Something as small as an insect bite could make me sick.
A different diet and water can play havoc with my stomach.
A good hike can make my left knee swell.
That's what happened yesterday. I walked/hiked about 14 km in all yesterday and, according to my phone, about 43 flights of stairs. My knee could tell the tale. It was stiff and a bit swollen. Not bad but bad enough that I got some ice from the guesthouse kitchen and applied it.
It got me thinking of the many resources we have in our kitchen or as close as the nearest grocery store to take care of a variety of health problems that can hit while traveling.
None of the suggestions below replace the advice of a good doctor should you not be well. For more serious situations I have my travel insurance to pay for proper medical treatment. (Here's my price and benefits analysis of travel insurance.) However, there are lots that I can attend to myself. Here are my favorite tips for how to prevent and treat illness and ailments as we travel.
Joint and Muscle Injuries
If you do a lot of hiking these tips are good to know. However, you can twist an ankle anywhere or maybe you suffer from a chronic injury that you want to minimize as you travel. Try these remedies.
- Joint pain and inflammation. Whether you suffer from an acute injury or a chronic pain, these are a few simple things you can do.
- Avoid carbohydrates. I experienced the dramatic effect of eliminating carbs from my diet with an injured knee and, more recently, an injured thumb. Out with the carbs and out with a lot of inflammation.
- Apply ice. This should be done after any hike or other event causing stress on your affected joint.
- Self-administer acupressure massage. This site, Do-It-Yourself Joint Pain Relief, is an incredible resource for pain relief all over the body. Watch the two preliminary videos to learn the technique then go on to the videos for your particular problem.
- Muscle pain.
- Alternate ice and heat. Even if it's a press you make with a facecloth from the hot and cold water at the sink, this should help.
- Modify your diet. Muscle cramps are most common in the legs and feet. They can be caused by dehydration or a lack of potassium. Drinking more water and eating a banana a day could help depending on the underlying cause.
- Stretch more. Stretching before activity can prevent muscle injuries.
- Both joint and muscle pain.
- Take Glucosamine Chondroitin. I have found it works very well for my thumb injury and for muscle aches.
Cuts and Stings
With cuts and stings, it's important to keep the site clean and avoid infection. Here are basic grocery store finds for prevention and cures.
- Bee or wasp stings. Baking soda or apple cider vinegar will neutralize the sting. If the sting is infected try honey as it has antibacterial properties.
- Heal an infected cut. I grew up with the bread and milk poultice. Heat milk and add a bit of bread, wrap in gauze or cheese cloth and place on the cut or wound when it is hot. Leave it there until it cools. Repeat as often as necessary.
- Reduce inflammation. For a potato poultice, you simply grate a raw potato, make a paste and apply! It's good for inflammation and eye troubles such as conjunctivitis.
- Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Apply an ivy block, a lotion that prevents the skin irritation caused by poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, should you brush against these plants. If your skin has already been in contact with any of these plants, try a compress of apple cider vinegar or cold brewed black tea. Tecnu is a product that stops the rash from spreading and reduces the itching.
Stomach problems are no fun at the best of times. When traveling, they are much worse. To prevent and treat:
- Think prevention first. Eat and drink foods you have confidence in. Carry a Steripen that emits UV rays to quickly decontaminate water. Buy bottled water that is factory sealed. Be careful what water you brush your teeth with! Eat at places where you can see the kitchen and where it is busy so that food turn-over is frequent.
- If you do get sick:
- Prevent dehydration. Drink as much safe water as you can. If you've suffered from vomiting and diarrhea add an electrolyte powder to your water.
- Address diarrhea right away. If you're going to an area where it is possible that you will get sick, plan on taking something with you. Imodium AD, which is available over the counter and even comes in a chewable form, is popular.
- Go on a BRAT diet. If it's been really bad and you need to introduce foods into your system slowly, try the BRAT diet. It stands for bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast. It's actually more restrictive than necessary but you get the idea. Feed your body with easily digestible natural foods that will replenish your body.
Ticks and Mosquitos
Ticks that can carry Lyme disease. Mosquitoes that can carry malaria and West Nile disease.
- To avoid ticks.
- Wear light-colored clothes, tuck your pants into your socks, and check your clothes and skin for ticks during the day.
- To avoid malaria. If you’re planning to travel to countries where malaria is found,
- Check out the CDC website so that you'll know if your itinerary is taking you to an area where malaria is endemic, and which medications you specifically need to prevent becoming infected.
- Consider insect-repellent clothing. Exofficio has a line of clothing for women and men called Bugsaway. This is their description: "Permethrin, the active ingredient in Insect Shield, is invisible, odorless and so tightly bonded to the fabric fibers that it retains effective repellency through the life of the garment. It repels mosquitoes (including those carrying West Nile virus and malaria), ticks, ants, flies, chiggers, and midges (no-see-ums). Insect Shield repellent lasts 70 washings."
- Use an insect repellent. A repellent should contain 30% to 50% DEET. For travel, I like these insect repellant wipes.
If you live at or near sea level and will be traveling even to 2,500' but especially 5,000’+, you may develop altitude sickness even if you’re fit and healthy. Typically, you may become dizzy, have trouble sleeping, feel tired or nauseated, lose your appetite or develop a headache. To reduce the likelihood of suffering altitude sickness,
- Give yourself time to adjust to higher altitudes. Ascend slowly to your destination. That means, for example, staying two days at 5,000' before moving on to your final destination at 8,000'. And going above this means you should stay at least three days at 8,000’ before going higher.
- Rest and hydrate. Schedule rest days, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, only exercise lightly at first, and avoid tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
- Ask your doctor. If you’re going above 12,000', you should ask your physician for a prescription for Diamox, a diuretic, which can prevent altitude sickness if you take it before you arrive at high altitude, but it can also help you recover from some high-altitude symptoms.