Safety Tips for Traveling with Mild or Severe Asthma

Whether you suffer from asthma, diabetes, arthritis, migraines, Crohn’s disease, or others, traveling with a chronic health condition brings its own share of challenges. 

While traveling may increase the risks of encountering asthma and allergy triggers, having mild or severe asthma should not stop you or your kids from traveling. With cautious planning and good preparation, you can maintain good asthma management and enjoy your holiday safely. 

So, here are our best tips for traveling with asthma!

Is it safe to travel with asthma? 

Asthma is a chronic health condition that can cause breathing difficulties when the airways become inflamed. As a result, it can interfere with daily activities and sometimes lead to life-threatening attacks.

Fortunately, numerous asthma medications work effectively to prevent and treat flare-ups immediately. While most people use asthma inhalers, you may also have been prescribed injections like Dupixent or Nucala if you have severe asthma.

Asthma attacks are commonly triggered by external factors such as smoke, pets, dust, pollution, pests, mold, chemicals, pollen, weather conditions, foods, fragrances, and many others. While staying clear of these triggers isn’t always easy in a known environment, it can get challenging when traveling. 

Traveling can affect asthma in many ways, mainly because it involves a lot of unknown circumstances and unexpected triggers.

But having asthma should not stop you from enjoying vacation and time away from home, sleepovers, or weekend trips.

7 Tips for Traveling with Asthma

With forward planning, you can prevent most asthma attacks and be prepared to act rapidly if one occurs. 

1. Choose your destination carefully

Some destinations are more “asthma-friendly” than others. If you’re lucky enough to choose your next travel destination, you’ll enjoy much more of your stay at a place where your trigger factors are limited. You may not know your trigger factors, but if you do, consider them before booking your trip.

Inquire about the air quality, smog, pollution levels, weather conditions, etc. Think about seasonable allergies too, as well as the different pollens that may trigger an asthma attack (ex: tree pollen in the spring vs. weed pollen in the fall). 

If you’re traveling inside the USA, the Allergy Capitals report from the Asthma and Allergies Foundation of America (AAFA) is a fantastic source of information. It can help you choose the best destinations for your next travels according to seasons, pollution, pollen allergies, weather conditions, etc.

2. Review your asthma action plan before departure

Before departure, speak with your healthcare (GP or asthma nurse) providers and inform them about your trip. It's an excellent time to get a check-up and ensure that your asthma treatment and action plan are up to date.

Everyone should have an asthma action plan, even more so when traveling alone. Among other things, it provides you and third parties with valuable instructions on how to manage an asthma attack and what to do in case of an emergency. 

If you do not have an action plan yet, ask your doctor to fill one out for you, and always keep it in your bag along with your emergency kit while traveling.

Ask your doctor about travel vaccines you may need depending on your destination. If you travel with medicines for severe asthma, get a copy of your prescription and a medical letter explaining why you need them and how to use them. You may be asked to show these documents at airport security screenings or international border crossing points. 

Related article: Tips for traveling with medications internationally

3. Avoid asthma triggers while traveling 

It certainly is easier said than done but try to avoid asthma triggers as much as possible when traveling, at least the ones you can foresee. Here are some general tips that may help:

  • Close the windows and run the air conditioner when traveling by car
  • Drink plenty of water on the airplane to compensate for the dry air
  • Avoid staying outside if the weather is cold or dry
  • Check out the air pollution and pollen forecast for the day with pollen.com
  • Avoid smoking places, fire camps, barbecue sites, etc.
  • Ask the hotel if they have allergy-proof rooms
  • Consider bringing your own hypoallergenic pillow and blanket or allergy-proof covers
  • Limit extreme physical activities
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Use wipes to clean surfaces if needed
  • Wear a face mask if the air is not clean
  • Watch out for unexpected food triggers in local food recipes
  • Be prepared to change your plans if your symptoms get worst

4. Always be prepared for emergencies

There's no way you can predict every asthma attack while traveling, so the key to a safe holiday is always being prepared for an emergency.

Make sure always to carry your quick asthma relief. Your asthma action plan is also essential, especially if you have severe asthma and may lose consciousness or be unable to speak during an attack. Consider wearing a medical identification bracelet, especially if you’re traveling alone.

If you’re traveling abroad in a non-English-speaking country, learning a few phrases or downloading a language app may be very useful. For example, keywords like "asthma," "inhaler," "hospital," "doctor," or "can't breathe" can help you explain quicker what’s happening when you need medical help.

5. Pack your asthma medication with caution

Traveling with a chronic health condition requires bringing medication and medical supplies. People with asthma must cautiously pack any medicine or device they would typically use at home. That includes quick-relief or fast-acting medicine, long-term asthma controllers, nebulizers (with an adapter if traveling abroad), inhalers, spacers, peak flow meters, and any other asthma accessory you may need.

It’s good practice to take extra medicine and backup equipment with you in a separate bag. You may need these in case your bag gets lost or stolen, if you decide to extend your stay, or if you miss your flight back home.

If you’re flying or crossing international borders, your medications must be packed in their original containers with original labels. Keep a copy of your prescription along with your meds.   

Always keep your medications with you while traveling. When flying, you’re allowed to take medications onboard in your carry-on. Never leave them in your checked luggage.

If you're using injectable medicines for severe asthma, like Dupixent, Xolair, or Nucala, you must keep them cool or refrigerated while traveling. Most of these medicines are temperature-sensitive and can go bad if left out of the fridge for several days or exposed to high temperatures. Consider using a medical-grace travel cooler like the ones from 4AllFamily.

4AllFamily's Travel Coolers Maintain Your Asthma Medicines Like Dupixent Refrigerated While Traveling

Related article: How to travel with Dupixent by plane or internationally?

6. Get a travel insurance

Most travel insurance companies consider asthma a pre-existing condition that’s part of the medical history you must declare during your screening process.

Before departure, ensure your travel insurance covers any claim related to an asthma attack during your trip. Mild asthma will probably be covered for free, but severe asthma may induce extra costs.

Related article: How does asthma affect travel insurance?

7. Don’t hesitate to ask for help

If you’re traveling alone and have a sudden asthma attack, do not hesitate to let people around you know what’s happening. You’d be surprised how helpful passers-by can be when someone is in danger. They may call emergency services or at least stay with you and wait until you get better. 

If you have severe asthma with difficulty breathing when climbing stairs, for example, be aware that most travel and public transport companies are required by law to make things easier for you. Whether you're traveling by plane, train, or coach, ask the company for special assistance. It can include access to passenger lifts, wheelchair services, help carrying luggage, and priority boarding, for example.

Scuba Diving with Asthma & Other Outdoor Activities

Scuba diving is increasingly popular and one of the best fun activities during seaside holidays. However, due to breathing difficulties and risks of complications, it used to be prohibited for people with asthma. 

Thanks to more scientific research and a better understanding of the condition, experts now agree that asthmatic people can dive under certain conditions. Still, you must know a few things before scuba diving with asthma.

Diving increases the risk of pulmonary barotrauma, bronchospasm, airway obstruction, and decompression sickness in asthmatic people[1]. It doesn't mean you can't dive if you have asthma, but you must take some important precautions and follow safety guidelines.

This study from Medline[2] recommends that people with asthma only dive when their asthma is well controlled. More precisely, here's what it says: "for patients who wish to dive, their asthma should be well controlled without current chest symptoms. Patients should have normal spirometry. Some diving societies recommend that an asthmatic patient should successfully pass a bronchial provocation challenge (…)”. 

In any case, always ask for your doctor’s advice before scuba diving with asthma.

Coolers for asthma medications

Keep Your Asthma Medicines Cool While On The Beach With 4AllFamily's Travel Coolers

High Altitude Hiking with Asthma

High altitude destinations may trigger asthma[3]. The amount of oxygen decreases as altitude increases. The air is dryer and colder up in the mountains, which can also dry the mucus membranes and cause allergy symptoms.

People with mild and well-controlled asthma will generally be fine in high altitudes. However, you should ask for your doctor's advice before traveling to altitude destinations if you have severe asthma. 

Share your travel experiences with us below! What are your best tips for traveling with asthma?

References:

[1] Can asthmatic subjects dive? Yochai Adir, Alfred A. Bove. European Respiratory Review Jun 2016, 25 (140) 214-220; DOI: 10.1183/16000617.0006-2016 https://err.ersjournals.com/content/25/140/214

[2] Coop CA, Adams KE, Webb CN. SCUBA Diving and Asthma: Clinical Recommendations and Safety. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2016 Feb;50(1):18-22. doi: 10.1007/s12016-015-8474-y. PMID: 25666876. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25666876/

[3] Huismans HK, Douma WR, Kerstjens HA, Renkema TE. Asthma in patients climbing to high and extreme altitudes in the Tibetan Everest region. J Asthma. 2010 Aug;47(6):614-9. doi: 10.3109/02770900903573277. PMID: 20632917.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20632917/

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