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By Cynthia Ramnarace
You've packed the bags. You've dog-eared and highlighted the travel guides. With everyone excited for the family vacation, someone getting sick is the last thing you want. Here's how to keep the family healthy while you're away -- plus what to do if sickness does strike.
Stay Healthy (No Matter Where You Are)
1. Keep sipping.
Be sure to stay hydrated, especially if you're driving: Dehydration can lower blood pressure and make you feel dizzy or drowsy. Because babies and kids get dehydrated faster, make sure they get plenty of fluids, too. Staying hydrated supports the immune system, helping you and your kids fight sicknesses like colds and the flu.
Drinking fluids also helps prevent blood clots in the legs -- clots can occur when flying, especially for long distances. Drink plenty of water so you have to get up and use the restroom about once an hour, says Dr. Michael Zimring of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and author of Healthy Travel. "When you get up and walk, you reduce your risk of clots," he says.
2. Drink often, but drink wisely.
If you're hanging out in the sun, avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, which make you lose fluids. And be aware that sweating can quickly bring on dehydration.
If you're traveling internationally, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide to safe drinking water to find out where you can drink from the tap and where bottled water is best. This will save you and your family from traveler's diarrhea, an illness sure to keep you in your hotel room instead of out enjoying the sights.
3. Avoid motion sickness.
Few things will make a car ride as miserable as a bout of motion sickness. Fix your eyes on the horizon to help prevent nausea and vomiting. To help the little ones, "play games (like License Plates) to keep kids focused on the midpoint of the road ahead," says Dr. David Pollack, a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
If you're flying, stave off queasiness by avoiding greasy foods before take-off, staying hydrated and snacking on crackers.
Beat These Common Vacation Ailments
When flying, earaches and "popping" in the ears are common, especially for little ones. Give kids something to suck on, like a lollipop or a bottle or a pacifier. It's unlikely that an ear infection would be reason enough to cancel a trip, but if you think your child has one, call your pediatrician before boarding the plane. Ear infections can lead to fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Still, "there is nothing better for an ear infection than getting out of a cold environment and to a warmer climate," says Pollack.
Apply SPF 30 sunblock whenever you're outdoors, says Dr. Ramzi Saad, a dermatologist at South Shore Skin Center in Plymouth, Mass. But if you or your kids do burn, Saad recommends cool compresses to soothe the skin, and moisturizer to keep it from cracking and peeling.
3. Swimmer's ear
Water stuck in the ear canal after a day at the pool is painful but easy to treat, says Pollack. Try making a mixture of half vinegar and half water. "A couple of drops in each ear canal help to dry it out faster," says Pollack.
Remember: If there's an emergency, go to the nearest hospital. For more minor issues, you can call your family doctor: He might be able to diagnose the issue over the phone and call in a prescription to an area pharmacy. And if you're traveling internationally, plan ahead and get travel medical insurance, which can help put you in touch with a local English-speaking doctor and cover the cost of care.
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Cynthia Ramnarace is a New York City-based health writer whose work appears regularly in American Baby, AARP Bulletin and iVillage.com.