Traveler’s diarrhea is a common disorder experienced by people on vacation. Characterized by loose stool and abdominal cramps, it can be developed from consuming contaminated food or beverages. Generally, traveler’s diarrhea isn’t a serious problem and will resolve on its own, but unfortunately, it can put a serious damper on your vacation.
Traveler’s diarrhea commonly occurs when you are in a setting where sanitation practices are different than in your home country. You are not immune to the germs and bacteria that may be present, so your risk of experiencing a gastrointestinal problem increases.
There are ways you can lower your odds of getting traveler’s diarrhea, although it is hard to eliminate the risk completely as you never know where bacteria could be lurking.
Traveler’s diarrhea can be caused by the stress of travelling or a change in diet. Most cases involve an infecting agent. Traveler’s diarrhea typically occurs after consuming contaminated food or beverages, so the infecting agent takes over your digestive tract, causing symptoms.
Our bodies are accustomed to the bacteria in our own countries, but when we enter a new environment we are not immune to new bacteria. Locals will not get sick, even if they have the same meal as you, because their bodies are accustomed to their local bacteria.
Millions of people are affected by traveler’s diarrhea each year, but you don’t have to be one of them. Risk factors for traveler’s diarrhea include being a young adult (which means lack of immunity compared to an older adult), having a weakened immune system, having diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, taking acid blockers or antacids, and traveling during certain seasons such as heading to Asia during the hot season.
Symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea include:
Symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea typically last for three to seven days. As long as you treat it properly, traveler’s diarrhea is not a life-threatening condition.
Traveler’s diarrhea can cause a loss of fluid, salt, and other minerals, so for proper treatment it’s important to make up for the loss. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and it may be wise to consume sports beverages to replenish electrolytes.
You can try taking over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol in order to decrease diarrhea and shorten the duration of the illness. You will also want to go light on your diet for the duration of the illness, avoiding large or heavy meals. Opt for toast, applesauce, bland rice, and bananas instead.
On the other hand, you will want to avoid medication that stops the diarrhea completely, as it will keep the bacteria in your gut, and you need them out.
If traveler’s diarrhea is severe – you are passing more than four loose stools a day – you will need to see a doctor for prescribed antibiotics to fight off the bacteria.
You want to enjoy your trip instead of spending your vacation time in your hotel room, and so here are some tips to better prevent traveler’s diarrhea from occurring.
Some doctors recommend taking Pepto-Bismol prior to your trip to reduce the risk of traveler’s diarrhea.
As mentioned, traveler’s diarrhea is generally harmless and will pass on its own. You should see a doctor for traveler’s diarrhea if it last longer than several days, if you begin to experience symptoms related to dehydration, if you experience persistent vomiting or have a high fever, if your stools are bloody, if you have a dry mouth or cry without tears, and if you have decreased urine output.
These are signs of a more serious problem that requires medical intervention.