Thursday 22 February 2018

Holiday Health Tips: Dr Nina Byrnes

There's no excuse to ignore your health on holiday, says Dr Byrnes.

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Health insurance is vital, especially for travel outside of the EU

Dr Nina Byrnes

"My daughter has booked a holiday for the two of us later this summer," a reader writes. "She is very excited about it and has put a lot of effort into the planning. I'm looking forward to it but I have a number of illnesses and am taking lots of different tablets each day. How can I prepare for the trip?"

Dr Nina replies:

A holiday abroad should allow time to relax, unwind and let the stress of daily life melt away. For those who have a chronic illness or disability, travelling away from familiar access to medicine and healthcare can be daunting and result in undue or added stress. The thing to understand is that preparation is key and when preparing for any foreign holiday, considering your health is as important as considering your wardrobe or travel choices.

There are a number of factors that may reduce health-related stress while abroad.

Health insurance is vital, especially for travel outside of the EU. If you have private health insurance, this may provide some cover for travel abroad but always check your policy before you travel. You may need to top up your policy, or if you have pre-existing medical conditions, some insurance companies will require a medical report from your doctor documenting your fitness to travel. Within the EU, ensure that you have a European health card which will provide access to local public healthcare.

Planning your trip through the airport is a good idea. If you have arthritis or a limited ability to walk you can arrange for transport or mobility assistance through security and to your gate with the local airport authority.

This can be done through your tour operator or airline, but must be arranged at least 48 hours in advance of your flight.

Travelling with medication can become an additional stress, especially with all of the restrictions that are now in place for carry-on baggage.

There are a number of important factors to consider. Firstly, ensure that you have enough medication with you for your entire trip and bring extra to cover any unplanned delays. Bring a copy of your prescription with you with details of the generic drug names and doses clearly detailed. You may need to provide this at airport security to confirm the need to carry these drugs, and it will also help if you need to seek an emergency prescription abroad.

You should also bring the name, address and phone number of your doctor and pharmacist, and it is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor that clarifies your medical history and a list of your medications. This letter should also verify any allergies and if you need to carry items, such as syringes or needles.

Carry your medication in its original packaging and not in dosing boxes. This will make it easier for airport personnel to verify its authenticity. I also advise carrying all of your medication in your carry-on bag. Every year, up to 26 million suitcases go missing in transit and securing emergency prescriptions abroad can be very difficult to do. Unfortunately, theft of medication from checked bags is also a common occurrence.

Some medication is also temperature sensitive and the temperature of the cargo hold of an airplane can vary from very cold in the air to very hot on the ground.

If you are travelling across time zones the usual advice is to take your medicine at the same hour that you normally would. However, the interval between doses remains the most important for certain medication and you may need to adjust the times that you take it. Talk to your doctor before you travel to arrange a dosing schedule.

Once you board the plane, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Wearing flight socks and moving about the cabin if possible, or at the very least moving your legs regularly, will help reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis - a danger to all travellers, especially those on long haul flights. Other risks include obesity, pregnancy, the contraceptive pill, HRT, recent surgery and smoking.

If you find yourself abroad and needing medical assistance or prescription medicine, talk to your tour provider or hotel staff. They can usually direct you to medical services that are used to dealing with tourists or who speak English. Your travel insurance should also have an emergency contact line and this can be a helpful source of advice on local care.

Some medication that is only available on prescription in Ireland can be purchased over the counter in other countries, so talking to a local pharmacist is another good starting point.

Enjoy your break!

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