Travelling with Asthma, COPD and other breathing difficulties:
Travel tips from Dr Handford
Asthma and other breathing problems like COPD and emphysema, are very common and can affect people very differently. Knowing the pattern of your disease and how it flares up is really important when thinking about a holiday abroad.
Choosing your destination:
- Consider the weather and altitude at your chosen destination. Sometimes wheezing can be triggered by cold weather, or by extreme humidity. It may be that the thinner air found in high altitude destinations makes you more breathless than usual, even at rest. Consider also the level of pollution you may come across, particularly in certain cities. Dusty environments or being around animals could also trigger flare ups. Anticipate whether your destination is particularly hilly, and whether there is good provision of taxi services or other ways to get around.
- Make sure that you anticipate triggers like this, and take time to acclimatise to your new environment. Ensure you have your rescue inhaler with you all the time (usually a blue one).
- The reduced air pressure during a flight may make you feel more breathless than usual, even at rest. As a rough guide, if you can walk 50 metres without feeling short of breath, you should be able to comfortably manage on a flight, but you should always check with your own GP before flying.
- If you think you may need extra oxygen throughout your flight, speak to your GP and get assessed for this. Most airlines will allow you to use oxygen during the flight, but you will need to arrange this in advance and may have to pay a charge for it.
- Give your airline 48 hours' notice if you think you may need help getting through the airport. They will arrange for assistance to help you from arrivals to the plane, which can involve a lot of walking otherwise.
Where to stay:
- Depending on your fitness level and breathlessness, it may be worth checking that you do not have to climb lots of stairs or walk around a large complex where you are staying. Consider phoning ahead and requesting a ground level room near the entrance if you think this will be easier.
- Carry inhalers and other medications with you in your hand luggage, as well as a supply in your hold baggage, in case it gets lost in transit. It is a good idea to have spare inhalers for your trip too, in case you need to use them more than usual.
- If you use a nebuliser, make sure you have an adaptor plug so you can use it at your destination. You can get battery operated nebulisers if you need to take one on your flight. You should check with your airline if they will allow you to use this during the journey. Remember, using 10 puffs of salbutamol with a spacer device is equivalent to using a nebuliser, so if you are feeling wheezy and do not have a nebuliser, try this instead. Ask your GP or Asthma nurse to show you how to do this, and advise you about whether it may be right for you.
- Take a repeat prescription list and the original packaging with you on your flight, in case you are asked to prove what you are carrying. It is also useful in case medication needs replacing whilst you are away.
- If you have needed oral steroid tablets in the past for your asthma or COPD, your GP may be happy for you to take a short supply with you, in case you have a flare up whilst you are away. Similarly, if you have frequent chest infections, your GP may be able to supply you with some antibiotics to take with you just in case.
- Clues that you may need to start antibiotics and steroids might include increased cough, coughing up more sputum than usual, a high temperature, and increased breathlessness and wheeze. If you have a peak flow monitor, you could take this with you too. If your peak flow reading is lower than your personal best, it can be an early sign that your breathing is getting worse.
Planning ahead can ensure you have an enjoyable, comfortable and relaxing holiday. Simply thinking through the triggers to your breathlessness and preparing yourself to deal with any problems, will help to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Always consult your own doctor before travelling
These travel tips are intended to provide general information for those with asthma, copd and other breathing difficulties and 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 for those with asthma, copd and other breathing difficulties and 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 asthma and breathing difficulties
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your travel insurance covers any medical conditions you may have.
Goodtogoinsurance.com is proud to be able to provide cover for all types of breathing difficulty, including asthma, COPD and emphysema.