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Tips for Preventing and Treating Asthma Attacks When You’re Traveling

Whether it’s a weekend city break with your partner, a lakeside family reunion or a dream trip to Paris, you might be looking forward to your next vacation. If you have asthma, there are some key things to keep in mind to keep your trip as safe and enjoyable as possible. 

Asthma is a breathing condition where the tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs tighten. That tightness can make it hard for you to breathe properly. It can be serious, but most people can manage their asthma well.

If you have asthma, planning for your trip is important. You want to be prepared for anything that might happen. 

We connected with Puneet Shroff, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist with Banner – University Medicine, to learn more about how people with asthma can travel safely. 

Tips for planning your trip 

There are some steps you can take before you travel:

  • Be aware of the asthma triggers at your destination so you can avoid them and prevent asthma attacks. 
    • Research factors that could impact your asthma ahead of time. “You may want to check temperature, humidity and elevation,” Dr. Shroff said. 
    • If possible, plan your trip to a place that’s not likely to trigger your asthma. For example, you might want to avoid areas with high pollen or air pollution levels. You can find air quality forecasts on the websites of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). “The internet can be a powerful tool. In addition to weather forecasting, you may be able to check air quality indices for ozone, dust and particulate matter,” said Dr. Shroff.
  • Know where to find hospitals and clinics at your destination in case you need medical help.
  • Tell your travel companions about your asthma and what they should do to help you if you have an attack. Make sure they know where you keep your asthma medication.
  • Get any recommended immunizations.
  • Talk to your doctor about treatments like immunotherapy and about any planned activities that are different from what you usually do.

Tips for packing

 Asthma attacks can happen at any time, and you need to be able to get to your medication quickly. “When you travel, you need to continue taking the maintenance inhalers, prescriptions and rescue medications your doctor has recommended,” Dr. Shroff said. “Keeping them readily available during travel is key.”

These packing tips can help you prevent asthma attacks or treat them as quickly as possible:

  • Bring enough medication to last for your trip, plus extra in case you run into any delays. Bring emergency medications if your doctor recommends them. Be sure to pack your spacer and any allergy medications (liquids, pills or nasal sprays) if you use them.
  • Pack your medicine in the original containers. That will help make them easy to find and keep them safer from damage. “Label medication clearly to avoid confusion,” Dr. Shroff said.
  • Bring copies of your prescriptions in case you need to refill them when you are traveling. Have the contact information for your pharmacy.
  • Carry a copy of your asthma action plan, which outlines what to do if your symptoms get worse. It should include a list of your asthma triggers, your asthma medications, instructions on how to take them and recommended emergency medications or interventions. 
  • Bring a peak flow meter if you need to track your lung function or treatment when you’re traveling.
  • Bring a face mask in case you need to protect yourself from pollutants or allergens.
  • Consider bringing a portable air purifier.
  • If you will be spending extended time in another location, you might want to have medication delivered or transfer your prescriptions there.

If you’re flying, here are a few more things that can help you pack properly: 

  • Pack all medications in your carry-on luggage. That way, you will have your medicine with you if your checked luggage is lost or delayed. “Sometimes, using packing cubes can be helpful,” Dr. Shroff said.  
  • Keep a spare set of medication in your purse or backpack.
  • If you use a nebulizer, pack it in a durable case in your carry-on luggage and bring a power adaptor or enough batteries to run it.
  • Have a letter from your doctor explaining that you have asthma and need to carry certain medications with you while traveling. Have copies of your medical insurance ID and any other medical identification.
  • If you are traveling internationally, be especially careful to bring plenty of medicine. Don’t assume you’ll be able to find the medication you need in another country. 
  • If you are flying with liquid medications, make sure they are clearly labeled. You can carry liquid medications in amounts above the 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) limit for liquids. Take them out of your carry-on bag for screening at security. 
  • If you are packing extra liquid medicine in your checked bag, check with your airline for any restrictions. 
  • Bring saline nasal spray to protect against the dry air on the plane. 

Tips that can help during air travel

These tips can make air travel safer and more comfortable when you’re flying with asthma:

  • The dry air on planes can trigger asthma symptoms, so stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and avoid too much caffeine and alcohol. You may also want to use a saline nasal spray. 
  • Planes can contain mildew, dust mites, pet dander and respiratory viruses. If you have allergies, take your medication before and during your flight. You may want to wear a mask to filter out allergens.
  • Consider letting flight attendants know that you have asthma. They are trained to handle medical emergencies, so they can help if you have an asthma attack on board. 
  • If crowded, noisy planes make you feel stressed, bring a book, movie or music to help you stay calm and relaxed.

Tips for hotels and rental properties

You can minimize your exposure to allergens and asthma triggers with these tips:

  • Choose a smoke-free hotel or rental property.
  • Request an allergen-free room. “Many hotels offer mattress covers and non-feather pillows,” said Dr. Shroff.
  • Try not to stay in areas that have high air pollution levels.
  • Search online reviews for “asthma” to see what other guests have to say.
  • Close the windows to keep out pollen and allergens.
  • Talk to staff if you have any concerns about the cleanliness. They may be able to have the room cleaned more thoroughly or move you to a different room.

If you are staying at a place that’s not professionally cleaned, such as a friend’s home or a place that hasn’t been occupied in a while, you may want to:

  • Wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth to remove dust and other allergens from surfaces. 
  • Vacuum the floor with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter to remove dust mites and other allergens. 
  • Bring your own bedding or wash the bedding in hot water to kill dust mites. 
  • Use a dust mite cover on your mattress and pillows.

Tips for your time at your destination

When you arrive at your destination, you’ll want to relax and enjoy your trip. A couple of tips can make your time more enjoyable:

  • Watch for unfamiliar triggers – especially food allergies – since you may be eating foods you don’t typically eat. 
  • Be aware that crowded places could increase your exposure to triggers and other illnesses. 
  • Pace yourself and rest when you need to.

The bottom line

If you have asthma, you need to take a few steps to make sure you stay safe and minimize your risk of flare-ups when you’re traveling. By preparing before your trip, packing correctly and being prepared during and after your trip, you can increase your odds of traveling without having complications from your asthma.

If you have questions about traveling with asthma, talk to your health care provider or a professional at Banner Health for advice.

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