on a plane or a car ride.
Prevent Ear Pressure
Many of us have been on an airplane with crying children who feel ear discomfort during take-off and descent. This is caused by stress exerted on the eardrum when the air pressure in the middle ear and the environment are of out of balance.
Parents can help alleviate the pressure by instructing children to perform the Valsalva maneuver. Have them hold their nostrils tightly closed while blowing through the nose. They should feel and hear the pressure equalizing in their ears. They can also yawn, chew gum or take a swallow of a drink to relieve the pressure.
Sometimes children who commonly suffer from allergies, colds and infections have extra fluid from sinus drainage behind their eardrums, making additional pressure from a flight incredibly painful. Children’s decongestants taken 30 minutes prior to the flight can be helpful in decreasing some of that fluid.
As a preventive measure, I often have parents stop by my MinuteClinic location the day or two prior to travel just to have their children’s ears checked.
Avoid Motion Sickness
A child with motion sickness on an airplane or in the car can make for unpleasant travel.
Motion sickness is most likely to take place in ages 2 to 12. Prevention starts in advance with your children’s diet. Stick to light meals and avoid greasy and fatty foods.
Smart choices in seating also make a difference. Make sure your child can see the road over or between seats if they are old enough to face forward. The center of the back seat or middle row of a minivan offer the best view of the windshield. Seats over the wings of a plane and at the front of the train provide the most stability.
Books and movies are a great way to pass time, but for children prone to motion sickness, they can trigger nausea very quickly. In this case, music and books on tape are the best choice.
If your child does become nauseous and you are not able to stop for fresh air, open the windows and have them close their eyes and recline as much as possible. Dry crackers and ginger ale may help settle their stomach.
Children’s Dramamine — available in chewable tablets — can be taken one hour prior to travel for prevention.
Protect Against Sunburn
Teaching children proper sunscreen use is critical to prevent skin cancer later in life. Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF which blocks 97 percent of both UVA and UVB rays (a higher SPF only blocks an additional 1-2 percent).
When using lotion, use the equivalent of half a shot glass to adequately cover the exposed areas of a child’s body (a full glass for teenagers and adults). If you’re flying and packing sunscreen for the trip, remember to use lotion vs. spray bottles due to flight restrictions.
When using sprays, make sure they reach the skin and are not wasted in the atmosphere. Apply 15 minutes before going outside. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating excessively (no sunblock is waterproof). Don’t forget your child’s lips, and find a fashionable pair of sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat they’ll wear.
If your child has a bad sunburn, try cold baths or showers and apply aloe or hydrocortisone cream. For anything more than a first-degree burn, have your child evaluated by a medical provider as soon as possible.
Limit Ear Infections
Swimming in the ocean, lakes and pools can cause water to collect in the outer ear canal where bacteria naturally grows. When the moisture doesn’t dry, fungal or bacterial infections can develop causing intense pain and itching. If this occurs, see a healthcare provider for evaluation and treatment to eliminate infection and prevent further complications.
For prevention, try mixing a 50/50 alcohol and white vinegar solution and pour several drops into each ear after swimming. Let it sit 5 minutes before draining, then wave a blow dryer on low heat over the ear.
Mary Hull is a mother of three living in San Dimas and a Family Nurse Practitioner at Minute Clinic locations in Burbank and Pomona. MinuteClinic offers camp physicals at locations inside select CVS pharmacy stores in Los Angeles