Travelling with kids? Eight health tips, from ear pain to sun protection and tummy trouble
Once you take some sensible precautions, families can enjoy making amazing memories, says Dr. Brian McManus of videoDoc...
As exciting as it is to head off to explore the world with your family, it can often be daunting when it comes to considering their health and wellbeing while abroad.
That’s why, as parents, we usually end up packing everything from plasters to fever medication, insect bite treatments and electrolytes.
To make your upcoming journey easier and safer, Dr Brian McManus from videoDoc has put together some helpful, health-related tips.
1. Fear of flying
While more unusual in children, some little ones can develop a fear of flying which is best tackled while they are young. Simple techniques that parents can use include preparation, remaining calm and reassuring their kids.
Take some time to talk them through the process and what they can expect along the way. This allows them to visualise boarding the plane, taking off and landing. Reading books or watching films about flying and airplanes can also help to reduce your child’s anxiety about flying.
Do listen to your child’s concerns carefully and try not to influence their reactions with any of your own fears. During the flight, make sure you use plenty of tools to distract them – snacks, games, and activities.
Finally, keep calm and carry on – it is very important that you take the time now to help your child overcome their fears (even if you are a nervous flier yourself) and give them the confidence they need to put their anxiety behind them when it comes to jetting off.
2. Ear pain during air travel
Hell hath no fury like a child with a sore ear. Anyone who has experienced ear pain due to pressure differences on a plane will know just how awful it must be for little ears.
For babies, breastfeeding or sucking on their bottle can help to relieve the pain. Older children can suck on sweets, be encouraged to yawn widely, or swallow to ‘pop’ their ears and equalise the pressure.
3. Travel vaccines
If you are travelling further afield with your children (kudos to you), your child may need travel vaccines or medicine to prevent malaria.
The vaccines that you and your family will receive depends on how long you are travelling for, what activities you are doing, whether you are travelling to rural areas, and the age and health of your child.
It is always best to check what may be required with your child’s GP, or a travel medicine clinic, at least six to eight weeks before travel. This will allow enough time for vaccines to be given, if they are needed.
No matter where you are travelling, making sure your child’s routine vaccinations are up to date is also very important.
You can find more information on travel vaccines and malaria at tmb.ie, wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel or fitfortravel.nhs.uk.
4. Food and water safety
Foreign bugs can often upset those little tummies, so you can take the following precautions to reduce the chances of your children feeling unwell due to food or waterborne illnesses.
- Wash your child’s hands frequently, especially before eating or after using the toilet.
- Bottled or boiled water should be used for drinking, brushing teeth, or making up feeds.
- Freshly cooked, hot food is safest.
- Fruit should only be eaten if it can be peeled.
- Avoid ice in drinks, salads, unpasteurised dairy products, buffet foods and shellfish.
5. Staying hydrated
Children can become dehydrated more quickly than adults, and this is a particular risk in hot, sunny weather. You should encourage your child to drink water regularly throughout the day, even if they say they are not thirsty. A good way to check if they are well hydrated is to monitor their pee! Their urine should be clear and light in colour which indicates good hydration.
6. Traveller’s diarrhoea
It is, unfortunately, a very common travel illness, but if your child does develop diarrhoea, the most important thing is to make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids. Encourage them to sip on oral rehydration solutions such as Dioralyte, water or diluted fruit juice.
If you have concerns or if your child develops fever, bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, or appears dehydrated you should contact a doctor immediately.
7. Sun protection
If only there was an easier way than rubbing every inch of your wiggling child with slippery sun-screen! Alas, this is a very necessary chore when it comes to having your children in the sunshine. Getting sunburnt in childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life.
- Babies under 6 months should be kept in the shade as much as possible.
- Sun exposure should be avoided during the hottest part of the day, usually from 11am to 3pm.
- Children should be protected with a wide brimmed hat, and long-sleeved tops.
- Over the age of 6 months, children should wear sunglasses with both UVA and UVB protection.
- Sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and with UVA protection is recommended.
- Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas 20 minutes before sun exposure and should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming.
8. Insect bites
Not only are insect bites uncomfortable and itchy for your child, but in many parts of the world, insect bites can spread diseases such as malaria, dengue and zika.
If you are travelling to an area with malaria, your child will need to take medicine to prevent malaria. It is best to have a chat with your GP or travel clinic before you travel. While there, it is also important to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible using tips such as these:
- Insect repellents, such as DEET, should be used and reapplied regularly.
- 20pc DEET will give protection 1 to 3 hours, 30pc DEET can last up to six hours and 50pc can last up to 12 hours.
- DEET is safe to use in babies over the age of 2 months.
- Children should wear light coloured, long sleeved clothing, especially at times of day when there are a lot of insects around.
- Insecticide treated mosquito nets should be used over the bed at night.
- Closing windows and using air conditioning can reduce the risk of bites.
Travelling with children can be challenging but the benefits of being able to show them the world, bring them to new destinations and explore new environments together are worth it.
Once you take some sensible precautions, get medical advice and be as prepared as possible, you can enjoy making some amazing memories together and embrace their sense of adventure.
Wishing you happy and healthy travels!
NB: videoDoc (videodoc.ie) is an online doctor service with Irish Medical Council registered GPs who specialise in delivering care remotely. Patients can access a doctor in minutes by downloading the videoDoc mobile app. Doctors are available for convenient care 7 days, 8am - 10pm for €20.
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