Asthma on the road and in the sky: 10 tips to a less-stress trip
At the time I’m writing this, I’m less than 48 hours from boarding my 5th flight of 2016 (on May 9th, I’ll have somehow racked up a total of 10 flights—which is really 8 plus two connections—for the year already). This not only beats any personal record ever, the icing on the cake is I’ve been lucky enough to not pay a dime for any of these flights! While flying, or any sort of travel, with asthma has for the most part been something I’ve done from the get go, I have—of course—learned a few things along the way…
- Use a packing list. Yesterday, on OneBag.com, I read that as humans, we often feel that having a packing list is beneath us. I absolutely used to believe this, but let’s be honest: travel is way better when you know for certain that you’ve packed the thing you are wondering about. I’ve in the past forgotten the following things:
- the power cord to my portable nebulizer compressor (it miraculously made it almost through the trip—it died in a bathroom at Vancouver Airport)
- the tubing for my nebulizer (thankfully, I was travelling with a group of asthmatics, including my friends Dia and Stephen, who were both quick to text back “You can borrow mine if you need it!”)
- deodorant (the mall across the street only had unscented deodorant in a roll-on that was $28?!)
- a hairbrush (Goalball nationals last year. Fortunately, I wear a hat often, and finger-combing works, and I was travelling with a bunch of guys who are totally blind who kept telling me my hair looked fine.)
- Toothpaste (borrowed from a coworker. Also we had the exact same toothbrush—what are the odds?)
I also once lost a Ventolin inhaler before even leaving the airport—this is why I pack extra meds.
Oh, and pack more socks than you need. That has nothing to do with asthma, but just do it. Especially if you’re going to camp, because camp eats socks you haven’t even worn (…that may have been a cabin challenge when I was 14, but, lesson learned!)
For packing apps, I recommend TripList, but PackPoint is a good second. I actually upgraded to TripList Pro + the Packing Wizard this morning, so I’m in for the long haul!
- Bring extra meds. See above—losing Ventolin in the airport. Or, realizing once you get to your hotel room that your Qvar inhaler is just about dead…. Yes, it breaks off from the pack light philosophy, but I’d rather take a few things I hopefully don’t need, then have to deal with worse symptoms or having to try to fill a prescription in a different province, or country. Dealing with pharmacies and health plans isn’t my idea of a fun travel time, so I plan ahead to avoid it. I usually pack one set of meds in my carry-on bag, and another in my checked luggage. (Which I don’t bother locking, for the record. If they want in they’re going to get in anyways, might as well leave my stuff in tact.)
- Be prepared for anything. I haven’t needed prednisone, an oral steroid taken for more stubborn or severe asthma exacerbations, since 2012. Regardless, guess where I needed it? In Palo Alto, California. While your doctor may vary, I get a fresh supply of pred each year (or so) to keep with me while traveling. Best case scenario? I don’t need it and I keep it on hand, and eventually return it to the pharmacy with a bunch of empty inhalers. (I used to recycle those, but usually I’m lazy and shove them in a drawer and then end up with 50 of them…)
Same goes for traveling with my nebulizer. I have a little portable one, I move it from place to place, and rarely do I need to unzip the bag. But, see Palo Alto, CA 2012 (and East Bay/Palo Alto, CA, 2014) and Denver 2015)—better pack it and not need it than need it and not pack it!
Also remember that the area you are visiting may have different allergens from where you live—since most allergy tests only will screen for local allergens, something may catch you off guard, so carry anti-histamines if you feel you need to! Smoking laws, or smoke from fires, may vary from destination to destination, as well—consider this in your planing.
- Have travel insurance and know your policy. I’m Canadian, so this may be a bit more obvious for Americans, but ensure you have travel insurance that covers you before you hit the road. Ensure also any pre-existing conditions, like asthma, are covered under your travel insurance policy. There are lots of different options out there, so do your research. (I’ve heard there are legitimately insurance vending machines at the Canada/US border, though that doesn’t really translate well to having done research into which policy is best for you.) For instance, my travel policy is great, but I can only use it to fill new medications prescribed during the trip by a physician, not in the event I forget anything. In January, I flew out with stitches that were due for removal by the last day of my trip—for the off chance I wandered by a walk-in clinic, I checked in to see if I could get them removed… The answer was no. But at least I checked first!
- Soar through airport security with ease. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Canadian Air Travel Security Authority (CATSA) do not require medications be removed from your carry-on bag—this includes liquids, gels, and aerosols (including inhalers). They are exempt from the 3-1-1 carry on allowance (that is, containers 3[.4] ounces or less, in a 1-quart sized bag, 1 per traveler1).
With that said, I still keep all my inhalers in a Ziploc bag (except that time they all fell out… :).) and near the top of my carry-on bag. Often, I do pull out this bag with my non-medical liquids and gels, and throw it in the tray just to keep things quick, but it’s not a requirement. However, I’m all for making my experience as streamlined as possible, even if that means a bit more work on my part.
- Beware of plane air. Airports and airplanes can be germy places, so be diligent about washing your hands regularly. I often throw some antibacterial wipes in my bag for convenience. I don’t go all out and wipe down my seat or anything, but best to be ready… especially in the event you find yourself next to a child or visibly-contagious looking person. Plane air is filtered and recirculated through the cabin—this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s clean when it reaches your seat, though.
As the air in airplanes also is very dry, you may find this makes your lungs more sensitive (I’ve rarely noticed an issue, personally). Keep your inhaler at hand, and sip on non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic fluids throughout the flight, rather than downing them all at once2. Getting a flu shot may also help you avoid catching the flu in flight during influenza season—and is a good idea for people with asthma in general.
- Let your travel companions know about your asthma. In case of an emergency, your travel companions should be aware of your asthma. But, they can also help you out by not using perfumes or scented products if they trigger your asthma—especially if they’re your roommate.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. This ensures your medical needs are known in an emergency.
- Make your accommodation needs known ahead of time. If you have an allergy to animals, it’s a good idea to check with your airline and hotel ahead of time so you know what to expect. If fragrances bother your asthma, you also may consider checking with the hotel about which type of cleaning products are used—I stayed in a Crowne Plaza in Concord, CA in the East Bay area once… and the hotel provided complimentary aromatherapy… and a complimentary asthma flare. Fun, right?
- Just relax. As long as you’ve planned ahead to the best of your ability, you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way. Plan well, and get out there and enjoy yourself!