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March 3, 2008

U-M Health Minute: Today’s top health issues and medical research

Health tips to ease family travel

U-M doctor explains how to handle potential problems while vacationing

ANN ARBOR, MI – As the warm-weather months approach, many families will be making vacation plans for their spring and summer breaks. And while these trips can be fun, they can also be stressful—especially when it comes to dealing with unexpected health issues. 


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But Stephen Park, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, says that parents can alleviate this stress by preparing for health situations before they take off on their next family getaway.

“We as parents pay a lot of attention to things like packing toys and packing clothes, but sometimes we don’t pay as much attention to preparing for potential or anticipated health issues,” explains Park.

He offers these health tips for families planning their next trip:

Create a travel kit. “One of the first things I think we can do as parents is to take along the essentials. You can develop a travel health kit that you can use not only to travel, but to have around the house and use for local travel,” says Park.

The kit should include medicines that a child takes regularly as well as preparatory medicines for sudden ailments, such as congestion or a rash. Park recommends packing a fever reducer, an antihistamine, bandages and a topical antibiotic ointment. He does not generally recommend packing an anti-diarrhea medicine for “travelers’ diarrhea,” which is often associated with traveling overseas. Instead, he suggests consulting your regular physician to learn about antibiotics that treat bacterial infections that can cause diarrhea.

Park also encourages parents to consider various factors of the vacation, such as the destination’s climate, as they pack their health kit. Going somewhere sunny? Bring plenty of sunscreen, as well as aloe vera to relieve the pain of sunburns. And don’t forget the insect repellent, netting and poison ivy treatments if you anticipate spending much time outdoors.

Health Minute ImagePrepare for your mode of transportation. Sometimes the traveling itself can cause the most headaches for parents. One main problem with air travel is that children’s ears are particularly sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. Park recommends feeding a small child during take-off and landing to generate a suck and swallow motion that will help alleviate ear pain. Older children can chew gum or blow bubbles for relief. He also advises sitting in the middle of the plane over the wings if a child is prone to motion sickness.

Traveling by car instead? Park says that the best way to avoid motion sickness is through prevention. Discourage your children from reading in the car or looking down, and tell them to focus their eyes on a point in front of them if they begin to feel ill.

Research. As you make your travel plans, find out the location of the closest urgent care center, night-time care center and emergency room. Park notes that many hotels coordinate with local health care providers, and some resorts offer health care services on site or within a complex nearby. And be sure to bring the phone number of your regular physician with you in case you need any medical questions answered by phone, he advises.

Be patient. Traveling throws off normal routines, which can often leave a child—as well as a parent—a bit grumpy. Park says parents should mentally prepare themselves for the fact that children may act out as they transition to traveling.

“One of the biggest concerns of parents when they are traveling with children is not so much about health, but about behavior,” he explains. “Parents need to relax as much as possible and plan ahead. Anticipate that children may be a little off while traveling, so be patient with routines.”

With your plans made and your health travel kit in tow, you are on your way to a trip that will be a bit less stressful, Park says. 

“Traveling with children can be some of the most fun a family can have in growing as a family and spending that time together to see the world around us,” says Park. “By preparing a first aid kit, addressing health needs in advance and having a plan in case you need to seek health care services while you’re away, some pressure is taken off and a family can just have a great time.”

For more information on reading food labels, visit these Web sites:

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital: First Aid Kit

KidsHealth: Kids Health Travel Tips

Walt Disney World First Aid Site

Written by Laura Drouillard


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