Seeing the World and RA: Traveling with Medication
And here you are. The meds are working and working so well that you want to spread your wings and see the rest of the world. What do you need to know in terms of traveling with Biologics?
Before You Leave
Talk to your doctor about how to adjust medication schedules if you travel across several time zones and make sure you get the proper vaccinations. Be aware that you cannot have certain vaccinations - e.g., yellow fever and polio - when you're on an immunosuppressant. Plan to take more medication than you need in case of delays and find out if you can get early refills or if it's possible to refill your prescription at your destination. Consider asking your doctor for a sort of "emergency travel kit" of medications, including antibiotics and a prednisone dose pack in case of infection or an unexpected flare. If your medication makes you sensitive to the sun, stock up on a sunblock with a high SPF rating - talk to your pharmacist about the best choices for you.
Keep Them Close
Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage -- if your suitcase gets diverted or lost, your medication will be safe in your hands. Pack your meds and supplies in a separate bag (e.g. Ziploc bag) to make it easier for Security Officers to inspect them. Medication and related supplies are usually x-rayed, but the Transportation Security Administration allows you to request a visual inspection of these items as long as you arrange it with the Security Officer before the screening process starts.
Carry Supporting Documents
Keep prescription medication in the original container and make sure the name on the medication label matches the name on your boarding pass. Ask your doctor for a letter explaining the medications prescribed. If your medication requires syringes, the letter should include an explanation that these are required for medical reasons. It's also a good idea to carry letters (on letterhead) with the name, location and contact information of both your doctor and your pharmacist should there be questions at checkpoints.
Always keep all your medication in a cool, dry and dark place (i.e., not in the trunk of your car or near the bathroom). If you're traveling with Biologics like Enbrel or Humira that need to be refrigerated within a certain range of temperature, place it in a small travel cooler for shorter trips (you may have received one when you started your medication). For longer trips, wrap the medication in bubblewrap and place it in the travel cooler with ice and a thermometer. Check at frequent intervals that the temperature is within the correct range, adding more ice if necessary. If your room does not have a fridge, ask the hotel if it's possible to get a small fridge for the room. Call the support programs for the medication you're on for more information.
Managing Infection Risk
If you're concerned about infection risk in the confined space of an airplane, speak to your doctor about what precautions you can take. These may include carrying a hand sanitizer and a mask. If your seatmate looks at you funny, explain that you're on a medication that lowers your immune system and that you're wearing the mask to protect yourself from the germs floating about the cabin.
If you're away for an extended period of time, whether for business or pleasure, speak to your doctor about ensuring continuity of care. Consider contacting the consulate for the country to which you're traveling and speak to them regarding finding a doctor who can provide you with the prescriptions you need. If you're going to a developing nation, these conversations are probably even more important, as you need to make sure that you will continue to be able to get the meds you need.
Traveling with medication requires some extra precautions to make sure that you're safe and will be able to keep your medication with you, but it's worth the effort. It means you can relax and enjoy the trip without worries.
Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View.