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Traveling and Asthma

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The fun of traveling is being in a completely different place. But if you have asthma, a new environment can seem less fun because there's always the worry that something unexpected may cause an asthma flare-up. But you can take steps to help avoid problems while you're away from home — so you can concentrate on the fun.

Before You Go

Before you leave, make sure your asthma is well controlled. If it has been flaring up, check with your doctor before you head off on your trip. He or she may need to adjust your medicine or ask you to come in for a visit.

When packing, remember all medicine you're taking for your asthma, including rescue and controller medicines. Keep your medications in your carry-on bags so they're always with you. It's also a good idea to pack a little extra medication, so you don't run out while you're on the road.

If you'll be leaving the country, it can help to have a letter from your doctor that describes your asthma and your medicines. This can help you with airport security or customs. You also might want to know the generic names of your medicines. These are the chemical names of the medicine, not the brand name the drug company has given it. If you need to get a refill in another country, the medication might have a different brand name. You can get the generic names from your doctor's office or pharmacist.

Other things to pack include your peak flow meter (if you use one), a copy of your asthma action plan, your health insurance card, and your doctor's phone number.

Windows up or Down?

Trains, buses, and even your family car might have dust mites and mold trapped in the upholstery or the ventilation system. You can't do much about a bus or train (except make sure you've taken your controller medication and have your rescue medication handy).

But if you're traveling by car, ask the driver to run the air conditioner or heater with the windows open for at least 10 minutes. If pollen or air pollution trigger your asthma and counts are high during your trip, travel with the windows closed and the air conditioner on.

Finding the Friendly Skies

Although smoking on airplanes used to be common, it is now banned on all commercial flights of U.S. airlines. It is also banned on foreign airline flights into and out of the United States.

But smoking is still permitted by law on charter flights. If you find yourself on a charter flight, ask about their smoking policy and ask to be seated in the non-smoking section.

The air on planes is also very dry, and this can trigger an asthma flare-up. Make sure you have your rescue medications handy and try to drink a lot of water.

Home Away From Home

If you're staying in a hotel, you may find that something in the room triggers your asthma. Requesting a sunny, dry room away from the hotel's pool might help. If animal allergens trigger your asthma, ask for a room that has never had pets in it. And you should always stay in a nonsmoking room. If it's possible, bringing your own blanket and pillow can help prevent a flare-up.

If you're staying with family or friends, tell them in advance about your triggers. They won't be able to clear away all dust mites or mold, but they can dust and vacuum carefully, especially in the room you'll sleep in. You also can ask them to avoid using scented candles, potpourri, or aerosol products, if those bother you.

Just like at home, you'll want to avoid tobacco smoke. Ask anyone who smokes to step outside, especially if you're sharing a room. Wood fires in the fireplace or woodstove also could be a problem for you.

Traveling on Your Own

If possible, carry a copy of your asthma action plan so people who are traveling with you (or the people you're staying with) can help if you have any breathing trouble. If you don't have a copy of your plan, let these people know which medicines you take, what the dosages are, and the number where your parents and your doctor can be reached, in case of an emergency.

Without your parents along, you will have more responsibility for your asthma. Keep your triggers in mind and take steps to avoid them. If pollen bothers you, find out what the readings are on a day when you'll be going for a hike or taking part in other outdoor activities. If air pollution bothers you, make sure you keep that in mind when you're visiting a smoggy city. Cities like Los Angeles make information on air pollution levels available through their weather services.

If you're planning to take part in any new activities while you're away, talk to your doctor about them before you leave. And whatever you do, make sure your rescue medication is nearby in case you need it.

Of course, you'll want to forget about your asthma and have fun while you're away. And the best way to do this is by planning ahead and having your medication with you — so you don't have to worry if you do have a flare-up. If you ignore your asthma completely by not taking precautions, there's a chance you could end up in the emergency department. And that's no way to spend a vacation.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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