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Although no one wants to get sick on vacation, traveller’s diarrhea is common. Children become dehydrated more easily, so it can be more serious for them. Prevention is important.
Take action to avoid getting sick. First, be sure that the food you eat is fully cooked. Peel fruits and vegetables. In developing countries, only use bottled water or water that has been boiled to drink or to make formula. Remember that you must wash bottles, toys and pacifiers with clean water. Children put their hands everywhere, so use alcohol-based hand sanitizer on a regular basis.
A vaccine to prevent traveller’s diarrhea (Dukoral) is on the market. To date, research has not shown it helps with many common causes of traveller’s diarrhea. Talk to your doctor for further details.
If your child does develop diarrhea, fluids are the best treatment. You may also try oral rehydration salts or products like Pedialyte. Most children do not need antibiotics. Children should not take medications for adults that contain an ingredient called bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol. Get medical attention immediately if your child gets bloody diarrhea, develops a fever, or shows signs of dehydration. Symptoms include low energy, reduced passing of urine, and dry mouth.
Whether you travel within Canada or around the world, jet lag can affect the first few days of your vacation. Jet lag happens when the body’s internal clock is on a different schedule than the new time zone you are in. Symptoms may include being tired during the day, having problems sleeping at night, and being irritable. Travelling east may cause worse symptoms than travelling west. Luckily, children generally have fewer symptoms of jet lag than adults. They tend to make more of a hormone called melatonin, which helps with sleep.
Try to expose children to daylight, and adjust nap and meal schedules as soon as you arrive at your destination. Depending on how far you travel, you may want to begin shifting your baby or toddler’s schedule a few days before you leave. Unlike with adults, medications are not recommended for children with jet lag. Sleeping pills are very dangerous for children because of the risk of overdose. Melatonin pills are not advised for children because they do not work well, and we do not know if there are any long-term side effects.
Motion sickness can put a damper on any vacation. Travelling in a car, boat or airplane can trigger the symptoms – upset stomach, vomiting, cold sweats or feeling tired. The sickness affects your child’s brain if it receives conflicting signals from the inner ear, eye, and body position. The ear thinks that the body is moving, while the eyes and body do not. This confuses the brain. Children between the ages of two and 12 tend to be most affected.
Again, prevention is key! If you are travelling by car, boat or plane, seat children next to a window and have them look at the horizon. When flying, select seats away from the back of the airplane cabin. The rear of a plane has more movement than the front. Reading and activities that involve looking down can make motion sickness worse. Distractions like singing, talking or listening to music might help. Provide bland food to eat before the trip, and avoid greasy food.
When it is safe to do so, getting fresh air is a good idea. If your child develops motion sickness on a road trip, stop the car in a safe place and walk around. On a boat, go out onto the deck. On an airplane, use the vents to direct cool air onto your child’s face. Pack an extra set of accessible clothes for both you and your child, in case of vomiting.
If your child has a history of motion sickness, talk to the doctor about medication options. It is usually most effective to take medications before symptoms start. Children over two may benefit from an anti-nausea medication like Gravol. More medication options are available once your child reaches age 12.
Ear pain is common when flying, and kids tend to be affected more than adults. If the pressure differs on each side of the eardrum, pain can result.
A difference in pressure can cause ear pain, problems hearing, and possibly a hole in the eardrum. It generally happens during landing but can also occur during takeoff. Changes in elevation while driving in the mountains can also affect the ears.
Encourage your baby or toddler to drink or chew during descent to help balance the pressure difference. Older children and adolescents can swallow, yawn or chew gum. Keep snacks and water bottles easily accessible to help your children swallow if they are too young to do it on their own.
Parents often ask whether their children can fly with an ear infection. Opinions on this issue differ. Some experts say waiting two weeks after the treatment of the ear infection is best. If you cannot delay the trip, at least 48 hours of antibiotic treatment may reduce ear pain. Giving pain medications like Tylenol or Advil about 30 minutes prior to takeoff will also help.
Children who have recurrent ear infections may be more likely to get ear pain on a flight. They have a harder time balancing the pressure in their ears. Ask your doctor if your child might benefit from using a nasal medication (like saline or a decongestant) before takeoff and landing.
Travelling with children can be stressful regardless of where you go and how you get there. When organizing a trip, think about challenges your family might face and how to deal with them. If you have specific concerns about a destination and the health of your family, talk to your doctor before leaving. One of the best prevention strategies is making sure routine vaccinations are up to date. Chances are that planning ahead will make the memories of your family’s vacation happy ones. As Dr. Seuss says, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”