5 Travel Health Problems And How To Manage Them

Many travelers experience some type of illness during the course of their travels. Unfortunately the two sometimes go hand in hand. However there are a number of things the traveler can do to manage themselves out of illness during their holiday.

The chances of acquiring certain diseases, illnesses or having an accident depend largely on where you travel, and the types of activities you engage in when traveling. Approximately 30 million Americans travel abroad each year and of those, 8 million visit less developed countries where the incidences of tropical and infectious diseases are often high. Almost 7 million United States citizens travel to countries where there is risk of malaria.

The following represent a fairly common set of circumstances travelers frequently experience. During the course of my own travels I've fallen victim to a number of the following health issues when traveling alone overseas. Since those days, I've learnt to be well prepared for most of the following illnesses, which for the most part can be self managed at least in the early days. However its worth noting, the following information is intended to provide general advice only. Always consult a medical professional should symptoms persist.

Motion Sickness

Many people traveling on the high seas experience motion sickness, the rolling of the ship, tilting from side to side and the constant rocking sensation can wreak havoc on any ocean cruise. Fortunately there are a number of precautions a passenger can take to minimize or eliminate its cause.

Causes Of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness also known as kinetosis, is caused when mixed signals sent to the brain by the eyes and the inner ear (semicircular canals). If a person is unable to 'see' the motion the body is feeling or if they are unable to feel the motion the eyes see, then the brain can receive mixed signals and the person will develop some aspect, or symptom of motion sickness.


Symptoms Of Motion Sickness

The symptoms of motion sickness usually begin with a feeling of discomfort followed by cold sweats and dizziness. Some people may exhibit pale skin and increased saliva production along with headache and fatigue. Nausea and vomiting usually occur shortly after the initial symptoms become apparent.

Treatments For Motion Sickness

There are three ways in which motion sickness can be treated including;

Environmental Changes

For many, by simply relocating themselves to a position on board a ship can remedy the problem. By finding an area of the ship where a passenger can see the bow of the ship can be helpful, as does finding a spot mid-ship where the 'motion of the ocean' is at its minimum. Sitting above deck rather than the lower decks of the ship allows the body to align to;

  • Motion that is felt but not seen;
  • Motion that is seen but not felt;
  • Motion that is seen and felt but does not correspond.

Medical Treatments

A number of over the counter and prescription medicines including trans-dermal patches are available, however many come with a range of side effects which should be considered before consuming the medication. Anyone involved in high risk activities including scuba diving should carefully evaluate the risks versus the benefits of taking such medicines.

Alternative Treatments

Some people swear by home remedies for motion sickness including the use of herbal medicines such as peppermint and ginger. Herbs can be consumed raw or blended as a tea.

Air Sickness

Airsickness is defined as a sensation brought about by air travel. It is a specific form of motion sickness and is considered a normal response in healthy individuals. Air sickness is usually a combination of spatial disorientation causing nausea and vomiting. The inner ear is particularly important in the maintenance of balance and equilibrium because it contains sensors for both angular, rotational and linear motion.

Causes Of Air Sickness

Like motion sickness on board a ship sailing the high seas, Air sickness can occur when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the body including the inner ear, eyes and muscles affecting balance and equilibrium.


Symptoms Of Air Sickness

Most commonly the following symptoms are present in those suffering from Air sickness including nausea, vomiting, vertigo, loss of appetite, cold sweating, difficulty in concentration, confusion, drowsiness, headache, and increased fatigue.

Medical Treatments

There are a number of medications available over the counter and by prescription available in patch or tablet form. Many of the medications can make a person drowsy, so avoid alcohol when taking any medication on board.

Alternative Treatments

Ginger is said to be beneficial to relive the symptoms or air sickness although it is unproven to date. It's interesting to note the method used by pilots to manage the condition which consists of repetitive exposure to the specific flying conditions which initially resulted in air sickness. The logic being, repeated exposure to the flight environment decreases an individual's susceptibility to subsequent air sickness.

Food Borne Illness

Food poisoning is a bound to occur when traveling overseas. I've encountered it personally many a time. Food poisoning is used as a term to encapsulate a range of gut illnesses as a result of consuming food which has been contaminated by viruses, parasites or bacteria.

The incubation period can range from hours to days, depending on the cause and on how much was consumed. The ability to identify the cause with the symptoms of the item consumed can be difficult, due to the potential incubation period. This can often cause sufferers to associate the symptoms to gastroenteritis for example.

Causes Of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning usually arises as a result of handling, preparation or food storage practices. In countries where bottled water is provided for drinking, often fruits and vegetables are rinsed under the contaminated tap water.

Symptoms Of Food Poisoning

Symptoms frequently include vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Bouts of vomiting can be repeated with an extended delay in between because even if infected food was eliminated from the stomach in the first purge, microbes are able to pass through the stomach into the intestine via cells lining the intestinal walls and begin to multiply.


Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, while some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream with some directly invading deeper body tissues. Gastro is commonly associated with food poisoning and is usually a short-lived problem triggered by an infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines which commonly leaves those infected having to deal with sudden attacks of diarrhoea and bloating, feeling sick or vomiting and a fever. Some sufferers may also feel like they have the flu, with aching limbs, tiredness and headaches.

Medical Treatments

It's important to avoid dehydration when food poisoning is present. Take regular sips of water to ensure the body remains hydrated. Traveler’s diarrhoea is common and affects millions of people who travel to developing countries each year. Products such Gastro-Stop contain loperamide work locally on the digestive system by slowing down the movement of the intestines. This means that there is more time for the body to absorb water and nutrients which helps to relieve diarrhoea.

A second active ingredient simethicone can help break up the gas bubbles that form in the intestines, relieving abdominal discomfort and wind that is associated with diarrhoea.

Alternative Treatments

While there are a number of home remedies available most will be out of your reach when food poisoning strikes. Consequently having the convenience of a quick fix cure is best obtained in the form of a tablet.

Heat Related Illness

There two types of common heat related illness encountered by travelers particularly in tropical environments.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke are two related health conditions that can be very serious if not treated quickly and effectively.

Causes Of Heat Related Illness

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are caused by a mild extreme elevation in body temperature which is normally controlled by sweating. Sweating allows a person to cool through evaporation however once a person becomes too dehydrated to sweat, their body temperature can rise rapidly and dramatically. High humidity can also prevent sweat from evaporating by not allowing a person to cool effectively, eventually resulting in a heat induced illness.

  • Heat Exhaustion is likely to occur when a persons body temperature rises above 37 degrees but below 40 degrees Celsius.

  • Heat Stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illnesses, with a body temperature rising higher than 40 degrees Celsius.

The two heat conditions although caused by a dramatic rise in body temperature, present very different signs and symptoms.


Symptoms Of Heat Related Illness

Heat Exhaustion

Fatigue (extreme tiredness) results in decreased blood pressure and blood volume. This is caused by a loss of body fluids and salts after being exposed to high heat for a prolonged period of time. Symptoms include;

  • Faint/Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Possibly Collapse
  • Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke

Symptoms of heat stroke may present as the following:

  • Vertigo
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps


Prevention is the best way to manage heat induced illness. This can be done by drinking plenty of water and consuming less tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration. Wear lightweight, light colored and loose fitting clothing which are made from a fabric that 'breathes' and lets sweat evaporate.

Protect yourself outside by wearing a hat, sunscreen and seeking out shaded areas. Limit physical activity and the time you spend doing outdoor activities. If this is difficult schedule outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day (before 10am and after 4pm). Keep energy levels elevated by eating well nourished foods which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Medical Treatments

Heat Exhaustion

In the event heat stroke is present, lie down, loosen and remove excessive clothing. Moisten skin with a moist cloth, and cool by fanning the body down. If the person is conscious provide cool water to drink. Without the correct management of heat exhaustion, they could quickly develop heat stroke.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a serious and life threatening condition.

  • Contact Emergency and ask for an Ambulance
  • Place the casualty in a cool environment
  • Moisten the skin with a moist cloth/washer and fan repeatedly
  • Apply wrapped ice packs to neck, groin and armpits
  • Certain people are at greater risk of developing heatstroke or suffering serious complications from severe dehydration.

Mosquito Borne Illness

Mosquito borne diseases or illnesses are caused by bacterial, virus or parasite transmissions by mosquitoes. They can transmit disease quickly and easily to humans.

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include: malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, tularemia, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis and Zika virus.


Alarmingly nearly 700 million people are infected with a mosquito borne illness each year resulting in greater than one million deaths.

Causes Of Mosquito Borne Illness

The best way to avoid mosquito borne illness is to avoid getting bitten. There are a number of ways to do this including;

  • Avoid mosquito hot spots such as areas where stagnant water is present.
  • Wear light colored loose fitted clothing.
  • Use insect repellent and reapply at regular intervals.
  • Avoid going out at certain times of day in areas where mosquito's breed.
  • Use an insect net to sleep under at night.
  • Keep air circulated, by using a fan or air-conditioner.
  • Only stay at accommodation where fly screens are present on all windows.

Symptoms Of Mosquito Bites

Depending upon the type of illness acquired, any number of symptoms may present. Dengue Fever for example has a range of symptoms including high fever, headache, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash.

Medical Treatments

Again depending on the type of infection, medical and hospital treatment may be required. If you are concerned, don't hesitate make an appointment with a local doctor or head over to the nearest hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

Sandra Hawkins

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