Ear, nose and throat problems when travelling abroad

Your ears, nose and throat (ENT) are all connected and are extremely sensitive to changes in your environment; so much so that, if left unattended, any infection of one can spread to the others. If ignored, the common cold is one of the easiest ways to trigger further ENT issues, particularly with the irregularities and unpredictabilities of traveling. Without proper rest, healthy eating and plenty of hydration; the infection can quickly spread through your ENT system and become a potentially more complicated, not to mention uncomfortable, problem.

What are the causes of ear, nose and throat problems?

Sinusitis is the infection of your sinuses, which are situated behind your cheekbones and your forehead and produce mucus that normally drains into your nose. If infected, your sinuses swell up and are unable to properly drain themselves. The resulting pressure can lead to a blocked nose with thick nasal discharge; uncomfortable tenderness and pain around and behind your cheeks, eyes and forehead; headaches, vertigo, high temperatures and fevers as well as toothache, a reduced sense of smell and often bad breath. Although inhaling steam can ease sinus congestion, much like the common cold there is no definitive cure for sinusitis other than rest, eating well and drinking plenty of fluids. However, by consciously keeping your hands clean to avoid catching a cold you also greatly minimise the chances of developing sinusitis and other ENT infections.

The same is true for ear infections which are commonly caused by a build-up of mucus in the tube that connects the ear to the nose. Ear infections develop quickly and, whilst they may only last for a few days, can be extremely uncomfortable. The most obvious sign of an ear infection is acute earache due to the build up of pressure stretching the eardrum. This can lead to the eardrum actually tearing, after which pus may leak out of the ear. Whilst the earache will stop, the ear will be sensitive until the eardrum heals and should ideally be protected or covered. Other symptoms can include slight hearing loss, high temperatures, lethargy, dizziness and nausea due to the ear’s importance in keeping you balanced.

What are the treatments for ear, nose and throat problems?

Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to treat the pain as well as warm compresses held against the affected ear. Over-the-counter eardrops can also help, but they should not be used if the eardrum has burst and the affected ear should not be submerged in water as it needs to be kept dry to avoid further infection. Although complications of ear infections are rare they can be very serious, spreading to the bones behind the ear or further into the ear towards the brain and the spinal cord, so if an ear infection gets significantly worse or persists beyond a few days it is a good idea to see a professional.

ENT infections can easily spread down the throat and to the lungs if ignored, potentially leading to tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and coughs that can unfortunately last for weeks. Sore throats, excess phlegm, difficulty swallowing, shallow breathing, weakness, nausea and vomiting are all possible symptoms of throat and chest infections which are particularly hard to overcome and contain whilst travelling. Just as with other ENT infections, there is no particular cure for coughs other than plenty of rest and plenty of fluids. Painkillers will help with fevers and aches, whilst warm honey and lemon drinks can soothe sore throats and loosen mucus. Sleeping with an extra pillow will elevate your head to make breathing easier and ensure a good night’s rest to speed up recovery.

What should I do if I’m suffering from ear, nose and throat problems?

With all ear, nose and throat problems the best action you can take whilst abroad is to keep your hands clean in order to avoid picking up any viruses from contaminated surfaces and to be aware of any unusual feelings, aches or pains. The amount of new people and new places combined with the irregularities of traveling means that it can be all too easy to ignore the signs of a cold or a cough.

Most ENT infections are viral so won’t be affected by antibiotics and should clear up within a few days or weeks, however if the symptoms persist, or become severe, you should see a doctor as soon as you can. TripMedic can arrange a consultation in your own language with a medical professional who can help you work out how best to proceed.

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