Holiday time is upon us and many of us will be looking forward to heading off to the sun. More of us will anticipate a range of inconveniences, from skin irritation and stomach upset to vaccination and passport stress. With a little care and a bit of preparation, however, everyone should have an enjoyable and relaxing holiday.
One in 6 Irish men and one in 7 Irish women will develop skin cancer during their life, despite the disease being largely preventable. Since the sun's UV rays cause 90% of skin cancer, the figures indicate that Irish people are not taking the proper precautions when it comes to the sun. Overexposure to the sun can cause sunburn, changes in pigmentation, premature ageing, chronic skin damage and skin cancers. Always consult with your doctor if you notice any unusual changes in your skin or moles. Report any moles that become itchy or bleed, or change in colour, shape or size.
Tanning is a reaction of the skin's melanocytes to sun exposure. The melanocytes release pigmented granules called melanin ('tan') in an attempt to protect all skin cells from further sun damage. A tan therefore is not a sign of good health or beauty, but a sign of damaged skin! Although the tan fades, the damage to the skin cells is irreversible; it never goes away, but keeps accumulating after each tan-producing sun exposure. In later life this can lead to skin cancer.
Sunburn can be treated with prolonged dousing with cold water, then application of Aloe Vera gel to reduce blistering and peeling. Calamine lotion is useful to help cool the skin, and painkillers may be taken. Check with your pharmacist whether prescription medicines that you are on might sensitise your skin to UV light. You may require extra protection from sunburn.
Sunscreens contain chemical agents that absorb and filter out UV rays. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going out to the sun. Lots of sunscreen should be used and it should be re-applied every 2 hours to allow for removal through sweating, swimming and abrasion. Extra care should be taken of ears, neck, bald patches, hands and feet.
The higher the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number, the greater the protection provided. An SPF of 15+ and which has both UVA and UVB protection should be used.
Cover-Up with a wide-brimmed hat or a hat with ear- and neck-flaps should be worn. T-shirts of close-weave materials and dark colours protect best; to stay cool, clothes should be loose-fitting.
Sunglasses should offer 100% UV block. UV rays are also known to cause damage to the eyes and can increase the risks of cataracts developing. Wraparound glasses are best. Sunglasses can also protect the eyes from pollen aggravation and hayfever symptoms.
A special word is required for the delicate skin of children. Children receive between a half and three quarters of their total lifetime sun exposure before they are 18 years old.
Babies under the age of six months should be protected from the sun at all times. Ideally they should be kept out of the sun as much as possible, and especially between the hours of 10am and 3pm, when the sun's UV levels are highest. Shade does not offer full protection against UV rays, but it helps. Remember, you do not have to feel hot on the skin to be getting sun damaged. UV rays cannot be felt, and so protection is required even on cloudy days.
Infant sunscreen should be used if necessary and a product suitable for the baby's sensitive skin is required.
Give children plenty of drinking water to prevent dehydration.
Sun-related Allergies and Cold Sores
If you suffer from Hayfever or other allergies such as Prickly Heat, talk to your pharmacist about using anti-histamines or some of the many other agents available for relieving symptoms.
A cold sore can be triggered by many things, including bright sunlight. Those who are prone to cold sores should arm themselves with cold sore cream (Zovirax, Viralief) to enable them to respond to the first tingling signs of cold sores.
Travel-related illnesses are largely preventable. Your pharmacist will answer any questions you have on food and water hygiene, as well as preventing gastro-intestinal (gut) upset, deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), travel sickness and malaria and other exotic illnesses.
Traveller's diarrhoea is one of the most common illnesses suffered on holiday. A variety of micro-organisms is responsible, most of which are spread through food and water. Freshly cooked, hot food is far less likely to carry contamination than cold foods and salads. Bottled mineral water should be used for drinking, making ice and brushing teeth. In otherwise healthy adults the main treatments are antimotility drugs and oral rehydration. Loperamide (Arret, Imodium) decreases large intestine motility and improves cramps and urgency. It should not be used in children, in whom the main aim is rehydration. The dose of rehydration therapy (Dioralyte, Rapolyte) is dependent on fluid loss and is usually 200ml after each loose motion.
Constipation can be another common problem when away on holiday. Plenty of water should be drunk and one should remember to include fibre as part of a balanced diet. Talk to your pharmacist for further advice.
Motion Sickness is the uncomfortable dizziness, nausea, headache and vomiting that people experience when their sense of balance and equilibrium is disturbed by constant motion. Over-the-counter medications, such as Cinnarizine (Stugeron) or Hyoscine (Kwells), taken a half to one hour before departure can prevent sickness. The main side effect is drowsiness, so care must be taken if the person is driving after the journey.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a clot forms in one of the major veins, usually in the legs or pelvis. DVT is at greater risk of occurring on long-haul flights due to the increased possibility of dehydration and impaired circulation caused by prolonged inactivity. Risk factors contributing to a higher chance of DVT are smoking, being over 40, taking the contraceptive pill, being overweight, having had the condition before and having undergone major surgery recently. Possible symptoms include ankle swelling and localised pain within a calf or thigh muscle; and, more seriously, increased heart rate, chest pain and breathlessness. Drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol, moving around as much as possible and wearing elastic compression stockings can reduce the risk of DVT.
Tropical Travel: Insect Bites, Malaria and Vaccinations
Vaccinations are often the primary health concern of prospective travellers. Travellers should ideally plan vaccinations about eight weeks ahead of the trip and should consult a Tropical Medical Bureau near to them or the website, www.tmb.ie.
Malaria is transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected mosquito. Anti-malarial medication is advised when travelling to certain parts of the world, but it does not offer full protection. The best form of protection is to try and ensure you are not bitten by insects while abroad. Insect repellents should be used to dissuade mosquitoes from alighting on your exposed skin. Usually ones with a high concentration of diethyltolumide (DEET 30%-50%) are the most effective though there are some other types which are useful for children or those with sensitive skin. Anti-mosquito sprays may be used around the room, especially on the doors and window frames, towards dusk.
Bites should not be scratched as this can lead to their becoming infected. Rubbing gently can have the same soothing effect and will certainly lead to less trouble.
Malaria can harbour itself in the body for many weeks or months. Anyone who returns from a malarious area and experiences fevers, sweating, shivering, aches and pains within a year, but especially within three months, should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
We also stock a range of products specifically designed to be less than 100ml so that you can carry them on board the plane.
Bon Voyage to All Travellers from the Staff at Kavanagh's Pharmacy, Dunshaughlin 01-8250901 and Ratoath 01-6896300!