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Living with COPD

Travel and COPD

With enough preparation and good medical advice, people with COPD should be able to travel. The key to a safe and enjoyable trip is preparation and planning.

Here's how to plan for a safe trip:
  1. Pick a safe, healthy destination
  2. Consult with your doctor before you leave
  3. Buy health insurance
  4. Prepare and pack medications and medical equipment
  5. Arrange for oxygen supply
  6. Prepare for climate and air quality in your destination
  7. Eat well, sleep well, don't drink too much
1. Pick a safe and healthy destination

Make sure your vacation destination will be in a safe place, close to medical services.

  • Avoid areas where there is inadequate or questionable medical help.
  • Avoid places that can't provide smoke-free accommodations or smoke-free restaurants.
  • Avoid places filled with your COPD triggers (if dog hair is a trigger, don't stay at a B & B with a dog)
  • Avoid places with extreme temperatures (very cold, or very hot and humid)
2. Talk with your doctor before you leave

It's important to discuss your travel plans with your doctor. You should tell the doctor:

  • Where you plan to go
  • How long you plan to be away
  • If you are going by yourself or with someone else
  • How you have been feeling over the past few months

Your doctor will give you advice about your treatment while you're away. She may suggest you change your medication dose or schedule while you're travelling.

Ask your doctor for:

  • a brief medical history. Make back-up copies of this history for your records a home.
  • an updated medication schedule and written prescriptions for all your medications, including a prescription for oxygen, if you use it.
  • her recommendation about doctors in your travel destination. If you're travelling overseas, you can contact the IAMAT (the International Association of Medical Assistance to Travelers). This non-profit world-wide association has English-speaking doctors ready to help international travelers.
  • advice about how to adjust your medications, depending on your destination. It may be that certain factors change how you take your medication:
    • time zones: When traveling east or west across time zones, the time change may affect when you should take your medication(s).
    • sun exposure: your medications be affected by heat and sun, and your body's exposure to the sun may increase your risk of side effects.

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3. Buy health insurance

Medical care can be very expensive, especially outside of Canada. Your provincial medical plan will not likely cover your out-of-province or out-of-country expenses. Get a good travel health insurance policy and make sure it's up to date before your leave.

Remember that some insurance policies require that you pay for medical services and prescriptions in advance, and get reimbursed later. This means you'll need enough money or credit to pay these costs up front. Make sure you have enough money to cover these expenses.

4. Prepare and pack your medication and medical equipment
  • Carefully pack your medications. Make sure you have enough for the trip, plus an extra supply. You need the extra supply in case your stay is longer than planned or you need more medication than usual.
  • Keep your medications with you at all times. Also carry with you a list that has the names of your medications, the dosage, and when you're meant to take them.

  • Keep your medications with your carry-on luggage so they won't be lost or left behind.
  • Store medications out of the sun: even when empty, puffers (inhalers) can explode when heated.
  • If you use a compressor for aerosol delivery of medication, pack a portable compressor that runs on a rechargeable battery or an adapter that can be plugged into a car lighter. You can buy these directly from your oxygen supplier.

  • If possible, pack a diagram that explains how your medical equipment works.
  • If you're traveling abroad, find out what kind of electrical outlets they use. If necessary, buy a wattage converter to be sure your "plug" works in the electrical outlets of your destination.
5. Arrange for your oxygen supply

If you use supplemental oxygen, be sure you have a doctor's prescription on hand. This is especially important if you're travelling to the U.S.A.

Ask your oxygen supplier to help you estimate the amount of oxygen you'll need while you're away. Take into account how things such as heat, humidity and air conditioning affect your breathing and oxygen usage. Ask your oxygen supplier if he knows of oxygen suppliers along your vacation route.

No matter what method of transportation you choose, plan ahead you oxygen supply well in advance.

Traveling by plane with oxygen: read all about how to travel by airplane with oxygen.

Traveling by car with oxygen: Make sure your oxygen equipment is secured in an upright position and there is enough ventilation (fresh air) to prevent the build-up of high oxygen concentration.

Travelling by train with oxygen: Many people with COPD report that train travel is comfortable and quite easy. Call the rail line well ahead of time and make arrangements for your oxygen use aboard.

6. Prepare for the climate and air quality in your destination

Before you leave, look in the paper, on TV, or online (for example, the Weather Channel) to find the local weather and air quality conditions. Anticipate COPD triggers that might be at your new destination: will there be pollen or air pollution? Will it be extremely cold, extremely hot, or humid? Check to see if your destination has any of your COPD triggers. Make sure you have a plan to cope with these triggers.

7. Pace yourself: Eat well, sleep well, don't drink too much

Remember to pace yourself on your trip. Don't do too much, or you may get run down and vulnerable to infections and flare-ups. Get enough sleep, especially if you've crossed time zones and are coping with jet lag. And remember to eat well; too much food may make breathing more difficult. High altitudes may also change how alcohol affects you. In short: take it easy, and your trip will be more enjoyable!

Learn more

Travelling by airplane with medical oxygen - what you need to know

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