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Travelling with Asthma: Everything you need to know

Medical travel advice series - Asthma


Table of Contents

  1. What to consider before planning a trip
  2. Preparing for your trip
  3. Asthma and Travel Insurance
  4. Flying with Asthma
  5. Travelling with children with asthma

If you or a loved one has Asthma, worrying about how it might affect your travel plans is understandable. However, with careful planning, travelling with asthma doesn’t have to stop you going on that much-needed holiday abroad.

That’s why we’ve compiled a one-stop guide that tells you everything you need to know, including declaring your medication at customs, how flying affects your condition and travelling with asthmatic children.

What to consider before planning a trip

Everybody loves browsing holiday websites, picturing themselves on a sun-kissed beach for a week or two. But when you have asthma, there are lots of things to consider including:

  • Weather
    Is yours triggered by dry or cold air and are you prepared for sudden changes in temperature?
  • Pollen
    If you suffer from hay fever, have you booked to stay in a high-pollen area? The EAACI website (European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) has an interactive world map, which means you can check pollen counts before and during your trip.
  • Physical activity
    You may have booked a relaxing, peaceful holiday, but is your hotel up a steep road? If so, could this leave your breathless, triggering your symptoms?
  • Altitude
    Countries at high altitude make breathing much harder, especially during physical exercise. Countries like:
    • Peru
    • Mexico
    • China
    • Columbia
    And be especially careful if you’re staying in mountainous regions such as the Alps. Have you checked the altitude of your destination?
  • Accommodation
    Some hot countries can be quite dusty, it may be advisable to contact local tourist information to find out how clean the air is.
  • Air travel
    Although we’ll delve into this below, have you found your asthma affected by changes in cabin pressure in the past?

Wherever you’re going, however you’re getting there and no matter what you’re planning to do, nothing should stop your holiday from being as fun, action-packed or relaxing as anyone else’s.

Preparing for your trip

Once you’ve chosen your destination, you’ll be excited and raring to go. So, before you leave, follow our guide to make your holiday one you’ll never forget.

Consult your GP or Asthma Nurse before travelling

Before travelling anywhere, visit your GP or Asthma Nurse for an asthma health check, regardless of whether your condition is mild or severe. This is extremely important when flying due to reduced oxygen levels at high altitudes.

They’ll carry out a ‘Fitness to Fly Test’, sometimes known as a ‘Hypoxic Challenge Assessment’, to ensure you’re fit enough to travel and supply you with a certificate if you’re deemed fit to fly.

Some airlines may refuse to allow you on board without this certificate, so if you’re asthmatic, a ‘Fitness to Fly Test’ certificate is essential.

Request an Asthma Action Plan

Asthma attacks can happen at any time. So, to make sure those around you know what to do in case the worst happens, request an ‘Asthma Action Plan’ during your fitness test. Or, you can download your own from Asthma.org.

Having an up-to-date plan of action will help with any sudden flare-ups in your condition.

Vaccinations

People living with Asthma are at high-risk for many vaccine-preventable diseases. In advance of your trip, visit your GP to discuss any vaccinations you may need - especially if you’re taking high-dose steroid medication.

Lastly, if you’re travelling alone instead of going away with your partner or family, always inform somebody where you’re going and where you’re staying. Severe attacks can surface at any time, and you may need help on the return journey.

Asthma and Travel Insurance

There are over 5 million people in the UK with asthma, so it may come as a surprise to learn most standard travel insurance policies exclude the condition.

However, the good news is that it doesn’t mean you’re unable to travel. You just need to make sure that any insurance policy you do take out covers pre-existing medical conditions.

How to make sure you qualify for Travel Insurance

We take the stress out of searching for suitable asthma travel insurance by offering a free asthma screening questionnaire.

Enter your details, answer the questions relevant to your condition and we’ll do the rest by assessing your current health condition. Your answers allow us to list suitable insurance options that cover asthma, which means we’ll do the searching for you. And if your asthma is mild, or well controlled, you’re unlikely to be charged extra.

Protect yourself from hefty medical bills with an EHIC card

If you live in the UK, and you’re travelling in Europe, make sure you own a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC card).

The EHIC card protects you from expensive medical bills and may allow you to receive free or reduced-cost health care.

You can find out more about the card, including how to apply, renew or replace, on our dedicated EHIC card page.

It’s also where you’ll find a comprehensive list of countries it’s accepted in, and the circumstances it covers.

Flying with Asthma

Does flying affect asthma?

Flying with asthma is usually safe for those with a mild form of the condition. However, for those with a more severe case, the change in air pressure can make it an uncomfortable journey.

Then there’s the worry about taking your medications with you.

  • Where do you store them?
  • Can you take them on board?

Always check the terms and conditions of the airline you’re travelling with regarding medication and medical equipment .

Carrying asthma medication

As an asthmatic, you’ll know the importance of taking an inhaler with you wherever you go. When you’re on holiday, it’s even more important.

So, be sure to:

  1. Take an extra supply of medication for your trip
    Usually enough for your holiday plus an extra week. And never put them in your checked-in luggage, if your case is lost or stolen, you’ll lose all your medication. Always store it in your carry-on.
  2. Carry a spare reliever inhaler in your carry-on
    Take a spare, you may run out or lose one, so having a spare handy provides extra peace of mind.
  3. Keep medicines in their original packaging
    Take all the paperwork for your medicine with you, including pharmacy details, your name and address. These can also be included on a medical card which should state your:
    • GP’s contact information
    • Relevant health insurance information
    • Full travel insurance information
    • A complete list of medications, and
    • Information on allergies and illnesses

And due to heightened security at airports these days, your inhalers canister may be checked thoroughly, so it’s advisable to carry your medicine on board in a clear, sealable bag when you pass through security.

Carrying a Nebuliser

Unlike medications, before taking a nebuliser on board, you’ll need to speak to the airline to confirm whether it’s possible to use one on board or not.

Airlines may request information from the manufacturer to make sure it’s suitable for in-flight use, though a battery-powered nebuliser is more likely to be allowed.

Many people with asthma usually find a reliever inhaler with a spacer is just as effective for treating an attack.

However, if you need to take a nebuliser, make sure to follow the process above.

Carrying a Peak flow meter

Peak flow meters are perfect for keeping an eye on asthma symptoms. As with a nebuliser, you may need to speak to the airline in advance of travelling.

More than likely you’ll be allowed it on board, so make sure to put it in your carry-on luggage – but make sure this has been approved first.

Travelling with children with asthma

Worrying about your child’s health can take the enjoyment out of a fun family holiday. We advise you carry all the medication and equipment they need.

By keeping their medicine in your carry-on, with their full information, you’ll enjoy peace of mind. And should they need it, you’ll have everything to hand.

However, it’s not just medicines and flights that should be taken into consideration.

If you’re:

  1. Travelling by car
    And pollen affects your child's asthma, travel with the windows shut and the air conditioner on. And to be safe, before you set off, run the air conditioner for 10-15 minutes with the windows open. This will clear any dust from the car.
  2. Staying at a hotel
    Many hotels cater to people with respiratory problems, but many don’t, and their linen especially, may be unsuitable.

Before travelling, contact the accommodation first and request hypoallergenic bed linen, or consider taking your child’s pillow with you. It’ll already be asthma ready and the little ones love sleeping on their own pillow on holiday!

By following these simple steps, you and those you hold most precious will enjoy yourselves without worrying about the worst-case scenario.

Enjoy your holiday

Travelling with asthma should never stop you from enjoying a break away. However, if your asthma or that of your child is severe it’s vital to check with your GP or Asthma Nurse before travelling.

So, the next time you’re booking a trip, remember to follow our step-by-step guide. Oh, and have a wonderful holiday!

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