The Important Causes of Travel Dehydration

Dehydrated when flying

Did you know you may face an increased risk of dehydration when traveling? There are multiple reasons for this, including:

 Traveler’s Diarrhea

  • This is the most common health problem facing travelers to less developed countries – up to 50% of people traveling to destinations may experience traveler’s diarrhea. The World Health Organization identifies dehydration as the most severe threat posed by traveler’s diarrhea.

Dehydration from Air Travel

  • Lack of humidity in a plane’s cabin air may also lead to dehydration during air travel for passengers, particularly during long-haul flights.

Prolonged Heat Exposure

  • When traveling, you may visit hot and dry destinations where you are more likely to get hot and sweaty. Through sweat there is the loss of both fluid and electrolytes – this can lead to dehydration.

The Symptoms and Causes of Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea is considered to be three or more loose bowel movements with at least one of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps or pain, fever, or blood in the stool. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea usually last for 3-7 days, enough to ruin any vacation. A person may become dehydrated, after losing a significant amount of liquids from vomiting or diarrhea.

Traveler’s diarrhea is commonly caused by the Escherichia coli bacteria or E-Coli, and this bacteria has been known to cause conditions like vomiting and diarrhea. This bacteria can be encountered by consuming some form of contaminated food or water. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests only eating foods that have been cooked and served hot. Avoid foods that have been sitting out for a long time, such as buffets.

Common colloquial names for traveler’s diarrhea include Stomach Flu, Delhi Belly, Rangoon Runs, Tourist, The Runs, The Trots, or Montezuma’s Revenge.

Traveler’s diarrhea is a common occurrence in many high-risk areas. These areas include Mexico, South America, parts of Asia, and Africa.

Other common causes of traveler’s diarrhea are bacterial pathogens, such as Campylobacter, Shigella, or Salmonella. These are all bacteria that can be found in the drinking water in many of these high-risk areas. Fruits and vegetables are often washed with this same water. Viral and parasitic agents may also cause traveler’s diarrhea, but they are less common.

Managing the Symptoms of Travel Dehydration

According to the World Health Organization, health risks associated with travel are greater for certain types of travelers, including:

  • Infants and young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Seniors
  • The disabled
  • The immunocompromised
  • Those who have pre-existing health problems

For all sufferers, rehydration is the best and most important aspect of managing travel dehydration. When suffering from traveler’s diarrhea, anti-diarrhea medication does NOT replace lost fluid and electrolytes and only provides symptomatic relief.

In order to replenish those key electrolytes, you need an oral rehydration solution (Hydralyte). In addition to taking Hydralyte or any ORS, patients should also consider the following steps:

  • Avoid high sugar drinks (e.g. soda or sports drinks, diluted cordial, or flat lemonade) – excess sugar can interfere with the rehydration process.
  • Aim to drink at least 2.1 – 3.2 QT (2–3 L) of fluid a day. Refer to directions for use on pack when drinking Hydralyte.
  • If hungry, eat dry starchy foods, e.g. dry toast, crackers.

Important: You cannot give anti-diarrhea medication to children under 12 years of age.

Learn more about managing dehydration associated with vomiting and diarrhea.

Tips to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea

  • Drink boiled or bottled water void ice cubes
  • Avoid eating raw foods
  • Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!
  • Wash your hands!
  • Avoid eating food from street vendors
  • Consume “peel-able” fruit (i.e. bananas, oranges, avocados)
  • Avoid swimming and keep mouth closed when showering

Planning a trip? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends all travelers include an oral rehydration solution (Hydralyte) in their travel first aid kit.

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Going somewhere warm? Learn more about managing dehydration associated with prolonged heat exposure!

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