With the summer holidays in sight, medical and travel experts give tips on how to avoid holiday health hazards so you can really enjoy the sunshine abroad.

By Lisa Salmon.

As you look forward to being reintroduced to sunshine on your long-awaited summer holiday, chances are you're more concerned with finding your passport and flip-flops than packing a first aid kit.

But holiday health should be at the top of your priority list, as nothing will ruin your trip faster than falling sick or having an accident - and being utterly unprepared - as Holiday SOS author Dr Ben MacFarlane, who has worked as an emergency repatriation doctor bringing sick and injured tourists back home from abroad, knows only too well.

"Everyone thinks they're going to have a fantastic time on holiday, and try to ignore the fact that they might get ill," he says.

"But, statistically, some would fall ill even if they'd stayed home. When you add in all the things you do on holiday, like drinking more alcohol, taking part in risky activities, and being in a different environment with different food and weather, it multiplies the chance of health problems."

Taking just a few simple steps before you go could make the world of difference, should the worst happen...

Ensure you insure Top of your priority list should be to buy appropriate travel insurance before you go. Yes, it's an additional cost, but the few extra pounds is nothing compared to the bill of thousands you could be forced to pay should you require medical help overseas.

If travelling in Europe, get a European Health Insurance Card (www.ehicdirect.org.uk), which means you'll get free health care.

Pack and prepare Make room in your suitcase for a first aid box containing a few invaluable basics, such as painkillers, anti-diarrhoea tablets, antihistamines, antiseptic cream, handwash, plasters and dressings.

"Preparation is everything," MacFarlane stresses. "If you're prepared, you can either avoid the common ailments people get on holiday, or deal with them yourself so you don't need to go to a doctor."

Make sure you're in good health before you go, and pick up any regular prescriptions you need. It's also useful to find out where the nearest English-speaking doctors or pharmacies are in your resort before you travel, for added peace of mind.

Don't be a clot Holidays often start with a flight, which can increase the chances of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), particularly on long-haul trips.

Some groups are more at risk, such as people with previous clotting problems, pregnant women, smokers and women on the pill, says MacFarlane. The condition is serious and, if not treated quickly, can be fatal.

Reduce the risk by moving as much as possible while in the air. Get up for a walk up and down the aisles, or do some leg and foot exercises in your seat. Also, drink plenty of fluid and avoid alcohol, and seek help immediately if you develop any unusual swelling, pain and redness in your legs.

Food for thought Stomach upsets are one of the most common holiday health complaints, and you don't have to travel to exotic destinations to get food poisoning. Symptoms can come on as soon as two hours after eating, or up to two days later. The resulting diarrhoea, and possible nausea and vomiting, can last from a day to more than a week.

"Make sure food is well cooked," advises MacFarlane. "It's a real worry with all-day buffets, where food may have been out for a long time."

Check whether the tap water is safe to drink in the country you're visiting. If it's not, stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes and fruit and salad, which may have been washed in the water. If you do fall ill, anti-diarrhoea remedies and rehydration sachets can help, and make sure you drink lots of water to replace lost fluids.

Beat the bugs Being bitten by insects on holiday could cause nothing more than a minor irritation. But in some parts of the world, bites can be life-threatening.

If you're travelling to a malaria-risk region, speak to a doctor at least four weeks before you go, to ensure you get all the relevant jabs and pills you may need.

Deadly malaria aside, itchy bites can be a real nuisance, particularly if you have an allergic reaction or they become infected. Pack a decent repellent, and some soothing cream and antihistamines will help treat any nasty bites you do get. These items will also help with prickly heat and rashes.

Ban the burn Yes, everybody likes a tan. But not only does sunburn increase your risk of skin cancer, it can be extremely painful. Severe sunburn will even cause blisters, meaning you'll be at risk of infection, too.

Plenty of good quality, high-factor sunscreen is a must. It's especially important to ensure children are well protected.

People with pale skin need a higher SPF. Avoiding the midday sun (seek shade and wear a hat) will also help.

Also, sun lotions have a shelf life and will lose their strength over time, so invest in new bottles every year.

Be booze aware Everybody likes to let their hair down on holiday - and this can include drinking more alcohol than usual and generally taking less care.

"Probably the majority of upsets on holiday stem from alcohol - gastrointestinal problems as well as accidents," says Dr MacFarlane. "It's important to be sensible, even though it sounds boring."

Don't go overboard. If you are going out for a few drinks, stay in a group so that you're not alone, should anything happen. Most definitely do not attempt to go swimming or start climbing onto walls or balconies if you're intoxicated. It simply isn't worth the risk.

Best buys :: Boots Pharmaceuticals St John Ambulance Travel First Aid Kit This compact kit contains all the essentials, including dressings, plasters, insect cooling spray, wipes and burn gel sachets. Each kit also contains an advice and information booklet. Available from Boots (www.boots.com), £11.99.

:: Jungle Formula Insect Repellent Maximum Aerosol 125ml Offering up to 10 hours' protection from mosquitoes, midges and other insects, this will certainly help keep bites at bay. Suitable for adults and children from three upwards. Available from Lloyds Pharmacy (www.lloydspharmacy.com), £5.99.

:: Anthisan Bite & Sting Cream 20g All-round antihistamine relief from pain, itching and inflammation caused by various bites and stings. Available from The Co-operative Pharmacy (www.co-operativepharmacy.co.uk), £3.79.

:: Holiday SOS by Dr Ben MacFarlane is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £7.99. Available now.