We are in the dead of winter in much of the country and, thankfully, the groundhog has forecasted an early spring. In the meantime, how do we travel in winter weather with our health intact? Here are a few winter travel health tips.
Before you leave home
Going away is no reason to not take your medications, without which you could potentially end up in a hospital far from home. Invest in a daily-labeled pillbox for medications. Or take prescription bottles in a carry-on, in case your luggage gets lost. Talk to your doctor about insulin that does not require refrigeration. Oftentimes, needle boxes are present in airport bathrooms for proper disposal. Carry contact information for both your pharmacy and physician. If you will be away for an extended period, make certain you have enough medications. Your bathroom medicine cabinet will not be available, so pack remedies for heartburn, diarrhea, sleep, headache, etc., whatever ails you most often.
On your way
Who doesn’t get cranky when they’re hungry? Ward off drops in sugar level and resulting changes in attitude. The brain requires a steady, constant supply of glucose (sugar) to perform optimally. Reach for nuts, popcorn, and apples when travelling for quick, healthy snacks. Be prepared for interruption of normal meal times and limited food choices; pack snacks for the plane, train and bus.
Cold and flu season are peaking now. Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer for lightly soiled hands. Wipe doorknobs, car handles, and light switches with anti-bacterial cloths or alcohol pads. Cough into your elbow, not your hand. Don’t travel if you have the flu. No one wants your bugs!
Remember the crying babies on the plane? It’s likely due to the increase in pressure in their ears. If you already have a cold and must fly, your ears, nose or sinuses can become plugged. When you feel pressure, swallow or chew gum. Talk to your doctor or pharmacists for over-the-counter remedies prior to flying. Airplanes are dry environments, so bring hydrating eye drops and spray mist, and avoid drinking alcohol, which can cause dehydration.
When you arrive
Try to acclimate to a new time zone as quickly as possible. Treat the new time zone just as your home time zone. If you eat at noon at home, eat lunch at noon in the new time zone. Stay awake if it’s daytime when your reach your new destination. Resist the temptation, however great, to lie down for just a little nap — you’ll delay adjusting to the new time zone and may set yourself up for sleepless nights.
If you’re going to the mountains, remember there is less available oxygen at high altitudes, often resulting in shortness of breath. Give your body time to acclimate to the new environment. Gloves become critically important to protect from frostbite. Dress in layers to protect yourself from cold. Don’t forget to protect your feet from cold and water by closely examining shoes for worn-out soles, and wear thick socks. Ears, noses and cheeks require earmuffs, scarves and hats. Sun is especially reflective against the snow; keep sunblock and lip balm close at hand to protect skin and lips from sun damage.
Travel can be easy and fun with just a few steps to prepare for a healthy adventure and safe return home.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations. Tell her what you think on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.