Taking steroids? What to consider when travelling
Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford
Steroids are very commonly used medications. They are used in skin conditions, breathing problems, inflammatory bowel disorders, as part of cancer treatment, for some kinds of arthritis, and for many other medical problems.
The most commonly prescribed steroids are prednisolone and dexamethasone. They work by suppressing inflammation, which can ease pain and relieve symptoms in several conditions.
Why are steroids special?
You may have a blue ‘steroid treatment card’. If you haven’t, ask your GP or pharmacist for one. In this, you can record the type, dose, and reason for your steroid treatment. But why is this necessary? Basically, the answer to this is that steroids must not be stopped suddenly. If you have been taking them for more than a week or two, then they need to be gradually reduced over time before being stopped.
This is because our bodies make steroids naturally. We need them to live. When you take steroids, you will be taking a MUCH higher dose than your body makes naturally, and as a result, it quickly stops bothering to make any natural steroid at all. If you suddenly take that steroid treatment away, the body doesn’t have chance to make its own to replace it, and that sudden drop in steroid can be life threatening.
As a result, the blue steroid card is important so that if you become unwell, those caring for you are made aware that you usually take steroids, and can take appropriate action.
What if I become unwell whilst taking steroids?
The important thing is to keep taking them. Don’t stop unless advised to by a doctor. If you are taking steroids for a condition like arthritis, or respiratory disease, and that condition deteriorates, you may benefit from an increase in steroid. NEVER do this without taking advice from a doctor.
If you are unable to take your steroids, due to vomiting or similar, then it is vital that you seek medical attention.
Before travelling, ensure you have plenty of steroid tablets to last the trip – you really don’t want to run out! Take your prescription and dosing information with you too. Preferably have a copy in your hand luggage and your hold luggage too, just in case.
It is sensible to take your GP surgery’s phone number with you, so you can contact them with any queries whilst away if you need to.
Can I have my travel immunisations?
Yes! And it is important that you do. Being on steroids can suppress your body’s ability to cope with infections, so avoiding them in the first place is vital.
Always consult your own doctor before travelling
These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those who take steroids and are planning to travel abroad. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
About Dr Ruth Handford
Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.
Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those who take steroids and are planning to travel abroad. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
Travel Insurance for Medical Conditions including those treated by Steroids
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you have a medical condition which requires you to take steroids and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for this as well any other medical conditions you may have.