Traveling for work can take one across the United States or to foreign countries.
Travel in the United States is generally quite safe. When traveling to developing countries there is the potential of contracting a serious illness. Safety is also an issue that requires some planning, more so in foreign countries.
Advice for travelers can be divided into health and safety issues.
In assessing the risk for a traveler, the medical condition of the person and the type of travel must be considered. Persons with certain medical conditions are at higher risk for problems.
The cabin of an airline is pressurized, but at cruise altitude the cabin altitude may be as high as 8,000 feet. Persons with significant heart or lung conditions may benefit from, or require, supplemental oxygen.
– Walking, Drinking
Prolonged sitting in an aircraft is associated with a risk of clot formation in the legs. The risk of this may be reduced by avoiding dehydration and walking about the cabin during the flight.
Sinus or ear infections can make the ascent or descent of the plane quite painful. If travel cannot be postponed or avoided, use of a nasal inhaler or decongestant may be helpful. Also, chewing gum during takeoff and landing may assist to equalize the pressure in the ears.
For those travelers with medical conditions that require medication, like insulin for diabetes, it is important to bring an extra set of medication and carry this in a separate bag. This way, if one piece of luggage is lost or stolen, there is sufficient medication to prevent complications. Carry a note of the important medical history in your wallet or with your passport including current medical conditions, medications and doses, and drug allergies.
A significant problem for business travelers who must be alert and focused soon after arrival is jet lag. Crossing two or more time zones causes symptoms of jet lag, fatigue, restless sleep, and difficulty concentrating.
Traveling east causes more severe symptoms. In general, it can take one day in the destination for every time zone crossed for the body to naturally adjust. Several approaches have been advocated to ameliorate the symptoms of jet lag. Some travelers may find these modestly effective, none has been shown to be dramatically effective.
Jet lag diets, which alternate high protein, low carbohydrate meals before and after arrival, has not shown to be significantly helpful. Adjusting activity several days before departure to the destination time might be helpful to decrease the length of time for adjustment.
– Sunlight Helps To
Readjust Body Rhythms
Exposure to sunlight at certain times helps to readjust the body’s rhythm. Exposure to sunlight in the morning of arrival for traveling east, and in the afternoon of arrival for travel to the west, is helpful. Exercise promotes better sleep, and if done outside provides an orientation to daylight.
Melatonin is a hormone found in humans and helps regulate the bodies daily rhythms. Several studies have shown benefit in decreasing the effects of jet lag. There is not universal acceptance in the medical community in the use of melatonin for jet lag. So far, the results are encouraging and the benefits in some people are modestly effective.
Melatonin is sold in the United States without prescription at health food stores and nutrition sections of markets. There is no regulation of the preparations, and effectiveness may vary between lots of products and brands. When taken in doses of 5 milligrams in the evening for three to five days after arrival there may be a decrease in the severity of symptoms.
Other natural remedies are available for the treatment of jet lag but none has been shown to be effective.
The most common cause of serious misadventures while traveling are due to injuries, especially motor vehicle collisions. Wearing seat belts is necessary anywhere in the world. Be vigilant for traffic in unfamiliar cities. Avoid walking alone, especially at night.
When in a foreign country remember that as a traveler you carry money for expenses and you can be a target for would-be thieves. Be conservative in your dress and jewelry while traveling in the United States or abroad. Try to get information about the destination. The more information you have, the more secure you will feel.
Bruff is medical director of the Corporate and Leisure Travel Clinic at the UCSD Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine in Hillcrest.