Heal thyself, when possible

Posted: April 14, 2013

When mild health issues crop up, such as a persistent cough or food poisoning, you have the power to self-heal. But you'll need the proper instruments.

"If people have the skills to self-treat for minor respiratory illness or diarrhea, it's sort of empowering," said Phyllis Kozarsky, a travel health consultant for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before you depart on your travels, the CDC consultant recommends visiting the pharmacy aisles to collect some necessary items.

Her kit might include an anti-diarrheal such as Imodium, a painkiller such as Advil, bandages, steroid cream, cough medicine (tablet or capsule), a mild laxative, and sleep aids. If you're allergic to bee stings, pack an EpiPen; if pollen or other allergens tickle your nose, stock up on Claritin or another antihistamine.

Also throw in extras of any medications you normally take at home, in case you lose a few or your return is delayed. And don't forget the Cipro or Zithromax, prescribed antibiotics that can resolve a slew of stomach and respiratory ailments caused by bacteria. (Ask your doctor for instructions on use.)

If you're parachuting into an exotic locale with such potential risks as malaria or typhoid, visit a travel health clinic for counseling and possibly vaccinations and/or medications. (The International Society of Travel Medicine manages the Global Travel Clinic Directory, a list of facilities around the world.)

Travelers with chronic diseases or conditions should also consult with a travel health provider and share all the details of their trip, including the altitude. Thin air can bedevil people with compromised respiratory systems, for example.

Despite extreme vigilance - frequent hand-washing, drinking only bottled water, abstaining from raw fruits and veggies - pesky viruses and bacteria may still get through. But if you're patient, they'll leave.

For example, food poisoning symptoms should pass within six to 12 hours, and untreated diarrhea typically improves within five days. In addition to taking intestinal medicine, sick individuals should stay hydrated with "safe" liquids, doctors say; serious dehydration can land you in the hospital.

Fever can be trickier to self-diagnose. When you are traveling in a malaria-free area, wait a day or so; if the fever persists, seek medical attention, said David Shlim, a physician and president-elect of the International Society of Travel Medicine. However, when you are in a region where the mosquito-borne disease exists, hang up your DIY stethoscope and flag down a real doctor.

- Andrea Sachs

comments powered by Disqus