While last year I felt like I was constantly on the road, this year has been relatively settled. Fortunately, I’m headed to Washington, DC in about a month, and am excited to get on a plane for the first time in what will by then be 10 months since my last flight! After 30 individual flights last year, I’ve become pretty confident in tackling traveling with asthma, so that my asthma gets in the way as little as possible.
Tips for Travel with Asthma and Allergies
- Confirm You Have Travel Health Insurance: Understand your health insurance policy and if it covers you when you’re traveling. You may need to purchase extra coverage. Understand pre-existing conditions clauses, and how they might affect you when you’re abroad. I’ve always traveled with insurance, and when I had a non-asthma related visit to the Stanford emergency department (for blurred vision which, thankfully, turned out to be nothing!), I was thankful I had it for the $3000 it saved me!
- Get Your Prescriptions Ahead of Time: Pack your prescription medications in your carry on bag. I always get backups of my prescriptions when I’m traveling outside of the country (and sometimes when I’m within it as well). While I pack my back-ups meds separately, inside my checked bag.
Check with your pharmacist about the temperatures your medications need to be stored at (I’ve been told the cold in the cargo hold could impact medications, but I’ve never had an issue). Ensure you have your home pharmacy’s phone number on hand, too, in the event you need a prescription transferred to a nearby pharmacy when you’re traveling—it may speed things up a lot!
- Remember "Emergency" Medications: I always travel with a bottle of prednisone and my portable nebulizer, even though I don’t use them very often. In fact, it’s been 6 years since I last needed prednisone, but since the time I was in California and needed it back in 2012, I don’t leave the city without it!
- Use a Packing List: 99% of the time, I can pack just fine without a packing list. But I use a packing list all the time now (actually an app, called TripList. I use the premium version of TripList, but a great free alternative is one called PackPoint. (There may be newer ones out since I last looked, too. But I love TripList enough that I haven’t looked back after paying to upgrade!)
I have "archived" lists in TripList that I can pull up depending on what I’m doing, and all have custom items (such as my nebulizer and back-up prescriptions) on them. This means I spend more time packing, and less time wondering what ELSE I need to pack!
- Know How to Get Through Security: Aerosol medicines like inhalers (as well as liquids) are exempt from the restrictions on carrying liquids, gels, and aerosols through security. I try to ensure the pharmacy places labels right on my inhalers in case there are any doubts. When going through security, you may be able to keep liquid/gel/aerosol medications in your bag, but I always throw them in a tray with my nebulizer (and my laptop in a separate tray if I’m traveling with it), even if I don’t “need to”—it just simplifies things. Keep medications and anything else you’ll need to remove at security at the top of your bag to speed up the process.
- Make a Plan for Allergens and Triggers When You’re Airborne: I’m fortunate that while I have chemical sensitivities, I don’t have true allergies beyond dust mites. I do on occasion wear a mask while in flight, it just depends on the circumstances. If you have food allergies, it can be a good idea to wipe down surfaces before you settle into your seat.
Notify your airline of severe allergies you may have to foods or pets, and check out their policies on the airline website. Some airlines do not allow pets to fly in the cabin, but service dogs always have the right to fly with the person they work with. Discuss seating arrangements with the airline for in the event this happens, and come prepared with allergy and asthma medicines. Contact your airline about your asthma or allergies as far in advance as possible, so they can make accommodations needed to keep you safe in flight. I always make sure to have my rescue inhaler at my seat with me, not in the overhead bin. The last thing I want to be doing is having to climb past people to get my inhaler!
- Consider Triggers Where You're Staying: Depending on your allergies or asthma triggers, call your hotel ahead and ask about accommodations. I've stayed at some hotels where the fragrance everywhere in the hotel was so strong—others it has just been a signature scent in the lobby. As well, if hotels are using feather pillows, they may have allergy-friendly alternatives—dust tends to collect more in feather pillows than other types.
- Plan for the Activities You'll Be Doing: Are there situations where you will need different medications that you’re taking before you leave? For instance, I often start taking an antihistamine a few days before I leave depending on where I am going, just to preempt dust accumulation in certain hotels. Consider also how you will carry your medication while doing the activities you’ve got planned. If you, like me, usually shove your rescue inhaler in your pocket, that may not work so well on rollercoasters, if you’re wearing a dress for a formal dinner, or if you’re zip lining!
- Check Out Food Menus: If you live with food allergies, it may ease some anxiety to check out safe places to eat before you go, or find out what the menus will be at the event you are attending. If you’re in doubt, add some snacks to your bag that can get you through potentially unsafe meals. You can also locate a local grocery store to pick up a few staples when you arrive to lighten your load.
- Wear a Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace: This will alert others to your asthma or allergies if you are unable to communicate.
And finally… Have fun! Seriously. Asthma and allergies can be stressful, but if you go prepared, you can worry less and have more fun knowing you’re ready in case there are problems—big or small.
Checklist for Travel with Asthma and Allergies
Download our Checklist for Traveling with Asthma and Allergies to ensure a you have everything covered before you go.