Vacation Injury; Courtesy of Robert Przybysz/
All Ages

Ouch! What to Do If Your Child Gets Sick or Injured on Vacation

See recent posts by Cynthia J. Drake

When your kid gets sick or hurt on an average day, it’s hard. But on vacation, it’s even worse — and a lot depends on the severity of the illness or injury and your proximity to good health care.

We spoke with some health care professionals to get their advice about the best options for families dealing with the unexpected health care emergency while on vacation, starting with what you should think about before you leave on your trip.

Before Your Vacation

There are a few preparations you can take before your trip to soften the blow in case someone gets sick. “Parents should expect that an injury or illness will strike at the most inconvenient time, so if we could prepare ourselves, that would be wonderful,” says Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician for Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore.

First, be sure to pack a basic first-aid kit and your insurance cards, along with any regular medications and an EpiPen for any known allergies. You might also want to tuck some children’s pain reliever into your toiletry bag, too (more on that later).

Dr. Woods also recommends having a chat with your family pediatrician prior to your trip, and asking if there is an on-call line, or if the they’re comfortable giving out an email or cell phone number in case of an emergency.

“Most pediatricians literally in 10 seconds could see a picture [of a rash, for example] and say, ‘I know exactly what that is,’ or if the family should seek out additional medical help,” he says.

While You’re Traveling

Dr. Woods says that the most common ailments for kids on vacation include: fever, rash, bumps and bruises, and allergic reactions.

For a fever of 100.4 or greater, Dr. Woods says he recommends Tylenol or Motrin to reduce fever and help with pain. For rashes, he says parents can find a topical medication, Hydrocortisone 1 percent cream, or treat an itchy rash with Benadryl, which are both widely available at most drug stores.

“The treatment for the majority of musculoskeletal injuries (such as sprained ankles, broken legs, elbow and shoulder injuries) on vacation will be RICE,” he says. “Rest, ice, compression with an ACE wrap, and elevation.”

Dr. Woods recommends that if the injury doesn’t appear too severe, parents should monitor their child for a few hours. “If that child is not taking an interest in fun activities, like eating ice cream or playing with friends or family because they are consumed by the illness itself, that would be a child I would take to the ER or urgent care,” he says. “I always tell a parent to trust his or her gut.”

When First Aid Isn’t Enough

For real emergencies, call 911 or take your child to the nearest ER.

If you need more assistance beyond basic first aid, you can call your insurance company to help you locate a doctor or specialist in the area where you’re traveling.

You can also try a virtual medicine service, such as Doctor on Demand, which offers consultations with board-certified physicians, psychiatrists and licensed psychologists in all 50 states within five minutes, via smartphone app.

“Just like an in-person visit, the doctor takes your history and symptoms, performs an exam and may recommend treatment, including prescriptions and lab work, which can all be coordinated through the app,” says Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer for Doctor on Demand.

This option is ideal for a traveling family dealing with “90 percent of the most common health conditions seen in an ER or urgent care center,” says Smith — such as cold and flu, sinus infections, upper respiratory issues, pink eye, urinary tract infections and skin issues.

Telemedicine providers typically accept health insurance plans, but also offer fee-based services to people without insurance.

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