Summer is officially here, along with busy season for family vacations.
Unfortunately not every vacation will go as planned. Illnesses or injuries can come up, especially when traveling with babies and small children. But taking certain precautions can put your mind at ease and help ensure the most enjoyable vacation possible.
Dr. Nisha Vijay, a pediatrician at Swedish Covenant Hospital, knows first-hand what it’s like to watch a child suffer with illness while away from home. She traveled to India with her twins when they were just 18-months-old. During the trip both children developed diarrhea and started vomiting.
“It was very bad. The diarrhea was five or six times a day,” said Dr. Vijay.
She immediately replaced regular milk with soy milk, ceased any sugary drinks and gave them thickening foods like rice, bananas and toast. She also made sure they were drinking enough water to stay hydrated.
Soon the twins were back to normal.
Although Dr. Vijay’s training as a physician helped her know what to do, she explained that any parent can defuse a stressful health situation with just a few first-aid essentials and health-related travel tips.
First-aid essentials for every destination
No matter what kind of trip you have planned this summer, Dr. Vijay advises you bring the following:
• Contact information for your pediatrician or family medicine physician
• Immunization records and insurance information
• Oral liquids: acetaminophen (it doesn’t have to be Tylenol), ibuprofen and Benadryl
• Topical ointments: Benadryl cream and a one percent hydrocortisone cream
• Antibiotics: any over the counter antibiotic, such as neomycin
• Anti-fungal cream
• Bug spray and sunscreen
• Probiotics to regenerate good bacteria
• Tweezers (for removing splinters or bee stingers), nail cutters and band-aids
• If your child has severe allergies, make sure you have two EpiPens on hand
• If your child has asthma, make sure you carry a nebulizer or an inhaler
• If your child is currently on medication for seasonal allergies or anything else, make sure you have enough of it on hand, and bring along a refill too.
• Lots of snacks and bottled water (you never know when you’ll be stranded)
Enjoyable air travel
Older kids know to swallow during take-off and landing to prevent ear pain, but for babies and toddlers Dr. Vijay recommends breast feeding, a bottle or sippy cup, or a pacifier during these moments.
“Something for them to chew or suck on will help with the ear pressure,” she said.
If you are worried the child will have difficulty being constrained to the seat during a long flight, she suggests giving them a dose of Benadryl before the trip. However, you should test this at home well in advance of the trip to see how the child reacts.
“Some kids have a paradoxical reaction to Benadryl and it makes them hyper,” Dr. Vijay said, adding that you should keep ibuprofen or Tylenol in your purse or carry-on in case the child develops a fever in flight.
All the medical precautions aside, her number one must-have for plane travel is lots and lots of kid-friendly snacks.
Open water adventures
If your vacation involves a cruise ship, Dr. Vijay said the most common ailment will likely be motion sickness.
“There’s not a whole lot of stuff you can do for the younger children, but make sure you have enough bags on hand or something to distract them.”
For kids old enough to have hard candy, sucking on a peppermint can help settle the stomach and mitigate nausea.
The same motion sickness advice applies to car trips, but since the children don’t have the luxury of moving around the car, Dr. Vijay suggests taking frequent breaks so the kids can run around.
A reasonable amount of amusement
When it comes to amusement parks, bug spray and sunscreen are essential, along with taking appropriate naps and getting enough to eat. Dr. Vijay also warns about overdoing it.
“A toddler might not be ready for an eight-hour day at an amusement park,” she said. So try not to pack too much in to any one day.
A day at the beach
Parents should always keep an extra close eye on their children when water is involved. Dr. Vijay advises all children wear a personal flotation device and also ear plugs, to prevent ear infections.
She recommends that kids always rinse after coming out of the pool or beach because salt water and chlorine can irritate delicate skin.
Sunscreen and lots of liquids are critical when staying outdoors for extended periods.
The hills are alive
If camping or outdoor activities are planned in a wooded area, make sure your kids are well covered in clothes to reduce the amount of skin exposed to poison ivy, poison oak and insect bites.
Bug spray and sunscreen may be the most important items you bring on a camping or hiking trip.
“The most common thing you see with travel outside our country is gastroenteritis,” Dr. Vijay said, recommending that you always know exactly where food and water for your family is coming from.
When in doubt, drink bottled water.
Also, prior to leaving, check with your pediatrician or a travel clinic on vaccinations required for your international destination.
What to do when something goes wrong
Do find the nearest emergency room or urgent care facility and get there right away if something serious happens.
Do call your pediatrician or physician if you have a question or need a medication refilled.
Do stay calm and do your best to keep your child calm too.
When are kids old enough to travel?
• The most difficult period for traveling is age nine months to four years. They get bored and are used to running around so it’s very difficult to restrain them in one place.
• Kids start forming memories at age two and memories are prominent by age three. So if you are debating between a trip at age 2 or 3, it might be better to wait.
• To prevent an outburst, make sure you have some kind of activity — like a coloring book or their favorite stuffed animal — at the ready. Anything they are used to and comforted by is best. And make sure you have enough breast milk or formula for infants.
• To help children retain a favorite vacation memory, look over photos and souvenirs often when you get home and talk about what you liked best about your summer adventures.
Heidi Lading is a freelance writer in Chicago. She once experienced a horrible nosebleed during a family road trip to drop her brother off at Space Camp 400 miles from home. This was just a few weeks after having her tonsils and adenoids removed. It is not her favorite summer memory.