Over-the-Counter Medications Every Traveler Should Pack

by Mary Gallagher, RN, MSN, CCRN

Jul 1, 2019
Health

NO MATTER HOW EXPERIENCED a traveler you are, at some point in your journeys you will become sick, get cut or have a digestive disturbance. Granted, you could call the hotel front desk, the concierge or the hotel doctor for help (if there is one). You could try to locate a pharmacy in a new, unfamiliar city. It is so much easier to head back to your hotel room to obtain your favorite remedy for your illness. This avoids searching for help during late-night hours, going to a pharmacy and facing language barriers and confusion with brand names that may be familiar to you. Before you leave home, pack these 10 items to help you through typical travel ailments. However, be aware some countries ban certain over-the-counter medications; always check regulations before traveling.

Ibuprofen (Advil) is an effective pain medication for a headache, pain, fever and reducing inflammation. After a day of sightseeing or exploring, your sore muscles will thank you. Always take ibuprofen with food so you do not experience stomach irritation.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be taken for mild or moderate pain relief for headaches, toothaches, backaches, cold, flu, osteoarthritis and fever reduction. If you are allergic to or cannot tolerate ibuprofen, acetaminophen offers a good option. Do not take acetaminophen with alcohol since it could damage your liver.

You should have a few regular-strength aspirin on hand if you experience signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Chew one aspirin and swallow it after calling 911 if in the United States. If leaving the country, check before your trip for the emergency number in your destination country in case you need to call for emergency assistance.

Pepto-Bismol, Imodium and Lomotil prove effective for the treatment of diarrhea. Nothing stops a vacation or business trip in its tracks faster than diarrhea. Be prepared with one of these in tablet form, easy to pack and carry. Diarrhea hits suddenly, and you do not want to search for a pharmacy when it strikes.

You may need a laxative if you experience constipation while traveling. Bring a mild laxative such as Dulcolax (bisacodyl). Take it in the evening; it should work in six to 12 hours.

Antacids are helpful for indigestion. Sometimes new foods can cause discomfort. Don’t let indigestion keep you away from a good time. Get a roll of your favorite antacids, such as Rolaids, Tums or Mylanta, or use Pepto-Bismol tablets to calm your stomach.

Benadryl or diphenhydramine is an antihistamine good for seasonal allergies, hay fever and the common cold. It can be used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting and dizziness caused by motion sickness. It can also help you relax and fall asleep. Do not take it with alcohol. Do not bring Sudafed, as many countries (Japan and Mexico, to name a few) do not allow the importation of Sudafed (pseudoephedrine). Avoid legal troubles by bringing Benadryl instead.

Hydrocortisone 1% topical cream treats and soothes insect bites, rashes and itchy irritations. A small, 2-ounce tube will last a long time. Make sure to bring this, as some countries do not sell this medication without a prescription.

A small tube of triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin will help the inevitable cuts, scrapes, and blisters stay clean and heal quickly. Pack a few small bandages such as Band-Aids to cover cuts. Keep abrasions clean with soap and water and change bandages every day, looking for redness or swelling — signs of infection.

Sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection is essential year-round since the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun are ever-present. Because facial skin is more sensitive than the skin on our bodies, consider using a sunscreen with 30 to 50 SPF for your face and another one designed for body use. Sunscreen for the face does not leave that white residue you sometimes see with regular sunscreen.

Pack these survival items in a clear, zip-close bag in your carry-on luggage. Keep them in the outside pocket so you can get them out easily for security inspections if needed. You can pack them in your checked baggage, but some travelers like them close by in case they need them en route. Keep all tablets and creams in their original labeled containers. Consider travel sizes of these OTC medications and avoid liquid forms, if possible, since liquids are subject to the 3.4-ounce TSA rule.

Feel free to purchase generic versions of these medications; it will save you money. With all OTC medications, please read the instructions and follow dosage directions carefully. OTC medications can produce side effects, especially if used incorrectly. Inform your health care provider of all OTC medications you take regularly.

Each of us has various health issues we take care of daily. Do not forget to bring your eye drops, nasal sprays, vitamins and prescription medications. Have a safe and healthy trip.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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