Good Fortune Favors the Well-Prepared Traveler
May 21, 2012 - 5:30:54 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - As vacation season approaches and you plan outdoor adventures with your families and friends, you’ll probably focus on the fun. And why not? It’s exhilarating to climb, swim and discover nature. However, everyone must remember that nature presents environmental challenges and real hazards.
Severe weather, wild animals, rugged terrain and equipment failure all conspire to create or complicate medical hardships. When it comes to having a safe and healthy experience in the outdoors this summer, you’ll find that good fortune favors the well-prepared. With some advance reading, individuals planning outdoor excursions can become familiar with adverse situations that might arise and be prepared to handle them.
The following tips are taken from Medicine for the Outdoors (Elsevier, 2009). This paperback medical guidebook is written for the lay reader and includes detailed instructions for avoiding and treating common medical problems in the outdoors. Here are a few simple tips:
Know first aid: On a casual family outing, at least one responsible adult should be skilled in first aid. Manual skills such as mouth-to-mouth breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the application of bandages and splints should be practiced beforehand. Become familiar with the rescue techniques pertinent to the environment in which you will be traveling.
Use common sense: Many accidents occur because people ignore warning signs or don’t anticipate problems. Pay attention to rangers, posted warnings, weather reports and the experience of seasoned guides.
Carry the right equipment: Be prepared for foul weather conditions. Always assume you will be forced to spend an unexpected night outdoors. Carry warm clothing and waterproof rain gear. Carry survival equipment such as maps, a GPS or compass, waterproof matches, a knife, nonperishable food, a flashlight and first-aid supplies.
Stay hydrated: Most people underestimate their fluid requirements. The average minimum recommendation for an adult man is two to three liters of liquid a day, but this requirement can double in hot temperatures, during heavy exercise, in high altitudes or in cold, dry air. Carry supplies for water disinfection if natural sources of safe drinking water will not be available.
Protect your skin: Sunscreen should be applied to cool, dry skin for optimal absorption, and at least 10 minutes before swimming. In general, most sunscreens should be re-applied every 20 minutes to 2 hours. Be aware that use of insect repellent containing DEET lowers the effectiveness of sunscreen by a factor of one third. On the other hand, taking aspirin or ibuprofen 6 hours before sun exposure may help protect the sun-sensitive person.
Avoid altitude sickness: When hiking in the mountains, avoid sudden or direct ascent to a sleeping altitude above 9,020 feet; the rate of ascent should not exceed 1,500 feet per day at altitudes above 8,000 feet. Adjusting to high altitude requires gradual exposure to the lower oxygen content of the air. When traveling at high altitudes, avoid the use of alcohol, stay warm, stay hydrated, avoid exhaustion, keep out of the wind and eat regularly to avoid weight loss.
Anticipate ocean stings: Stings from contact with jellyfish, fire coral, hydroids or anemones can range in severity from mild burning to severe pain with generalized illness. Make sure your beach bag includes a small bottle (labeled) of half vinegar, half rubbing alcohol that can be used to decontaminate wounds and provide pain relief. Seawater can also be used to rinse a sting, but fresh water or ice can worsen the effects of sea-life venom. Adults and children can both use a combination sunblock and jellyfish protective lotion to help prevent the stings of many species.
Manage motion sickness: Most boaters and divers adapt to motion after a few days, but may require treatment until they do. If you become nauseated on board a ship, stay on deck. Splash your face with cold water and keep your eyes fixed on a steady point in the distance. Anti-nausea medications can be taken as a preventive, and wristbands that apply pressure or electrical stimulation to acupuncture points can be used before or after symptoms begin.
Prevent blisters: Foot blisters have probably ended more outings than all major illnesses combined. To minimize the friction generated by walking, reduce the load you are carrying. Use a padded insole or arch support to evenly distribute pressure over the bottom surface of the foot. Make sure shoes fit properly and are broken in, and try on new shoes in the evening because feet tend to swell during the day. Wearing a synthetic liner sock under an outer sock can wick moisture away from the skin surface and prevent friction on the skin.
Check for ticks: Search the skin and scalp thoroughly for ticks after hiking in wooded areas or walking through grassy fields, and remove any ticks with a tweezers by grasping the tick close to its mouthparts and pulling it straight out. Even if you are dressed appropriately for “tick country” tiny ticks may sneak under gaps in clothing protection and latch on to their human hosts.
Successful travel in the outdoors absolutely depends on observation, anticipation and resourcefulness. Respect the environment around you, avoid unnecessary risks, and when in doubt about your health or that of a companion, postpone travel and seek formal medical attention.
Paul S. Auerbach, MD
Medicine for the Outdoors
Wilderness Medicine, 6th Edition
Paul S. Auerbach, MD, Redlich Family Professor of Surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is founder and past President of the Wilderness Medical Society and editor of Wilderness Medicine, 6th Edition, recently published by Elsevier.
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