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Diseases & Conditions

Traveling with Asthma

I have asthma and allergies. What should I know before I plan a trip?

Here’s a checklist of some of the key issues to act on as you begin to plan your trip.

  • Physical: If you have not been examined by your doctor in a while, get a thorough physical before you go on a trip. If it is a long trip, or if you have specific concerns about your asthma during the trip, talk to your asthma doctor.
  • Medications: Take ALL medications you need with you. Make sure that you have more than enough of each medicine and keep them with you. If you have an asthma attack on a plane, having medicines in your checked in baggage is not going to help you.
  • Devices: Make sure you have your spacer, peak flow meter, or other devices that you usually need. Make sure that you continue to maintain your daily asthma diary.
  • Emergency: Learn from your doctor what you should do in case of 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.
  • Buddy: If possible, travel with a friend or family member who is aware of your asthma and knows what to do to help you.
  • Food: If you have food allergies, remember it is not always possible to be absolutely certain that the food you are eating does not contain substances to which you are allergic. You should plan in advance and 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.
  • Allergy shots: If you are taking a long trip, discuss with your allergist how you can continue to take or receive your allergy shots.
  • Medical care: Make sure your insurance covers wherever you are traveling. Know where the hospitals are 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, and you should know beforehand where to go for good medical care.

This is a lot to remember. Is there anything else that I should know?

Although there may be a lot of information to remember, most of it is common sense. 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. Here are some examples:

Where you are going
  • Forests/mountains: If you are going to a place where you will be exposed to insect bites or pollen, such as a forest, you should take insect repellant and other measures to limit your chances of getting insect bites or reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors.
  • Beaches: Beaches are usually safe for asthma sufferers, but if you have an allergic skin condition called eczema, sun exposure can make it worse.
  • Foreign country: If you are going to a foreign country or a vacation spot new to you, learn as much as possible about the destination in advance of your trip. 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 you are getting there
  • Airplanes: Bad air quality can be a problem, especially on full-capacity flights, but there is usually little you can do to improve the air quality. Some international flights are smoking flights, and if you have to take one, try to get seated as far away from the smoking section as possible. If you use oxygen, discuss this with the airline when you make the reservation. Some airlines may 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, particularly the upholstery, clean to reduce the chances that dust mites and molds will ruin your trip. If you are renting a car, try to get a late-model non-smoking car. If you are traveling through an area with pollen and molds, close the windows and turn on the air conditioner.
  • Cruise: If you have severe asthma, you should let the cruise operators know beforehand. Usually the larger, reputable cruise lines will have some medical facilities on the ship, but it is your responsibility to know what medical services are available. Remember, river cruises can pass through areas with heavy pollen and mold concentrations, so you should plan for that. Finally, a cruise ship is also a hotel, and you should plan accordingly (see "Staying in a hotel/resort" below).
What you are going to do
  • Visiting family: Ask yourself the following questions. Are my hosts smokers? Do they have pets that I'm allergic to? Is the house too small for the number of people who are going to be in it? Do they know of any food allergies I may have? In general, think of where you are going and what things trigger asthma attacks for you. Then try and work around them. If it seems that staying in your host's house is likely to trigger asthma attacks and there is nothing you can do about it, consider checking into a hotel and explaining the problem to your hosts.
  • Staying in a hotel/resort: If the hotel cannot guarantee you a non-smoking room, consider staying somewhere else. 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 take a few more minutes to set up, but it may save your vacation.
  • Sports: If you are going to exercise a lot, especially exercise 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. Scuba diving is one activity that is not recommended for people with asthma. Discuss this with your asthma doctor to learn the risks involved and why it is not recommended.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/16/2012...#9570