Aches, Pains & Discomforts
Travel should always be a delightful adventure. Unfortunately it is also often plagued with minor aches and pains. This article is to try to help you prevent or minimize some of these.
If you are flying, one of the first discomforts you may experience is earache. This is caused by the change in air pressure and its effect on the ear canal. A number of remedies have been recommended for this--most of them successful some of the time. None of them successful all of the time. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy is probably the most common remedy. Swallowing helps to equalize the pressure inside and outside the ear. Forcefully increasing inner ear pressure by pinching your nostrils and blowing your nose is often suggested and equally often condemned. Theoretically it is possible to rupture your eardrum or do other serious ear damage by doing this. A group of ear specialists who were recently surveyed on this matter, though, admitted that none of them had personally seen a case of ear damage from this. Physicians commonly recommend the use of a decongestant (e.g. Sudafed, Afrin) or antihistamine (e.g. Claritin, Hismanal, Allegra, Benadryl) before flying. Recent studies have shown that this, too, may not be as helpful as postulated. New on the market are pressure-equalizing ear plugs called EarPlanesâ (see our catalog.) These have not been around long enough to undergo independent medical evaluation but they have been garnering good reports among the traveling public. One thing that will definitely aggravate ear pain is an ear infection. If you already have an ear infection it is definitely best to get it treated before your travel by air. It may even be wise to postpone your trip.
Another problem worsened by air travel is toothache. Again, changes in air pressure contribute to this, as may the decreased availability of regular oral hygiene. These factors may flare-up a dental abscess or other dental problem. It is a good idea to have a complete dental check-up before you go on an overseas trip. If you are caught with a toothache, however, a good short term remedy, found in many first aid kits, is Oil of Cloves which can be applied to the offending area.
Flying may also aggravate respiratory problems. People like to blame air pollution but the air in commercial airliners is probably the cleanest air you will ever breathe. It is also the driest (this is necessary to prevent water condensation on essential electrical components.) It is the dry air that can result in coughing, sneezing, bloody nose and other respiratory symptoms. Drinking a lot of fluids may help. It is also a good idea to carry along a decongestant or cough medicine in case the symptoms become intolerable.
Constipation is a consequence of too little activity and too little fluid. Actually, more international travelers complain of constipation than of diarrhea. Exercising your muscles and drinking plenty of fluid is a good preventative. This also helps to prevent blood clots in the legs--one of the most dangerous of travel maladies. A bulk laxative (e.g. Metamucil, Fibercon) is another good addition to your medical kit.
Then there are cuts, bumps and sprains that are such a common part of life but so much more annoying when away from home. Ice and elevation are the hallmarks of initial treatment. Even a cut that will need stitches will bleed less and swell less if an ice pack is applied while waiting for treatment. For cuts, the important rule is to "drown all germs". Wash thoroughly with soap and water. For sprains and bumps the rule is R.I.P.--Rest the Injured Part. Keep it elevated and stay off it. Minor fractures will even heal fine if this rule is applied. And don’t forget to update your tetanus shot if you have not already done so.
Rashes are another bugaboo of travel. Diagnosis will often have to wait until you get home, but an antihistamine like Benadryl will often keep the itching down until then. Heat rash (prickly heat) will respond to cool compresses and the avoidance of sweating. Insect bites need to be kept clean but will also itch less with antihistamines. Remember that a lot of medications common to travelers will sensitize the skin to the sun so be careful with sun exposure and use a sunscreen.
A rash particular to pregnancy is PUPP. Often quite itchy and long-lasting but harmless and it responds well to Benadryl.
The risk of blood clots in the legs (deep venous thrombosis) is much greater in pregnancy. When flying, therefore, ask for an aisle seat, drink plenty of water or juice and make frequent bathroom trips.