It’s estimated that worldwide between 30 and 70 percent of travellers experience diarrhoea. Often, this uncomfortable condition is caused by food and water contaminated by a virus or bacteria, most commonly E.coli. However, sometimes the simple change in climate, experimenting with new foods, dehydration from flying or even lack of sleep, can trigger a bout of diarrhoea. So, even if you’re extremely careful about where you eat and regularly wash your hands, there’s really no guarantee that you won’t be affected by an upset stomach and loose bowel movements while on a trip. Luckily, most cases of traveller’s diarrhoea can be easily treated with the help of the following tips.
While most cases of diarrhoea clear up after a day or two, if your trip is shorter, you may want to speed up your recovery with the help of medication. An anti-diarrhoeal gastro medication such as Gastro Stop (loperamide) or Lomotil (diphenoxylate + atropine sulfate) can often provide relief from symptoms within several hours, allowing you to continue your holiday or trip problem-free. Besides helping loose bowel movements resolve faster, a gastro medication can also be effective in treating stomach cramps and pain. These medicines are available over-the-counter at most local drug stores and e-pharmacies. A good idea is to obtain an anti-diarrhoeal medicine prior to your trip so that you can simply take some and rest while waiting for the symptoms to resolve, instead of having to go looking for foreign drug stores while ill.
It’s important to note that these medicines should not be used in children under 12 years of age, or in women who are pregnant or nursing without a doctor’s notice. In this case, the best medication is rest and taking electrolyte solutions until symptoms clear up. If a child passes more than four stools in eight hours, is dehydrated, seems very sick, has a high fever, or the symptoms don’t get better after three days, consult a local paediatrician immediately.
When affected by diarrhoea, make sure to avoid putting further strain on your digestive system by avoiding foods that can irritate it. Instead, stick to a diet consisting mostly of light and bland foods and clear liquids that won’t stress out your stomach. Bananas are very easy to digest and have a high level of potassium which can help replace electrolytes. Another good option is white rice as it’s light and also binding, which means it can help firm up loose stool. Although whole wheat is a healthier option, when dealing with diarrhoea, a better choice is to eat white flour items. Steamed, baked or boiled potatoes are also gentle on the digestive system. When eating these foods, avoid adding butter, margarine, sour cream, gravy, strong spices or too much oil as this can irritate your sensitive digestive system and lead to cramping.
Diarrhoea can often lead to dehydration, which can be very dangerous. So, if you experience frequent and loose bowel movements, make sure to drink plenty of water, broths, soups and clear juices throughout the day. If you’re also vomiting, take small but frequent sips at a time in order to replenish the fluids you’ve lost. It’s also advisable to drink bottled water, instead of tap water, as in certain foreign countries the tap water can be contaminated.
Although most cases of diarrhoea resolve fast, if medications don’t improve your symptoms or if you experience loose bowel movements and vomiting for more than two days, or can’t drink water for more than 12 hours, see a doctor immediately. Also, seek immediate medical help if you have severe abdominal or rectal pain, black stools or blood in your stools or vomit, a fever over 39oC, a stiff neck or a yellow tinge to your skin.