You’re on guard against sunburn and upset stomachs, but what about leisure sickness or Mallorca acne? Travel medicine specialist Dr Richard Dawood shares his expert knowledge on how to prevent illness on holiday
1. Leisure sickness
According to Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets, around three per cent of us suffer from what he called ‘leisure sickness’, a syndrome where you become ill when you relax. Symptoms range from headaches and fatigue to colds. Professor Esther Sternberg, a researcher in neuroendocrine immunology at the National Institute of Mental Health, suggested when we take time out from our busy routines, a surplus of stress hormone cortisol can weaken our immunity.
If you have difficulty switching off, try to build relaxation habits into your day, like reading and meditation. While you’re on holiday, remember to eat regularly and stay hydrated to ward off headaches.
2. Swimmer’s ear
When you’re dipping in and out of the water all day, your outer ear can stay moist for long periods of time, resulting in an infection known as ‘swimmer’s ear’ (otitis externa). This isn’t as painful as the inflammation of the inner ear that children tend to get, but can cause discomfort and broken skin. Dry your ears well with a towel, then gently use a cotton bud to remove water.
If you’re prone to infections, get a mild steroid or barrier cream from your GP. Sometimes you could be suffering from a fungal infection – seek medical help if it doesn’t clear up after a couple of days.
3. Airplane trays
We used to blame recycled air on planes for spreading germs, but actually the dryer air impairs the lining of our noses, which is the first line of protection against colds and flu. Be sure to blow your nose more, use a nasal spray and drink water. You’re much more likely to pick up infections from plane surfaces.
A recent study found an average of 2155 colony-forming bacteria units per square inch on airplane tray tables, compared to 265 per square inch on toilet flush buttons. Wash your hands before you eat and carry hand gel when you travel. Also use a paper towel to touch the flush and avoid overhead air vent switches.
4. Mallorca acne
Soaking up the sun is what many of us look forward to on holiday, but around 10-15 per cent of the UK population suffer from polymorphic light eruption, which is like an allergic reaction of the skin to bright sunlight, resulting in raised bumps or hives. The chest, face and arms tend to be affected. It’s thought to be caused by ultraviolet light altering a substance in the skin, which the immune system then reacts to, resulting in the skin becoming inflamed.
Dubbed ‘Mallorca acne’, acne aestivalis can last for weeks after your holiday. Sun creams only filter out the UV rather than strong light, so stay in the shade during the sunniest parts of the day. Antihistamine tablets can also help.
5. Sky-high sunburn
In a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association Dermatology, it was reported that pilots flying for 56 minutes at 30,000 feet were exposed to the same amount of carcinogenic UVA radiation as you would receive during a 20-minute session on a sun bed. Passengers also face more risks than those on the ground, according to the British Association of Dermatologists, as the ozone is thinner and harmful rays are reflected off clouds. It recommends wearing a sun cream with a minimum of SPF 30 plus a good UVA protection during your flight. Those sitting in window seats should pull down the shades to avoid harmful direct sunlight, too.