Essential Travel Medicines


International travel has been undertaken by ever increasing numbers as it becomes more common in an affluent society. Travelling in unfamiliar environments exposes travellers to a variety of health risks. Such risks may be avoided or minimised by undertaking suitable precautions before, during, and after travel.

Before travelling

It is advisable to consult a doctor or pharmacist a few weeks before travelling, especially to undeveloped countries. This is to determine the need for any vaccinations or prophylaxis medications besides the basic medication kit. Chronic illnesses (e.g. diabetes and heart diseases) must be assessed, and enough medication should be packed.

It is also advisable to keep a note of your allergies (if any), medical conditions, medication, blood group, and doctor’s emergency contact number. These come in handy in cases of emergencies.

Below is a list of items that can be included in a basic medication kit.

Oral Medications Uses
Paracetamol / Ibuprofen# Pain / Fever
Loperamide# / Diphenoxylate# Diarrhoea
Oral rehydration salts Diarrhoea / Vomiting (to prevent dehydration)
Dimenhydrinate# / Cinnarizine Motion sickness
Diphenhydramine# / Melatonin Temporary sleep aid / Jet lag
Loratidine#/Cetirizine#/Chlorpheniramine# Allergies / Cold
Pseudephedrine# Cold / Pressure in ears
Famotidine# / Ranitidine# Gastric acidity
Domperidone# Indigestion / Nausea

When visiting rural areas

In areas where sanitation is poor, travellers are at risk of waterborne diseases like traveller’s diarrhoea. Water purification tablets should thus be brought along to keep the water supply safe. Medication such as norethisterone* and other oral contraceptives can also be prescribed to delay the menses if needed. This may be helpful, especially when travelling to undeveloped countries or rural areas where sanitary conditions are compromised.

Protection against Malaria and insect bites

Antimalarials such as mefloquine# and doxycyline* may be prescribed for malarial prophylaxis when travelling to high-risk regions such as India, Myanmar, Cambodia, and suburbs of Thailand etc.

Besides individual intrinsic factors such as drug allergies, medical conditions and concomitant medications, the type of antimalarials to choose from will be determined by the resistance pattern in the different regions. Insect repellents, especially those with DEET, should be applied and reapplied every few hours to protect against bites.

Preparing for extreme conditions

Travellers to regions of high altitudes may need to take acetazolamide* to acclimatise to the change in pressure before arriving to prevent altitude sickness.

In countries with high temperatures, the chances of suffering from heat stroke are more likely, especially in older travellers and children. It is thus important to ensure adequate hydration.

Heat and humidity makes one prone to fungal skin infections. An antifungal preparation such as terbinafine (determined as one of the safer external antifungals by US Food Drug Administration) comes in handy in such situations. In dry climates, moisturisers and lip balm should be applied and reapplied as frequently as necessary.

Don’t let cold weather fool you; always wear a sun block. When engaging in outdoor activities, it is important to wear a sun block even when the weather is cloudy or when it is snowing. Sun protection is essential to preventing sun burn and maintaining youthful looking skin.

Below are some items that you may want to include based on the destination of your travels.

Items for External Use Uses
Hydrocortisone cream# Insect bites / Skin allergies / Rashes
Antiseptic cream Wounds / Burns
Insect repellent Against insect bites
Sunblock lotion Prevent UV damage to skin
After-sun lotion Sunburn
Plasters / Bandages InWound dressing
Normal saline Irrigate wounds / Eye wash

Travel during pregnancy

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists opined that the safest period for a pregnant woman to travel in is during the 2nd trimester (18-24 weeks). During this time, the risk of miscarriage or premature labour is the lowest. In any case, she should always consult a doctor before making any decision to travel.

To prevent blood clotting during air travel, pregnant women should remain active by getting up to move around every half an hour. They should also flex and extend their ankles while their seat belts are fastened. Seat belts should be fastened under the abdomen, across the top of their thighs.

Long distance travel results in fatigue. Bleeding, excessive leg swelling and contractions might prompt the need for immediate medical attention. Hence, it is advisable to check out the medical facilities in the country beforehand and be accompanied by someone who speaks the local language.

*Purchase of this medicine requires doctor prescription.
# Purchase of this medicine requires pharmacist consultation.
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