Substituting Self-Prescribed Antibiotics for Professional Medical Treatment Is Often a Bad Choice -- Even When Traveling Abroad

February 24, 2015

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Getting sick while on vacation is, without a doubt, one of the fastest ways that a great trip can be ruined. The problem is, it doesn't matter if you travel across just a few states or you travel halfway across the world; when you travel, your eating and sleeping habits naturally change for a while. This can really mess up some processes in your body -- digestion problems are one of the most common ailments that travelers experience (usually from having such sudden changes in diet), but your immune system also weakens from factors like getting less sleep, eating unhealthy fast foods, and drinking more alcohol than usual.

For this very reason, a lot of travelers make sure to include medication in their suitcases -- antacid tablets, medicine for diarrhea and constipation, sleep aids, and ibuprofen are all good, over-the-counter medications that can be packaged and transported safely.

But a lot of travelers take the extra mile with medication planning, especially when traveling to other countries where the food and water may contain different strains of bacteria that most Americans have not been exposed to. In a recent Reuters article, Kathryn Doyle explains that many travelers bring along antibiotics prescribed by their physicians or local urgent care facilities when going to "exotic" regions, thinking that regular antibiotics will be effective for treating the common medical issue often referred to as "traveler's diarrhea."

The problem here, Doyle explains, is that "traveler's diarrhea" isn't always caused by unclean water or minor bacterial infections that are easily treated with a common antibiotic. Medical issues, like diarrhea, can be signs of temporary indigestion or a mild bacterial infection, but they can also be signs of a more serious medical condition that requires immediate attention.

Long story short, Doyle says, there are very few cases where travelers should bring their own antibiotics rather than seeking treatment at a community health clinic or an emergency walk in clinic offering family health care services for foreign travelers. Many "undeveloped" countries have urgent care facilities with trained family care physicians, and just like the 6,800 urgent care facilities in the U.S., these emergency walk in clinics are equipped to treat simple medical conditions and determine if further treatment is needed.

So if you're planning on traveling any time soon and you're deciding what to pack -- it's definitely a good idea to bring along some basic over-the-counter treatments for minor health issues. But remember that there are some health concerns that should never be ignored, no matter where you are.

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