Tips for Travelers with Thyroid Disease

by Mary Shomon Patient Advocate

Traveling can be exciting and refreshing, but the last thing you need is for a medical snafu to get in the way of enjoying your trip. For thyroid patients who rely on daily medication, traveling can pose challenges to staying on schedule and taking care of your health. Whether you are taking to the roads, the rails, or the skies, here are some important health and thyroid-related tips to help you stay well while traveling.

Health Insurance papers

Check your health coverage

If you are traveling out of the area or abroad, check with your medical insurer or health maintenance organization (HMO) regarding procedures to get care in other areas, as well as your coverage. If your plan doesn’t cover medical care where you are traveling, consider medical travel insurance. If you are going to be in a remote area or an area with limited or sub-standard medical care, you may also want to get medical evacuation insurance.

world map made of medications.

Traveling with Medication

Make a schedule: If your travels will take you across multiple time zones, make a schedule for your thyroid medications, other drugs, and supplements. Your schedule should attempt to follow your normal medication routine as closely as possible.

Bring extra medication: Make sure you have extra medication in case you get stuck due to delays or cancellations. Pack some extra in case your drugs become unusable.

Doctor writing prescription with medication.

Be prepared to get a refill if needed

Bring medication in original prescription bottles: This makes it easier to get a refill if needed.

Bring a copy of your prescription: This also makes it easier to get a refill if needed. A helpful tip: Save photos of your prescriptions and your prescription bottles on your phone, and also send them to yourself by email. That way, you can easily access them anywhere you may be traveling.

TSA check at airport

Protect your medication

Keep your medication with you: If you’re flying, do not check your medication.

Protect your medication from heat: When flying, checked baggage can be exposed to damaging heat. Carry on all medication and remove drugs from gate-checked gags. If you are traveling by car, train, or bus, don’t leave your medication where it could be exposed to excessive heat.

More good advice on managing medications while traveling is available from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

empty prescription bottle

If you don’t have thyroid medication

If you end up without your thyroid medication when traveling, you need to replace it immediately. If you miss a few days of thyroid hormone replacement medication (levothyroxine drugs like Synthroid, or natural desiccated thyroid drugs like Armour), you can safely restart once you have a refill. Missing prescription antithyroid drugs is riskier and can cause a hyperthyroidism flare. Contact your doctor immediately for advice. Do not make up missed doses of thyroid drugs without discussing it with your doctor.

Jet lag concept, different times different cities.

Consider melatonin in advance of long-distance travel

If you are going to be changing time zones, you may want to use melatonin in advance of your trip to help reset your body clock. General recommendations suggest that you take a dose of melatonin for several nights before you travel. The dosage is typically 3 to 5 mg, taken at 11 p.m. destination time. This can help you avoid or minimize jet lag symptoms when you arrive at your destination, by resetting your sleep clock ahead of time.

Plan for temperature changes and swelling

People with thyroid problems tend to feel temperature extremes more acutely. Travel with layers, so that you can add or take off a jacket or sweater.

If you are hypothyroid, you may have a tendency toward swollen feet, especially when flying. Consider traveling in shoes you can easily slip on or off. And wear — or bring — socks so you don’t have to walk on dirty airport security or airplane floors in your bare feet

trail mix a healthy snack

Plan ahead for healthy eating while traveling

Bring snacks: Bring healthy, packable snacks such as nuts, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, and protein bars when you travel.

At your destination: Stock up on healthy snacks at a nearby market. Request a mini-fridge you can stock yourself.

Request a special airline meal when available. Some airlines let you request gluten-free, vegetarian, or calorie-controlled meals. Make sure to place your request at least several days in advance.

Painful sinuses and eyes.

Be careful about flying with a sinus or respiratory infection

As a thyroid patient, you may have more frequent upper respiratory and sinus infections. If you are planning to fly, keep in mind that doctors do not recommend flying with an active sinus or ear infection. Changes in pressure during flight can cause pain, bleeding, damage to your sinuses, or rupture your ear drum. If you absolutely must fly, talk to your doctor about how to minimize the risk. For example, taking a decongestant pre-flight can sometimes help.

water bottle on airplane

Be Aware of Dryness When Traveling

Airports, hotels, and your travel destination can be dry. In particular, air cabin humidity is often less than 20 percent. Dry, low-humidity environments can cause dry eyes, dry nasal passages, dry skin, and dehydration. Bring along lubricating eye drops, saline nasal spray, and moisturizing lotion. If you’re flying, don’t forget they need to be TSA-approved travel sizes. It’s also crucial to stay well-hydrated while traveling. Hydration will also keep a common hypothyroid symptom — constipation — under control while you are traveling. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can trigger or worsen dehydration.

Economy class on airplane

Protect your immune system

Avoid water tanks: Try not to drinking water from tanks on airplanes or trains. This caution includes coffee and tea, unless they guarantee it is prepared from bottled water. Water tanks on airplanes and trains are known to contain high levels of bacteria.

Avoid blankets and pillows: Airline and railroad blankets and pillows are not regularly cleaned.

Disinfect: You should use disinfectant wipes for tray tables and armrests on trains, airplanes, and buses, as they are major sources of bacteria.

people entering airport customs

If you’ve recently had radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment

If you recently had RAI to treat hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer, ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to sit close to others while traveling. You may need a week or more after treatment before you no longer give off potentially dangerous levels of radiation.

If you are crossing international borders or flying, you should also travel with a letter from your doctor indicating that you have had RAI. This is a precaution in case you are still emitting enough radiation to be detected by sensors.

Mary Shomon
Meet Our Writer
Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author who empowers readers with information on thyroid and autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight loss and hormonal health from an integrative perspective. Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered hormonal healthcare. Mary also co-stars in PBS’ Healthy Hormones TV series. Mary also serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board.