What medications should you take when you travel?

One of the most common things on any travel equipment list is the medications we want to take with us.

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

The days before a flight abroad are busy and confusing, with endless lists, shopping, rummaging through drawers and closets for reams of paperwork and important things that haven’t been used for a long time (at least since the pandemic started). One of the most common things on any travel equipment list is the medications we want to take with us.

Most families flying with kids pack a complete first aid kit that includes a thermometer, fever-reducing medications in varying doses, something for the ears, something for a cough, a cold, a sore throat, and more. Another familiar phenomenon is the messages that run in the WhatsApp groups of the building or the neighborhood's Facebook: "Does anyone happen to have a moxifpen that you don't need? We’re traveling and must have one just in case." This is one example of something that’s really not recommended.

Taking too many medications on a trip is a cultural matter. The prevailing thought is that it’s worth taking "just in case" that you don’t get stuck, that the trip won’t be ruined due to some ear infection of the little one. But it’s important to understand that taking medicine should be done carefully, and must be done with medical guidance.

For the next flight season to be better, here are important rules when it comes to taking medical equipment.

Over-the-counter medications

Over-the-counter medications are designed to treat general problems, which usually don't require a specialist diagnosis and can be taken without a prescription: painkillers and fever-reduction pills such as paracetamol and nurofen, throat lozenges, ointment to treat bites or skin irritation, cough syrup, pills for colds. These medications are definitely meant to relieve unpleasant situations that cause discomfort and impair the enjoyment of the trip. There's no problem taking them abroad and are even recommended.

A woman blowing her nose into a tissue, possibly after or sneeze or while sick (credit: INGIMAGE)A woman blowing her nose into a tissue, possibly after or sneeze or while sick (credit: INGIMAGE)

Consult your family doctor/pediatrician

Your doctor is the one who knows you best and knows what to recommend. Women for example who frequently suffer from urinary tract infections can definitely ask their doctor for antibiotics to use if necessary. They know their body and when infections are likely to happen, and you really should have strong antibiotics for this situation.A child who has multiple allergies, for example, may get a prescription for it again, so that it will be available when needed and the kid's breathing can be regulated. Anything beyond "off-the-shelf medication"  should only be taken with you if prescribed by your doctor. Weigh kids before traveling and carefully calculate dosages and frequency of medications given for fever, in order to avoid giving too little or too much medication.

Chronic patients

Chronic patients must take with their daily medications.  During COVID-19, when the trip may last longer than planned, take with you an inventory of at least another week in case you have to stay in isolation and can’t fly home. Ask your doctor for a summary of medical information with a list of diagnoses, sensitivities and medications in English for use if necessary.

Note that there are countries that prohibit bringing in various medications such as pain medications and injectable medications. Find out before the flight if the country you’re going to has any restrictions, and also have a letter from your doctor explaining the importance of having the medicine with you. Show your flight ticket at a health fund pharmacy so that you can buy an amount of medication needed for more than one month, if relevant.

Allergens

Even if you haven’t had an allergy attack in years, you must have pills or injections in case something happens. It really saves lives. Even more than one syringe is recommended. Take the medication on the flight and have a doctor’s letter explaining the sensitivity.

Remote diagnostic devices

Today at a price that is worth every penny, you can purchase a remote diagnostic device (for example: Tyto) that allows you to consult a doctor anywhere and anytime. The device allows looking through a smart camera into the mouth or a child's ear. If your kid has a sore ear, instead of "betting" and giving antibiotics you can consult a doctor, who will see the painful place. Maybe it's just pain from pool water accumulation? Remote diagnosis can also prevent suffering in case you really need medication so your doctor will recommend that you activate the insurance and consult someone locally.

Medical insurance

Many are debating how much medical insurance should be bought and what exactly should it include? My main recommendation is not to give up on medical flights. In case you start and need long treatment or hospitalization it will be very unpleasant to stay in a foreign country.

Don’t put important medicines in a suitcase (syringe for allergic reaction, chronic patients' pills, etc.) because there’s always the chance you'll need something on the plane or your luggage won’t arrive, so it’s very important that medications are in your travel bag.

Dr. Uri Harel is a specialist in family medicine at the Meuchedet health fund.