When Your Child Gets Sick While Traveling

Planning is everything when you take a trip, especially when you have a child. When you’re on the road (or in a plane, train or boat) it’s important to be prepared for the possibility that illness may strike any family member. It’s hard enough managing your child being ill at home—it’s even more challenging when you’re away! So here are a few tips, before, during, and after travel, that will help you manage this challenge successfully.

Before Your Trip

  • Identify where the nearest emergency room and  children’s hospital is, close to your destination or along your route, if you’re taking a road trip. Check to see if a participating pharmacy in your insurance plan is near your destination.
  • Check with your insurance company what coverage your child has, especially if out of state or out of the country, or if local hospitals are out of network. Also ask, if a dire or surgical emergency, what the policy is on airlifting your child out/emergency transport.
  • Purchase travel insurance – in the event of illness delaying a leg of the trip, this may come in quite handy. Find out if minor illness that precludes comfortable travel (like an ear infection) is covered.
  • If your child has a chronic illness or is on medications, ask your pediatrician or specialist for the name and contact information of a local doctor in the event there is an issue.
  • If your child is on medications, make sure you take along a daily supply plus an extra week’s worth, in the event you get stuck or stranded.
    • If those medications are in bottles greater than 3.4 ounces, ask your pharmacist to transfer them to smaller bottles so the TSA doesn’t question your carry-on. And make sure your child’s medications ARE in your carry-on.
    • Pack a couple extra quart-sized zip lock bags in the event yours are lost or damaged
  • Assemble a mini-emergency kit, especially if you are in a very rural or distant location.
    • KaoLectrolyte or Pedialyte Powder packs – just add water and you have a replenishing clear liquid in the event of vomiting or diarrhea.
    • Topicals – 1% hydrocortisone for itchy rashes or bug bites and topical Neosporin or Bacitracin for scrapes and cuts.
    • Bandaids
    • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for hives, allergy symptoms.
    • Epi-Pen (Jr) – bring 6 if you are traveling and your child has food allergies/history of anaphylaxis.
    • Pain/fever relief – check with your doctor before travel for the most up to date dosing of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for your child, based on weight, and write it down! Buy bottles less than 3.4 ounces.
    • If your child has asthma, bring an inhaler/spacer with you, especially if on a plane. Check with the airline whether there are plugs available in the event your child requires a nebulizer treatment on board (and make sure you bring on tubing, mask, and meds along with your nebulizer)
    • If you are travelling with a baby, take saline drops and a device like the SnotSucker to empty the nose of mucous, especially to facilitate drinking/hydration
    • If your child is prone to ear infections and you’re flying, your doctor may want you to bring a prescription antibiotic with you, as well as ear drops for pain, and others for swimmers’ ear.
    • Ask your doctor about medications for motion sickness or nausea/vomiting and pack those with you.
  • Make sure your child’s vaccines are up to date, especially with international travel.

During Your Trip

  • Make sure, especially if visiting public venues, that you wash your hands and your child’s hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Use only bottled water for your child.
  • Check with your hotel about availability of a physician/local clinic in the event your child is ill. If your child contracts a moderate to severe cold before a return flight, it might be good to have ears checked, especially if in pain.
  • If your child is hospitalized, check with your hotel about extended stay and discounted rates, if you can’t stay at the hospital with your little one.
  • If your child is seen by a local doctor or hospital, make sure to get copies of the medical record – for your insurance company, and also for your child’s doctor (so a copy can be put into his/her medical record).
  • Ask for followup instructions from the local doctor or hospital and how medication should be stored or administered.
  • If the local doctor/hospital is willing, connect them with your child’s doctor for a conversation.
  • And make sure, even if you are miles from home, that you let your child rest and suspend your itinerary for a day or two.

Coming Home

  • If your child runs the risk of being in pain during flight, make sure pain medication is given an hour before takeoff, and every 4 hours after.
    • If your child has ear pain, have them suck or chew/eat.
    • Bring a change of clothes for you and your child, as well as ample wipes – in the event of vomiting or diarrhea. Pack a large plastic bag to store soiled garments.
  • Arrange for an appointment for your child to be seen the next day or two after travel for follow up.
  • Be prepared to buy a drink or snack for fellow passengers, who likely might feel a bit inconvenienced if your child is very upset.

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About Dr. JJ Levenstein

Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and in 2012 retired from her thriving private pediatric practice in Encino, California. She served on the staff of CHLA and Encino Tarzana Hospitals for 20 years and was consistently voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2003 through 2012. Drawing from her experience as a pediatrician and mom, Dr. Levenstein serves as president and co-founder of MD Moms, makers of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms. She serves on the board of United Cerebral Palsy LA, is an active writer and sits on the advisory boards of several child-centered websites. She is an accomplished chef and completed culinary school in 2013! She has had a lifelong interest in child nutrition and all things related to preventive health.

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