COPD and Travel: Let’s Go!

  • If you have COPD, travel may seem to be a thing of the past. But it doesn't have to be that way. While a last minute trip may not be possible, a well-planned one is doable. Whether you plan on taking a car trip with a destination close to home, a flight, or a cruise on the other side of the world, you can make it happen – if you give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead.

    If you follow these suggestions, you’ll be well on your way to having a healthy and easy-breathing getaway. This is by no means a complete list of travel tips for COPD, but just a start. As you plan your getaway check with people at your breathing support group (local or online); ask your home care or oxygen provider; and learn from friends at pulmonary rehab.

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    Talk With Your Doctor
    The first thing you have to do is to be sure you’re healthy enough to travel away from home.

    Follow the plan you’ve already made with your doctor about what to do in case of emergency.

    If you’re going away for an extended period of time, say, a month or more, you may need a referral to a pulmonary doctor at your destination. Folks who participate in pulmonary rehab near their seasonal homes are often required by those programs to have a local doctor.

    Know the location of the nearest hospital emergency department. This is just a precaution, and probably won't be needed at all.

    If you’ll be visiting a region with a significantly different altitude and / or climate than you’re used to, ask your doctor how it might affect your breathing. Then take the steps necessary to make sure you’ll still be able to breathe well.

    Obtain whatever prescriptions you need for the entire time you’ll be gone – with a couple days extra in case of a travel delay. This should include one for an antibiotic and another for oral prednisone in case of an exacerbation.
    If you must fill prescriptions while you travel, working with a nation-wide pharmacy will make this easy.

    Carry with you copies of your prescriptions as well as a complete list of all the medicines you’re on: Name of medicine, dose, and how often you’re supposed to take it.

    Even if you don’t routinely use a rescue inhaler make sure you have one (with holding chamber) handy. Make sure it works properly and has enough puffs for eight per day for as many days as you’ll be gone.

    Keep your medications as well as the paperwork with you, within reach, at all times – in a purse, a backpack or tote. Never put them in your checked baggage!

    Health Insurance
    If you have health insurance other than Medicare, check for coverage in that area.

    As you go…

    Keep hand sanitizer at hand.
    Drink plenty of water.
    Stretch your arms and legs at least every hour or two. This will help you avoid painful cramps – and life-threatening blood clots! If you’re traveling by car, get out and walk around. If you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus, get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisle; or at the very least, march in place, lift your legs, or pump your feet on the floor – alternating toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel.

  • Make sure you have access to handicap (or very close) parking at your destination.
    Make sure your hotel room is accessible without stairs.
    Always specify non-smoking accommodations.

    Don’t Give Up on Getting Away!

    So many little details… Is it worth the trouble? Many folks with COPD will tell you that the trip – and the memories – are well worth it!
    Allow yourself time to plan ahead, follow these suggestions, learn from others who travel with COPD, and ahhhhh… relax and enjoy your vacation! Don’t let COPD cut you off from things that bring you joy. A trip might be just the thing to brighten your life. Happy travels!

    How about traveling with supplemental oxygen (we say supplemental because we all need oxygen)? And how about special cruises for people with COPD? Well, I’m happy to tell you it is possible, and we’ll talk about that in a coming sharepost.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.

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Published On: July 06, 2010