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Safe Holiday Travel Tips from an ER Doctor

Safe Holiday Travel Tips from an ER Doctor

Planning a trip for the holidays? Good for you. But please—be safe. Not to put a damper on the season, but it is one of the most dangerous travel times of the year. 

Consider these 2013 statistics (the latest year available) from the National Safety Council on car crash fatalities:

  • 343 deaths on New Year's Day
  • 360 deaths on Thanksgiving
  • 88 deaths on Christmas Day 

Make sure you and yours arrive safely to your destination this holiday season with these expert tips from an HCA physician.

If you’re traveling by car:

  • Stock your trunk with more than just gifts. Make room in your car for blankets, a flashlight with batteries, a first aid kit, cell phone charger and any medications you may be taking. Consider adding a pair of jumper cables and a tool kit, plus extra bottles of water and non-perishable snacks, too.
  • Take your car in for maintenance. Check that your tires are in good shape, that the oil's been changed and the battery is charged and clean. During winter, it’s a good idea to keep your gas tank at least half full. That helps the gas line from freezing up—and will keep your car running if you get stranded.
  • Steer clear of texting. Texting while you drive makes you 23 times more likely to get into a car accident, according to a study done at Virginia Tech. When you send a text, your eyes are taken off the road for at least five seconds. If you’re driving at 55 mph, that means you’ve driven the length of a football field without looking at the road. Whatever you need to say—the text can wait.

If you’re traveling by plane:

  • Opt out of the in-flight cocktail. Indulging in a drink or two on the plane is tempting, but doing so could potentially land you in the ER, due to the intensified effects of dehydration. While you may not feel those effects right away, after a few too many you’re more likely to feel more intense headaches, nausea, thirst and muscle cramping than if you were on the ground. In addition, you may feel increased motion or altitude sickness.
  • Get up and move. Long flights in cramped quarters may up your risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a.k.a. economy class syndrome. According to Matthew Underwood, MD, of Riverside Community Hospital in California, “there is an association between blood clots and long flights. You’re in cramped quarters; you’re sitting for a long time, not moving around, and you could be a little dehydrated.” To reduce your risk, follow Dr. Underwood's advice: Find ways to move around during your flight, drink water to stay hydrated and consider wearing compression socks or stockings (yes, they're worth it).

No matter how you travel, don't forget to:

  • Make a doctor’s appointment before you head out. Many people tend to skip doctor visits during this busy time of year. Don't put it off, especially if you're feeling run down. You don't want to end up sick while you're away from home.
  • Keep your vaccines up to date. If you're traveling abroad, ask your doctor or check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's web site for vaccination requirements for your destination. And no matter where you’re headed, make sure you’ve had your flu shot and a current tetanus vaccine.
  • Manage medications. Even if you're not going far, medicine should be near the top of your packing list.  “Make sure you have all of your medications with you, as well as a list in case you lose them," Underwood says. Tip: Store your list on your phone, and you won't have to go hunting for it in your bags. 
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