Everything you need to know when it comes to your medicine when travelling
As you might predict, being a pharmacist, I feel some form of medical kit is a packing essential. To be honest, this will depend greatly on where you’re going and how long you’re going for.
First things first. If you are taking any prescription medication, make sure to bring enough for your entire journey. It would be a good idea to bring a few extra days to allow for potential delays. Remember when the ash cloud from Mt. Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland back in 2010? It grounded flights for almost two weeks. I know this is an extreme, but flight delays do happen.
It might also be an idea to bring a copy of your prescription (your doctor or pharmacy can provide you with one) or a full list of medication from your pharmacy. This is very useful if your medication is lost/stolen or if you run out of anything. Also make sure to have the original pharmacy labels if possible. It’ll make life a lot easier. If you’re travelling to countries with strict customs procedures, all this will assist with a speedier customs clearance. However, the most important thing is that you PACK ALL ESSENTIAL MEDICATION IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE.
If you have any medical conditions that require needles, lancets, pre-filled syringes or any sharp items of any kind, get a letter from your doctor stating that these are necessary items. Most, if not all, security personnel all over the world, will have procedures in place for this eventuality. It would also be a good idea to have a similar letter (and copy of a prescription) if you are taking any controlled drugs with you. These vary from country to country, but a good example would be morphine or any similar opioid painkillers.
Do I Need to Get Any Vaccines?
This varies hugely on where you’re travelling to. In general, you will most likely need vaccinations for Central and South America, most African countries, South-East Asia and the Indian sub-continent. If you’re unsure, some GPs (Family Doctors) will be able to assist. Failing that, or for certain areas, particularly those that may be “At Risk” areas for malaria, it would be a good idea to consult a specialist. In Ireland, this would be the Tropical Medical Bureau Tropical Medical Bureau . They have 22 clinics spread all over the country.
The most frequent vaccines that might be needed are for Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid and Poliomyelitis. These will vary by location and what you intend to do. For example, if you plan on trekking you may need more than a normal tourist. You may also be prescribed medication to treat nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea and a combination antibiotic and steroid topical cream for the more severe insect bites.
What About a General Medical Kit?
Well, this depends on yourself really. For example, if you find you suffer from heartburn, bring a sufficient amount of antacids, more than you think you might need. Let’s face it, we all tend to overindulge a bit when we’re away, so something along these lines might be a good idea. If you’re going to a fairly built up area you can get away with the minimum amount of everything as there’ll be plenty of pharmacies about. This will be especially easy if they speak the same language.
Be aware that the licensing of all products is not the same in every country. For example, in Australia Domperidone (for nausea and vomiting) is prescription only while in Ireland and the UK. Another example is that codeine containing products such as Solpadeine or Nurofen Plus are over the counter in the UK, on restricted sale in Ireland and are totally illegal in the United Arab Emirates! This is often forgotten by people visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So if you suffer from migraines or plan on having a few too many drinks, make sure to get a prescription from your doctor before you go. (The Emirati authorities do permit it to be brought in by visitors once they have a copy of a prescription.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that medicines not only change their brand from country to country, but some also change their name! This, for the most part is a language difference. However, in the case of paracetamol, the drug totally changes it’s name. In the USA, the same medicine is called acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol).
In other words, you might be best advised to consult your pharmacist for your specific medication needs for the place you’re visiting, if you’re unsure.
Here’s What I Usually Bring Everywhere
Prescription medication (if applicable at the time)
A pack of Paracetamol
Something to treat nausea/vomiting (Domperidone – Irish brand name Motilium/Domerid) (not suitable with certain heart conditions or anxiety/depression medication)
Something to treat diarrhoea (Loperamide – Irish brand name Imodium/Arret)
A Hydrocortisone cream (to treat a severe rash/severe insect bites)
An antacid (Several brands available, choose a portable one such as Rennie or Gaviscon tablets)
Something to treat bloating (Domperidone will help this, but I also bring Peppermint Oil capsules, such as Colpermin)
An antiinflammatory incase I injure myself accidentally
A selection of plasters
An elasticated bandage – handy to strap a sprain
The most unusual of these is probably the Olbas Oil. This is actually a wonderful little trick I got from a member of the cabin crew on a flight I took a few years ago. They said that if you dab the Olbas Oil on a tissue and inhale the vapour before and during take-off and landing, you can avoid most of the pressure imbalance that happens with the change in altitude.