Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer, business owner and world traveler who makes sure that her entire family is prepared before starting a new adventure. As a mother of three, her kids’ allergies often flare up at the most inconvenient times, so she takes the necessary precautions to keep them as comfortable as possible, especially when traveling.
We’d all like vacation to be a time to forget about everything. Unfortunately, asthma is one concern that we can’t bundle up and leave at home. In fact, for those of us with more acute forms of the disease, a lack of preparation when voyaging to another city, state or even country could be dangerous (and potentially fatal); however, some thoughtful precautions and a little common sense can make the ends of the earth feel as home for your lungs.
Create a “must-have” packet
Needless to say, you’ll want to make sure you have more than enough medication to last the duration of your trip, as well as nebulizers, peak flow meters and other equipment you rely on regularly. In addition, it’s also important that you keep on your person at all times any essential information in case of emergency, including:
- Insurance and healthcare provider information. If you’re going on a major trip, it’s a good idea to notify your healthcare professional in advance.
- A backup prescription form in case you lose your medication or run out.
- Copies of your asthma action plan.
While having a medical emergency in an unfamiliar city is alarming enough, the dangers are compounded in the cabin of an airplane. Consequently, be absolutely sure to maintain these protocols:
- Carry on all necessary medications, nebulizers and inhalers. Even in an emergency, you won’t be able to access your medical needs from checked bags.
- Make sure your meds are packed as officially as possible. In today’s era of heightened airport security, there’s no telling the degree of scrutiny TSA may subject you to. Unfortunately, consolidating all of your medicines into one bottle is as risky as it may be convenient. Not only should your medications be packed in their original containers, but the name on the labels should be an exact match with your passport. A fastidious security agent may raise an eyebrow over as little as a slight discrepancy in spelling, and possibly confiscate your medicine.
- Smoking flights. If you’ve never flown outside of the U.S., this may come as a shock to you: some international flights still permit smoking in the cabin. Find out if this pertains to your flight, and if so, make sure you book your ticket as far as possible from the smoking section.
Expect the unexpected—even when it comes to breathing
Of course, we travel to be surprised, and to immerse ourselves in a daily life totally different from our own. Unfortunately, sometimes even things we take for granted may be a rarity in other locales, and customs that are unheard of at home may be the order of the day within your travel destination. This is especially the case when traveling overseas, as even laws pertinent to quality of air may be different.
The ideal way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to consult another asthmatic who’s been to your destination within the last few years. Here are a few points of “asthmatic culture shock” to put on your security list:
- Altitude changes. If you hail from the Midwest and are headed for an exotic mountain retreat—or even Denver—you should remember that dramatic changes in air pressure can especially tax your lungs. If you have severe asthma, you may want to avoid altitudes of over 5000 feet altogether, especially if it involves hiking or climbing.
- Local allergens and pollution. Unfortunately, some countries or even cities have lax emissions laws and/or conditions that tend to be a trap for airborne toxins (Mexico City is a famous example of this double bind). Furthermore, local flora may set off your allergies and trigger asthma attacks, so a little research may be in order. In acute cases, be sure to bring a few inexpensive breathing masks to offset your exposure for outdoor travel. When back at your hotel, a great relief from the hostile air could be a portable vaporizer. A great long-term relief for asthmatics under any circumstances, these inexpensive devices infuse your air with soothing oils, such as eucalyptus or marjoram, and decrease the frequency of asthma attacks.
- Natural air quality. While smoggy skies are clearly bad news for asthmatics, even more natural fluctuations in local air can induce an adjustment reaction to your lungs and trigger an asthma attack. If you’re flying from cool, moist climes to hot, arid ones, for example, be prepared for an initial attack.
Cover your doctor needs on both ends
Your doctor might not know the specifics of your vacation destination, but he or she is likely to know rules of thumb for traveling asthmatics, how much medication you should take for your intended trip, and other idiosyncrasies specific to your medical history.
On the other side of the equation, find out in advance the names and contact information of the medical facilities nearest to your accommodations—and keep this info on you at all times. It may be a long shot, but ask your personal physician if he or she can guide you to an asthma specialist there as well.
After you’ve taken care of all this, now you finally can enjoy your vacation. Ironically, many people experience high levels of stress from vacation—and as stress is itself a leading cause of asthma attacks, taking a nice deep breath and relaxing is doctor’s orders.