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Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

New research shows that as an expat, you are likely to consult the internet with your health symptoms. But the risks involved can be significant. Here’s why you need to stop typing and step away from your computer.

Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?
Researching your symptoms online can lead to health anxiety and incorrect diagnoses.

We’ve all done it. That strangely swollen toe, tingle in the throat or persistent headache. Simply type your symptoms into the online search bar and watch as the diagnoses appear. With the click of a button, innocent symptoms evolve into life-threatening illnesses, or maybe your scary medical dilemmas dissolve away, reassured by the information on your screen. 

In partnership with AXA – Global Healthcare, The Local looks at the risk and rise of the online self-diagnosis.

When your own research goes wrong

A quick look at Reddit uncovers hundreds of tales from medical professionals sharing the mishaps, and the occasional success, of online self-diagnosis. 

One father made a scene at a hospital demanding his daughter have an MRI, only to discover the ‘rash’ she had was a very non-life-threatening ink transfer, probably from her clothing. There was also a woman who searched her health symptoms online and discovered she was in labour (actually!), a man who had convinced himself he had gestational diabetes – a condition exclusive to pregnant women. And then there are the many tales of panicked people visiting their doctor, scared and anxious that they have cancer after doing some online research.

But for all the funny stories and relatable anecdotes, there are of course problems and real risks with diagnosing yourself from information online. 

Avoid a self-diagnosis mishap with a virtual doctor service

Help me, internet 

While the act of online self-diagnosis is not new, the role of online health information and the importance of virtual healthcare grew during the Covid-19 pandemic. People were encouraged to check their Covid symptoms at home, accessing all the information they needed via health authorities online. 

At the same time, the uncertainty around the virus and instructions to stay at home meant many people were unable to access health care, or avoided seeking it in-person. Why take a risk when you can open your laptop and search? 

The problem with this is threefold. You will either self-treat your self-diagnosis (which can be dangerous and do more harm than good). Or, think you are okay, when in fact, you need medical help. Option three involves overreacting to a condition that is not as bad as you thought, causing worry and stress. This can even lead to ‘cyberchondria’, which is when the internet searching of medical information and its associated worries about health becomes excessive. 

Reliable online help is out there. AXA’s global health plans will allow expats to speak to doctors in a range of languages via their Virtual Doctor Service

Virtual healthcare services are convenient but don’t have the risks of online symptom searching.

Mind health matters for expats

For those of us living abroad, the online self-diagnosis phenomenon is even more common. Jumping online is easier than navigating a foreign medical system, right? 

AXA – Global Healthcare recently conducted its biggest ever piece of research on mind health issues, in the wake of Covid-19. The findings can be read in their Mind Health Index

One of the most shocking findings of the research was that almost a third (28 percent) of mental health conditions among people living internationally had been self-diagnosed. 

The study surveyed 11,000 people from 11 countries and territories in Europe and Asia, with 13.5 percent of those participating being individuals who live abroad. The research acknowledged the unique set of mental health challenges faced by expats, who are away from support networks and the comforts of home. 

Depression and anxiety were the most common issues self-diagnosed by internet research among the non-natives surveyed. Worryingly, only 26 percent of internationals who self-diagnosed said their condition was being managed ‘well’ or ‘very well’. This is compared to 49 percent of those with a properly diagnosed condition. Quite clearly this shows the importance of talking to a medical professional about your mental health. 

AXA provides mental health and wellbeing healthcare as part of its global health plans

Overcome the barriers to seeking proper care

Navigating a foreign medical system can be daunting and off-putting, especially when you’re not feeling your best. Not knowing who to call or where to go is only going to exacerbate certain conditions, like anxiety, especially if you don’t yet speak the local language. 

So not understanding the medical landscape of where you live is an obvious reason to turn to online self diagnosing instead. Only around half (53 percent) of expats in AXA – Global Healthcare’s Mind Health Index said they knew how to access mental health help if they needed it. 

“It’s worrying that so many non-natives are using the internet to self-diagnose, but perhaps not surprising,” said Rebecca Freer, Head of Marketing at AXA – Global Healthcare. “Knowing how a local healthcare system works can be challenging, let alone knowing the sources of support you can trust. In contrast to these potential barriers to seeking help, the internet can seem to offer fast and credible sources of advice.”

While accessing healthcare can be one of the challenges of living overseas, overall the experience of life abroad should, and can, be a positive one. Though it’s increasingly common to research your symptoms online, don’t let the risks of a misdiagnosis or an unnecessary spiral of worry and fear impact you. Think again before consulting the internet with your health symptoms.

Get a quote for an insurance plan that suits you from AXA – Global Healthcare and access quality healthcare from their trusted networks

Virtual Doctor service provided by Teladoc Health
Mind Health service provided by Teladoc Health
AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.
AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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HEALTH

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

We all know that too much sun can cause health problems, but there are particular places in Spain where the UV Index is higher than others and you need to be particularly careful. Read on to find out where.

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

Spaniards and indeed foreign residents in Spain spend a lot of time in the sun, particularly at the beach in summer, and sunbathing is a popular pastime.

While it’s obviously not a good idea to be sunbathing during the hottest part of the day anywhere in Spain, there are some places that are worse than others.

When the sun shines, it emits radiation and one of the most dangerous is ultraviolet radiation. While ultraviolet radiation is not harmful in low doses, it can cause skin damage after long and intense exposure.

The UV Index measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and alerts people to the risk that the sun poses to our health on a daily basis.

The Canary Islands have the highest UV Index out of all the regions in Spain, meaning that if you live there or are thinking of going on holiday there, you should take extra precautions in the sun.

A UV Index level of 8 to 10, as well as anything above 10 is considered to be very high and extremely dangerous.

The Canary Islands consistently record UV Index levels 2 or 3 points above the rest of Spain and in some parts of the day up to four points above.

UV Index levels change throughout the day and reach their highest from about 1pm – 4pm, when you have to take extra care.

For example, on Friday August 12th the UV Index for the hottest part of the day in most of mainland Spain hovers around 7-9, whereas in the Canary Islands it reaches 11-13.

According to Canarian dermatologist Dr. Paula Aguayo, one in five canaries could be at risk from skin cancer throughout their lives due to inadequate sun protection.  

She recommends that people in the Canary Islands avoid the sun between midday and 6pm, use broad-spectrum sunscreens which protect against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation and a sunscreen with a factor not lower than 30. “ In fact, it is preferable to use factor 50,” she says.

The regions in Spain that typically have the least amount of UV are located along the northern coast, places such as Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country.

When the UV Index is anywhere from 6 upwards, experts recommend:

  • Avoiding direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day and always keeping to the shade.
  • Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV protection as well as a hat.
  • Covering your skin and applying sunscreen with a high factor to the parts that are exposed. It is recommended to put cream on in the house before you go out into the sun and to always reapply it after swimming, even if it’s a waterproof sunscreen.
  • Drinking lots of water – In the sun and heat, the skin becomes dehydrated and this aggravates skin aging caused by ultraviolet rays.

Be sun safe even on cloudy days

The UV Index is usually lower on cloudy days, but even so, solar radiation can penetrate through the clouds.  According to scientists, even if the sky is completely covered, 40 percent of the sun’s radiation can still reach earth, so even if it doesn’t feel so hot, you still need to remember your sun protection.

Take extra care in the mountains  

Those heading to the mountains instead of the coast this summer should take extra care from the sun as the UV Index can reach its highest in places of high altitude and you risk being exposed to more radiation.

Mount Teide on the Canary Island of Tenerife and the highest mountain in Spain is one of the worst places for getting sunburnt. Up here, in summer there are around 12 hours of sun a day.

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