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How Do I Keep My Children Healthy While Traveling?

Posted Date: 7/1/2015
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 S.I. Parent July 2015

Ask the Doctor
Dr. Nirmala Vadde

How Do I Keep My Children Healthy While Traveling?

When your family travels, it can take time to adjust to the food, water, and air in a new environment. And kids can be especially vulnerable to travel-related problems such as jet lag, motion sickness, diarrhea, and ear discomfort. Early planning and smart packing can help you keep the trip healthy for everybody.

If you're heading overseas, start preparing well in advance. For instance, it's important to find out what vaccinations your kids (and even you) might need because:

  • Different countries have different risks and requirements and may require specific vaccines.
  • Some vaccines require more than one dose and are given in a series over a period of days or sometimes weeks.
  • Top priority vaccinations include: measles, polio and influenza

    Jet Lag: When you fly across time zones, it can take time for your internal body clock to catch up with the local time. In addition to tiredness, jet lag can also cause an upset stomach and even insomnia. Here are some tips for dealing with jet lag:
    • Try to adjust your family's sleep schedules 2-3 days before departure.
    • Get plenty of rest before your trip. If possible, sleep on the flight.
    • Dehydration contributes to the side effects of jet lag so make sure everyone drinks plenty of water during the flight.
    • On a long flight, try to stretch regularly and even walk up and down the aisles when they're clear and it's OK to do so.
    • After arrival, encourage kids to be active outside or in brightly lit areas during daylight hours.
    • Try to follow local time at your destination (for example, try to keep kids awake until their usual bedtime).

      Ear Pain: It is ccommon for kids to experience ear discomfort during a plane's takeoff and descent. This is caused by pressure in the middle ear as it tries to keep up with the rapidly changing air pressure. Encourage kids to swallow, yawn, or, if they're old enough, chew gum, take sips of fluid, or suck on a lollipop. It may help infants to nurse or suck on a bottle. Your doctor may suggest not flying if your child has an ear infection or a lot of fluid behind the eardrum. Children who have had ear tubes placed should do fine.

      Motion Sickness: Travel (or motion) sickness is caused by a conflict between the eye and ear: The inner ears detect movement, but the eyes — focused within a car or other vehicle — do not. These mixed signals coming into the brain can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting, paleness, and cold sweats.

      Some ways to help combat travel sickness:

      • Before you leave, have kids eat a light meal or snack, as motion sickness seems worse on an empty stomach. Provide foods that are easily digested, such as complex carbohydrates, and avoid fatty foods.
      • Try to avoid eating during short trips. For longer trips, sip drinks and eat light, snacks or small meals.
      • If your child is feeling sick, provide bland food options, like crackers.
      • Encourage kids to look outside the car, rather than inside. They should focus on still objects — not moving ones (like other cars) — or a distant point.
      • Keep the window open a little to allow fresh air to circulate.
      • Use a headrest to minimize head movement.
      • If possible, make frequent stops at places like a rest stop or park. If your child complains of feeling sick and it's safe to stop, a short walk for some fresh air might help.
      • You can also ask your doctor about medicines to prevent travel sickness.
      • Diarrhea: Diarrhea and other stomach distress, which can be common during travel, are often caused by bacteria or other germs entering the digestive tract, usually from contaminated food or water. Diarrhea is especially a problem for young kids and infants, who can become dehydrated more quickly than adults.

        Take precautions to ensure the water is safe by using only purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth, and mixing infant formula and foods. If you use tap water, boil it first or purify it with an iodine tablet.


        Other ways to prevent diarrhea and GI distress:

        • If you're breastfeeding your infant, continue to do so..
        • Remind kids to practice the good hand-washing techniques used at home
        • Keep pacifiers, teething rings, and toys clean.
        • Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy.
        • Make sure all dairy products are pasteurized.
        • Fresh fruits and vegetables should be adequately cooked or washed well and peeled.
        • Meats and fish should be well cooked and eaten just after preparation.

          Be Prepared
          When you pack, include any medications you and your family use regularly because they may be hard to find at your destination. Don't forget inhalers, allergy medication, and insulin, if needed.

           Other items you might want to pack:

        • Bandaids of different sizes, alcohol swabs, thermometer, skin tape, ace bandage.
        • Fever/pain reducing medicines such as acetaminophen, antibiotic cream for skin infections, as well as Benadryl and Epipen if a child has severe allergies. Always check with your doctor for specific instructions on use and when to seek medical help.
        • An oral rehydrating solution such as Pedialyte (This is important if traveling abroad since it may not be as readily available as it is here).
        • Sunscreen.
        • Insect repellent.
        • Waterless alcohol-based hand rubs for when soap and clean water aren't available.

        Before you leave, consider asking your doctor for other information about how to protect your family from illness and injury during travel. Doing a little planning in advance can help ensure that when the time comes, all you'll have left to do is relax and enjoy your vacation!

        Nirmala Vadde, M.D., is Chief of Pediatric Ambulatory Care at Richmond University Medical Center. For more information visit the health library, which offers articles, quizzes, videos and more at