DEAR DOCTOR K:
My wife and I will be traveling outside the country for the first time — exciting but scary. We both have chronic illnesses. What preparation is necessary?
I’m glad you asked because, with adequate preparation, you should greatly enjoy foreign travel.
First, ask your doctor if he or she has specific concerns or advice for you. If you have diabetes, for example, your blood sugar level is affected not only by how much you eat, but by how much you exercise. And during vacations, both of these can change substantially. So ask yourself what the impact on your eating and exercise is likely to be from the vacation you have planned.
Since you’re traveling internationally, find out if you need vaccinations or preventive medications. You can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (cdc.gov/travel), or ask your doctor. Try to get your shots four to six weeks before your trip, as some vaccinations need time to kick in.
If you take prescription medications, pack more than enough to last through your trip, in case your return gets delayed. And carry your medications in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage in case it gets lost. (The TSA makes an exception to the “no more than 3.4 ounces of liquids or gels” rule for prescription medications and necessary medical supplies.) That’s what I have done ever since, 20 years ago, I spent the first two days of a trip trying to get replacement medicines in a foreign country because my luggage was lost.
Also, carry a list of your medications, with both the generic and brand names. And bring along a doctor’s note if you have a pacemaker or other implanted device; you may need it when going through security checkpoints.
It can be useful, in advance, to find the name of a doctor or hospital at your destination. There are organizations on the internet that maintain the names of English-speaking doctors with good reputations in many countries around the world. They also identify trusted hospitals. One example is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.
I can’t personally vouch for the quality and integrity of the doctors and hospitals linked to these organizations. I can say that many of the organizations have boards of directors populated by doctors affiliated with major U.S. academic medical centers. And check with your insurance to see what you need to do in case of an emergency.
In addition to your usual medicines, it can be handy to bring along some additional medicines:
- motion sickness pills, if you might suffer from that;
- antidiarrheal medication, a laxative and an antacid;
- antihistamine and 1 percent hydrocortisone cream for mild allergic reactions;
- cold medicine;
- medications for pain relief or fever;
- antifungal and antibacterial ointments;
- lubricating eye drops;
- basic first-aid items (adhesive bandages, gauze, elastic bandage, antiseptic, tweezers, scissors, cotton-tipped applicators).
With a little advance planning, you and your wife can enjoy a healthy and safe vacation.
(This column is an update of one that ran originally in June 2013.)