5 ways holidays can muck up your medicines

5 ways holidays can muck up your medicines

No matter where you go or what you have planned on your holiday, the likelihood is you’ll be breaking your usual routine.

Travelling overseas can affect the medicines you take often and may mean you’ll need to take medicines you don’t take at home, such as antimalarial tablets — so it’s important to be prepared so you can stay well and enjoy your trip.

Here are 5 ways being away from home can impact on your medicines and a few tips to help you avoid medicine mishaps.

1. Crossing time zones

Travelling through different time zones can confuse the timing of medicines and may cause problems if it delays when you take your next dose. If you’re crossing time zones on your trip, you may need to change your usual dose or the timing to the local time of your destination.

Insulin doses for diabetes, for example, may need adjustment during east or west trips with greater time zone changes. How well an oral contraceptive pill works may also be affected if crossing a time zone means your next pill is taken later than usual.

Before you leave, get advice from your doctor, specialist or pharmacist about any necessary medicine changes while travelling to your destination. Sometimes your medicine schedule can be adjusted on the day of travel, or even a few days before you head off.

Also be mindful of other situations on holiday that may affect the timing of your medicines, such as late nights out or sleeping in longer.

Tips for managing medicines across time zones

  • Get a detailed itinerary of your trip with departure and arrival times, duration of flights, stopovers, and approximate meal and snack times.
  • Keep track of any medicine changes you need to make with a NPS Medicines List. The iPhone Medicines List app version (available as a free download) includes medicine scheduling and reminder functions you may find useful on your journey.
  • Take a second watch with you and set it to the time at home, or keep your watch set to the local time where you departed.
  • Have a plan on what to do in case you miss a dose or accidentally double up on doses.
  • Carry any emergency medicines, such as angina tablets or asthma inhalers, and related documentation in your hand luggage in case you need assistance.

2. Changing how you eat

If your usual diet or meal times are likely to change on your holiday, including on flights, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you’ll need to adjust your medicine schedule accordingly.

Many medicines, including some antibiotics, need to be taken with food, or hours apart from food to ensure they work effectively.

Some medicines shouldn’t be taken with certain foods or drinks. For example, taking ciprofloxacin around the same time as dairy products can reduce how well this antibiotic absorbs into your body. Drinking alcohol with particular antibiotics (metronidazole, tinidazole, or co-trimoxazole) can cause a reaction not unlike a severe hangover — not what you’d want on your holiday.

Changing what you eat and drink can also cause diarrhoea or vomiting on your holiday, often from food poisoning. This can prevent medicines from being absorbed into your body, so it’s important to know what to do in case you’re affected.

Women for instance should be mindful that their hormonal contraceptive pill may not work effectively if they have vomiting or severe diarrhoea for 24 hours or longer, or they vomit within 2 hours of taking an active hormonal contraceptive pill.

3. Sun exposure

Holidays are a great opportunity to head outdoors or laze by the beach. But spending time in the sun could react with your medicines.

Some medicines can cause a ‘photosensitive’ reaction like sunburn 5–20 hours after skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays. This may occur any time of day and after being in the sun for only a short time.

Some antibiotics and antimalarial medicines, including doxycycline, can cause this skin reaction. It can be prevented by using sun protection measures, including protective clothing and a sunscreen.

4. Trying new treatments

Many people on holiday are seduced by the idea of alternative therapies such as relaxing with a hot rock massage, or taking local herbal remedies or ‘medicinal’ concoctions.

But what many people don’t realise is that complementary medicines, including vitamins, herbs, and Chinese medicines aren’t risk-free and may seriously interact with your other medicines. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any complementary medicine or treatment.

Another big concern for the unwitting traveller is buying prescription or over-the-counter medicines overseas. At best they may not work and at worst could cause serious harm.

Be extra cautious if you need to buy medicines overseas (especially in developing countries). Only buy them on a health professional’s advice and from a reputable pharmacy or clinic. Be aware that medicines overseas can have different brand names and packaging to your usual medicines, but may contain the same active ingredient, so check this to avoid doubling up.

5. Temperature extremes

Your holiday may be somewhere very warm, humid, or cold, or involve days without electricity or a long distance journey where you can’t control the temperature.

But extremes in temperature, particularly heat, can affect some medicines. Most medicines need to be stored under 25°C, so you might need to use a cooler bag or insulated pouch to store your medicines while travelling.

Talk to a health professional, call Medicines Line (1300 633 424), or read the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet for more information about a medicine, including storage conditions, whether the medicine is affected by food or sun exposure, and what to do if you have vomiting, diarrhoea, or miss a dose.

Print or download the NPS Medicines List for free to help you keep track of all your medicines on your trip and back at home.

This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.

If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website http://www.nps.org.au/

For more top tips about travel and medicines visit NPS MedicineWise.

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