From insect bites to heat rash, how to look after your health while on holiday
You could almost set your watch by it - the moment you bid your colleagues a semi-smug farewell your throat starts to tickle. And it's not just sod's law: studies show you're actually more likely to get a cold on holiday. Fly and you'll increase that risk 100-fold.
'You're more at risk of a cold on a long-haul flight to the USA compared with a short hop to Europe,' says Professor Eccles, at the Common Cold Centre, Cardiff. 'You're exposed to germs from other passengers pumping through the air conditioning for much longer so, naturally, you're far more likely to catch something.'
Stress can also leave you feeling blah rather than rah before your break. 'The lead up to a holiday - finishing your work, losing passports and frantic last-minute shopping - can all leave you feeling really anxious, lowering your immunity and making you more susceptible to illness,' says Eccles.
Before you go: Boost your immunity with a daily multivitamin supplement, for at least two weeks before you go away. See the dentist in good time too - fluctuations in cabin air pressure can cause havoc with any holes, loose fillings or very recent dental work.
While you're away: As many as 76% of us have missed up to four days of a holiday due to illness. The good news is that, thanks to a 2009 EU court ruling, you can claim back sick days from your holiday entitlement (although you may need a medical certificate).
Unfortunately, if you like warm balmy evenings, then it's likely you'll be sharing your cocktail and newly tanned skin with a mosquito. And nothing ruins a golden glow more than angry, red bites. One in 10 people is highly attractive to mosquitoes - it's thought their bodies produce excess amounts of certain acids. Mosquitoes home in on carbon dioxide, too, so pregnant women are a particular target as they exhale more CO2 than usual.
Before you go: 'Research shows that people who regularly take vitamin B1 are less 'tasty' to mosquitoes due to an odour they excrete which is undetectable to humans,' says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson (www.nutricentre.co.uk). 'Take 500mg per day in the weeks leading up to and during your holiday for maximum effect.' Some travellers swear by the beneficial effect of B1-rich Marmite.
Take action: The most common spray and cream repellents are those that contain DEET, which remains effective for several hours, and comes in various concentrations from 20% to 95%. DEET can cause skin reactions, however, so you may prefer natural insect repellents based on essential oils like citronella or lemon eucalyptus. These need much more frequent application, and aren't recommended for malarial areas. 'Some mosquito repellents work less efficiently if you're wearing sunscreen,' says Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases at Leicester University Hospital. 'So shower before applying repellent and don't wear perfume or use fruit-scented soaps - mozzies love them.'
Keep insects away if you are sitting outside, by burning citronella candles or coils that give off smoke. Indoors, use plug-in devices that release repellent all night long.
In tropical areas, protect yourself by wearing long sleeves, maxi dresses or trousers and sleep with a mosquito net. Insects gather in sheltered, shady spots in the day, so watch out on romantic woodland walks.
If you react strongly to bites, carry an antihistamine cream such as Anthisan, £3.69, or Boots Bite & Sting Relief, £3.29, while devices such as the Lifesystems Bite Relief Click, £5.99, provide instant relief from itching with a tiny electric pulse.
Your body is usually very clever at keeping itself cool, but being exposed to heat for a long time means you lose vital fluids and salts through sweat. 'Heatstroke can manifest itself quickly,' says Angela. 'Warning signs include nausea, headache and feeling thirsty, dizzy and extremely tired.'
Take action: When it's very hot, avoid direct sunlight during peak hours, stay in the shade and drink plenty of water or energy drinks to replace lost fluid and salts. If you've been outside all day and you're feeling unwell, head inside and avoid alcohol, tea or coffee, as they can increase dehydration.
Feeling a little, er, loose down below? 'About 50% of travellers get diarrhoea, and stomach bugs are the most commonly reported travel-associated infections,' says Glenn Gibson, professor of food microbial sciences at Reading University. Simply washing your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap before you eat will massively reduce the amount of bacteria you come into contact with.
Before you go: 'The probiotics found in yogurts and supplements will give your digestive system a fighting chance against diarrhoea,' says naturopath Marcus Webb. 'Take an acidophilus supplement for at least a week before you go and keep taking them throughout your holiday.'
Take action: Cut down on dairy when abroad as unpasteurised milk and dairy products can be major causes of traveller's diarrhoea. But the biggest culprit is tap water, so if you're in an area where water isn't safe to drink, make sure all bottled water is sealed - serving bottled tap water in restaurants is a common money-making trick in some tourist resorts.
Hiding indoors does not a good holiday make. But about four million Brits suffer seasonal rhinitis (hay fever) and that number is rising every year. Where you go can make a difference - pollen counts are lower in exposed coastal areas, like Devon and Cornwall, for instance. Abroad, the Greek Islands, Balearics, Canaries, Madeira or the Algarve all have lower levels of sneeze-inducing pollen, while hay fever hotspots include Naples, Athens and Andalucia.
Take action: If you're suffering, close windows and stay indoors at dusk, when the air cools and descends, laden with pollen. Wearing sunglasses that fit close to your face will reduce eye irritation during the day. Shower and change your clothes when you get back to your room, as pollen sticks to clothes and hair. Click here for more hay fever help.
Dodgy white strap marks are the least of your worries when you're sunburned, yet nine million of us burn each time we go abroad. 'When your skin peels, it's trying to remove damaged cells - but if the damage goes too deep, that's when serious problems can occur,' says Cancer Research UK's Caroline Cerny.
Before you go: Take a fish oil supplement - studies show that a three-month course can make you less sensitive to the sun. Remember that one sunscreen does not fit all scenarios - snorkelling one day, sunbathing or sightseeing the next - so pack a range of SPFs and formulations.
Take action: For mild sunburn, drape a cold cloth over it to take the heat out, have a cool shower and sit near a fan. Paracetamol can help with pain. If it's severe, drink plenty of water and apply aloe vera cream. If your skin blisters, gently rub in an antibacterial cream but if the blistered area is big (the length of your arm or your stomach) see a doctor.
Over one million Brits leave for their annual jaunts without cover for illness and accidents, despite the astronomical cost of medical treatment abroad. So, what should you look for in travel insurance?
'Make sure you have a limit of £1m on health claims, and £2m if you're going to the US because medical costs are sky-high there,' says Bob Atkinson, travel expert at moneysupermarket.com. When travelling within the EU, take your European Health Insurance Card (apply at www.ehic.org) which lasts for up to five years, alongside private travel insurance - but never instead of.
'These cards replaced the E1-11 form and entitle you to the same sort of treatment from a hospital or dentist as a local,' says Atkinson.
So why do we need health insurance? While your EHIC card covers you for treatment, it won't cover the cost of bringing you back to the UK in an emergency. 'Air-lifting you to hospital or flying you home could cost up to £30,000,' says Bob. 'This is especially important on activity holidays, because you're more at risk of serious injury.'
Before you go: 'Travel insurance for a week's holiday in Europe can cost as little as £5, which covers you for medical bills, lost baggage, delayed flights and emergency dental bills,' says Bob. 'But it's often better value to pay a little extra up front to limit the amount of excess you'll pay should you need to make a claim.'
Like us on facebook
Follow us on twitter
Other Hearst Magazines UK sites