What should I know before traveling with asthma and allergies?
If you have asthma and allergies, here's a checklist of key things to do as you plan your trip:
- Get a physical: If you have not been examined by your doctor in a while, get a thorough physical before you go on a trip. Make sure to talk to your asthma doctor if you have specific concerns about your asthma on your trip, especially if it is a long one.
- Check your medications: Take ALL medications you need with you. Make sure that you have more than enough of each medicine and keep them handy. If you have an asthma attack on a plane, medicines in your checked-in baggage are not going to help you.
- Check your devices: Make sure you have your spacer, peak flow meter, or other devices that you normally need. Continue to keep your daily asthma diary.
- Plan for an emergency: Ask your doctor for an asthma action plan that will outline what to do in case of an asthma episode. Keep your doctor's name and phone number with you. If you have a nebulizer, take it when you travel.
- Take a buddy: If possible, travel with a friend or family member who knows what to do to help you during an episode.
- Plan your diet: If you have food allergies, be certain that the food you will be eating does not contain substances to which you are allergic. Let whoever is preparing the food — airline, cruise ship, hotel, restaurant, family member, or friend — know what you are allergic to as far in advance as possible.
- Keep your allergy shot schedule: If you are taking a long trip, discuss with your allergist how to continue to take or receive your allergy shots.
- Check the medical care at your destination: Make sure your insurance covers wherever you are traveling. Know the area hospitals and what the procedure is if you are sick (emergency numbers, etc.). In developing countries there can be a huge variation in the quality of care you receive. Find out beforehand where to go for good medical care.
What more can I do to plan the trip?
A useful way to plan a trip when you have asthma is to think of where you are going, how you are going to get there, and what you are going to do when you get there:
Where are you going?
- Wooded areas/mountains: If you are going to a place where you will be exposed to insect bites or pollen, such as wooded areas or forests, take insect repellant to limit bites or cut back on the time you spend outdoors.
- Beaches: Beaches are usually safe for asthma sufferers, but if you have an allergic skin condition such as eczema, sun exposure can make it worse.
- Foreign country: Before you go to a foreign country or a vacation spot new to you, learn as much as you can about the destination. How polluted is the country/city? Is smoking restricted in hotel rooms or restaurants? Will your nebulizer work on the voltage in that country?
How are you getting there?
- Plane: Bad air quality can be a problem, especially on full-capacity flights. Most airlines have banned smoking on board but depending on where you are travelling some international flights may still allow smoking. Make sure to check this before booking a flight. If you use oxygen, discuss this with the airline when you make the reservation. Some airlines provide oxygen, but others require you to provide your own. There are usually restrictions as to what type of device can be brought on the plane.
- Car/bus: Keep your car clean (particularly the upholstery) to reduce the chances that dust mites and molds will ruin your trip. If renting a car, try to get a late-model non-smoking vehicle. If traveling through any areas with pollen and molds, be sure to close the windows and turn on the air conditioner.
- Cruise: If you have severe asthma, let the cruise operators know beforehand. Larger reputable cruise lines will have medical facilities on the ship, but it is your responsibility to know what medical services are available. River cruises can pass through areas with heavy pollen and mold concentrations, so plan for that. Remember, too, a cruise ship is also a hotel (see "Staying in a hotel/resort" below).
What are you going to do there?
- Visiting family/friends: Ask yourself the following questions when you go to see family and friends:
- Is anyone in the home a smoker?
- Do they have pets that I'm allergic to?
- Is the home too small for the number of people who are going to be in it?
- Are my hosts aware of any food allergies I have?
In general, think of where you are going and what triggers asthma attacks for you. Then try to work around them. If staying in your host's home is likely to trigger asthma attacks and there is no way to avoid these triggers, consider checking into a hotel.
- Staying in a hotel/resort: If the hotel cannot guarantee you a non-smoking room, consider staying somewhere else if possible. Generally speaking, cheaper hotels and hotels that do not have a regular cleaning service are more likely to have dust, dust mites, and other substances that may trigger your asthma. If you can, take special coverings for the pillows and beds in the hotel. It may save your vacation.
- Sports: If you are going to exercise a lot, especially activities that you are not used to, such as mountain climbing, hiking, etc., remember that exercise itself can trigger asthma symptoms. Any activity should start with a warm-up, and your quick-relief medication should be taken 15 to 20 minutes before you begin.