Traveling With COPD: Tips on How to Travel Safely

Whether you are traveling to your local market or clear across the other side of the world, having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) means you need to take some additional steps to travel safely. While taking these steps can be challenging to cope with at first, having COPD, by no means, should stop you from traveling safely and with peace of mind. Once you get into a routine with the supplies and equipment, you will need to take while traveling, doing so will become second nature.

In this blog post, we will be giving you some essential tips about supplies and preparatory steps for local or long-distance travel. To make this process easier to understand, we have broken up this discussion into 3 easy categories: supplies, general travel, and long-distance travel.

Helpful Tips for Traveling With COPD

Supplies You Will Need for Traveling

One of the best ways to make traveling easy is to prepare a checklist of supplies you will need to take with you. Doing so will avoid the struggle of remembering if you have everything you need whenever you are preparing to leave. The following list can act as your checklist, but feel free to add any other supplies that are more pertinent to your situation.

If you are only going to your local market or somewhere local, you might not need everything on this supply list. However, this is a great starting point for any travel:

  1. Oxygen Tank or Concentrator
    If you are using supplemental oxygen, this is a must. If you only use oxygen tanks intermittently, it is a good idea to check that your tank has enough pressure and that it is delivering flow the way it should be before leaving.
  2. Medications
    If you are going to be out for an extended period, make sure to carry a pill box for your medications and bring along any inhalers that you might need. It is also important to carry your rescue inhaler in case you start feeling short of breath and need to use it. It is best to carry your medications in a separate bag or a ziplock bag so you can easily find them when you need them.
  3. Nebulizer
    If you have a portable nebulizer and you are going to be out for a long time, it is prudent to bring it along. While you might have your rescue inhaler for emergencies, having a portable nebulizer is also important for long trips because you can get a better delivery of medication with a nebulizer and avoid any issues with technique compared to your inhaler.
  4. Nasal Cannula
    In a rush, it can be easy to forget your nasal cannula. However, without it, you will not be able to get the oxygen from your tank or your concentrator. An easy way to remember to bring your nasal cannula is always to hang it on your oxygen tank or find a place to put it in your portable oxygen concentrator bag.
  5. Batteries
    If you are using a portable oxygen concentrator, having a few extra batteries is always a good idea. If you get stuck en route without a power supply, those batteries will keep you going until you can find a source of power.
  6. Backup Supplies
    Things often get lost or break at the worst possible times. That is why we recommend taking backup supplies to avoid being stuck with faulty equipment. This might include extra tank regulators, oxygen tank keys, extra tubing and cannulas, connectors, and batteries.

General Travel Tips for People With COPD

The following tips are important to keep in mind no matter where you go:

  1. Be Mindful of the Weather
    Changes in weather can cause COPD to get worse. If your destination is going to be cold, make sure to take warm clothing to stay warm. It is also a good idea to take a scarf so you can cover your nose and mouth to keep the air you breathe warm. If it is hot outside, be sure to wear light clothing to stay cool and bring along extra water to stay hydrated.
  2. Learn the Air Quality
    Take a moment to learn the air quality of your destination. If you are visiting an area where the air quality is bad, you might consider planning your trip in a way that favors indoor activities. However, if you do need to be outside, take a few surgical face masks to protect your lungs from air pollutants.
  3. Bring Hand Sanitizer
    Keeping your hands clean is the best way to prevent infection. Whether you are putting gas in your car or just making your way around an airport terminal, germs can be found on surfaces everywhere. Having a portable bottle of hand sanitizer and using frequently is a great way to avoid getting sick while traveling.
  4. Stay Up to Date With Vaccinations
    If you are traveling overseas to a location with a lot of known communicable diseases, make sure to let your doctor know so he or she can get your vaccines or flu shots up to date before your trip.

    The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a great website to help you prepare for traveling and medical needs. Here is a link to their site: https://www.cdc.gov/travel

  5. Request Smoke-Free Environments
    When booking your hotel, make sure to request a non-smoking room to avoid breathing in smoke particulates during your stay.
  6. Travel With Someone
    While this might not always be possible, consider taking your long-distance trips with someone. In case of an emergency, having someone with you can make it easier to get the help you need. If this is not feasible, have at least one or two people who you can provide the details regarding your trip as points of contact. If there is any problem or emergency, these people should have copies of your medical information as well as your travel information so that they can help you if needed.

Tips for Long-Term Travel with COPD

Tips for Long-Term Travel with COPD

If you are going on a longer trip, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  1. Call Travel Providers Ahead of Time
    It is prudent to call your airline, hotel, or cruise line to request information about accommodations or requirements for your medical equipment ahead of time. The last thing you want is to discover some critical requirement you might have missed regarding your medical equipment while at the airport or during check-in. Many airlines have a list of pre-approved oxygen concentrators online to help make meeting their requirements easier.
  2. Make Sure You Have Enough Oxygen and Power for Long-Distance Travel
    Whether you are taking a road trip or a long flight, you will need enough oxygen to cover the long distance. This might include gathering extra oxygen tanks or making sure you have enough battery power for your oxygen concentrator to cover the distance. If you have a pulse-dose system for your tank or concentrator and you don’t need continuous oxygen, make sure to use pulse-dose to preserve your oxygen supply even further. Finally, if you do not have enough battery power for a long flight, ask the airline if they can supply power for your concentrator during the flight.
  3. Consider the Altitude
    If your destination is at a high altitude, you might need to take the first day or two to get acclimated to the altitude before doing anything physically demanding. The altitude can affect how much oxygen is in your body, so take it easy in the beginning until your body adjusts.
  4. Carry Medical Documentation
    Your travel provider might require a note from your doctor that clears you for travel. Make sure to have that note ready if necessary. Also, have copies of your medication prescriptions in case you need to refill your prescriptions at your destination. Finally, be sure to ask your insurance provider if you have coverage at your destination.
  5. Arrive Early
    Delays are usually inevitable while traveling, especially for things like checking medical equipment. Be sure to arrive early to your flight or cruise line to make sure you have enough time to clear your equipment and medical needs. It is also important to keep the medical items that you frequently need with you instead of checking in luggage. Things like prescriptions, the concentrator charger should be kept with you in case of travel delays or lost luggage.
  6. Availability of Medical Care
    By being prepared, you can hopefully avoid any emergencies. However, emergencies happen, and it is best to prepare for them as well. Check for any available hospitals or clinics at your destination in case you need to use their services.

Final Thoughts

Traveling with COPD is not only possible, but it can be stress-free and enjoyable with a little bit of preparation. You can, and should, always feel confident about having a safe and fun trip with COPD.

About Ryan Anthony: Ryan Anthony, BS, RRT is a registered respiratory therapist and content writer and medical blogger currently located in Los Angeles, California. As a Respiratory Therapist, he performs a wide range of hospital duties including adult and neonatal intensive care, nitric oxide therapy, high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, conventional mechanical ventilation, noninvasive ventilation, BiPAP, CPAP, intubation assistance, bronchoscopy assistance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chest physiotherapy, and nebulizer therapy.

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