Play it smart to stay healthy away from home

By Erika Schwartz, MD

The worst nightmare for most of us living in our present-day “flat world” where getting on a plane and leaving home for a day or a month is no longer something unusual, is getting sick away from home.

Suffice it to say that most of us have come to the conclusion that we would rather not get sick anywhere, but at least at home we have doctors, family, friends and possibly some medical facility we trust somewhere in our neighborhood. Now think of leaving home and you are left not just to guess where to get your leg cast, should you need to après ski, but even to wonder who to turn to if your kid has a fever in the Caribbean.

You know it: Getting sick away from home is more than just a nuisance.

So what do you do?

First, you should increase your chances of not getting into trouble. How do you do that? Here are some thoughts:

1. Make sure you get enough rest and don’t pile the entire vacation fun into the first night.

2. Stay well-hydrated. Drink bottled water and if you‘re at a high altitude or in a hot climate, make sure you drink sport drinks or even sugar water to keep from dehydrating. You should know that dehydration is the number one cause for most acute illnesses.

3. Take some basic medications with you – Benadryl to eliminate allergic reactions and to help you sleep; Cipro as a broad spectrum antibiotic for infections ranging from those of the urinary tract to diarrhea to bronchitis; Immodium to stop traveler’s diarrhea from getting you very sick so you have time to get home; a cough suppressant like Tussionex to take at night should you get a terrible cough; Valium to sleep and get over jet lag; Vicodin or Percocet for bad pain; and, of course, your basic vitamins and supplements (vitamin C, 100 mg a day; Defense to boost your immune system, along with probiotics; vitamin B complex to keep your energy levels up; and fish oils –omega 3 and 6).

4. Wear clothes in layers so you don’t get cold or overheated and your body doesn’t have to work overtime to keep you from getting sick.

5. If you’re on the beach, avoid sunburn and sunstroke. Don’t fall asleep in the sun and don’t forget sunblock. Sunstroke is a major cause of dehydration and sickness on vacation that you can prevent.

6. Eat foods as similar as possible to what you eat at home and stay away from too much alcohol or caffeine to make up for loss of sleep. Too much drinking is not fun when you have to live with its aftermath, which all too often is sickness and may lead to a visit to a hospital that may hurt you more likely than help you.

7. Exercise. Don’t overdo it but keep your exercise regimen in concert with what you do at home. Indeed, step it up one notch. It will eliminate jet lag and keep you healthy as well as remind you to drink fluids, which will also keep you from getting sick.

8. Don’t worry if your flights are delayed, rerouted or the hotel is not exactly what you expected. If you can improve things, do it. If not, go with the flow and know you will be going home in a while anyway so don’t spend time producing too much adrenalin. It’ll harm you and you might need medical care in a place where you don’t really want to avail yourself of it.

9. Use your common sense to treat small maladies with what you have and already know how to treat. Don’t panic. Don’t assume you will get better care if you go to a hospital, an emergency room or call the hotel doctor. Chances are you know better what you need and can take care of yourself if you take a few minutes to think rather than react.

10. If you really need help, it’s best to ask the hotel concierge.

11. Best bet, unless you have broken a limb, had a heart attack or run into a mountain lion, get home and have your family doctor help you.

12. Finally, don’t worry about getting sick or dying away from home. You are most likely going to have a great time away if you don’t worry, go prepared and take responsibility for having fun, being reasonable and staying healthy.

For more information, email Dr. Erika at

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