Asthma and travel

About 26 million people in the United States live with asthma. Of that group, about 60 percent have a type of asthma called allergic asthma.

If you live with allergic asthma, your symptoms are triggered by common allergens. Everyone has different triggers, but common ones include dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, tobacco smoke, and pollen.

Actively avoiding your triggers can reduce your risk of an asthma attack. But when you’re traveling, it’s hard to know what triggers might pop up during your trip.

Because new environments can be unpredictable, it’s important to be prepared. Enjoy your vacation — while avoiding an allergic asthma attack — by taking these simple steps.

Allergic asthma can usually be managed with daily medications and rescue inhalers. If you’re still having symptoms even though you follow your treatment plan, you may need to reevaluate it with your doctor. The best way to stay healthy on your trip is to be as healthy and well-prepared as possible before you go.

Consider if you’re more likely to encounter certain triggers if you journey to certain places. You may want to choose your destination with your triggers in mind.

If your symptoms are triggered by mold spores, avoid vacationing in damp, rainy regions and stay away from older, potentially musty buildings.

If your symptoms are triggered by air pollution, don’t go to major urban areas where air quality is generally lower. You may also want to avoid regions with high pollen counts in the spring and fall.

Being strategic about your destination can boost your health and happiness during your trip.

Before you leave, schedule a check-up with your doctor. They’ll be able to refill prescriptions and review travel-related risks. They can also give you any immunizations you need, like the flu shot. Your doctor should also provide a letter explaining your condition, and include medications or devices you may need in case of a medical emergency.

If you haven’t yet, work with your doctor to develop an allergic asthma action plan. Here’s an example of an action plan from the American Lung Association. It should include what to do in case of an emergency, a list of your prescription medications, and your doctor’s name and contact information.

If you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus, check out the travel company’s allergy policies. Ask questions like:

  • Are animals permitted onboard? If so, may I be seated several rows away?
  • Are allergy-safe meals provided? If not, may I bring my own food?
  • May I pre-board to wipe down my seating area?
  • Is smoking allowed? Is there a non-smoking section available to book?

Dedicating a few minutes to researching allergy policies can make all the difference when it comes to having a safe, comfortable trip.

It’s vital to keep your allergic asthma medications and devices with you at all times. That means packing your supplies in your carry-on luggage and keeping them on-hand for the entirety of your trip.

Checked luggage can be lost, damaged, or stolen. Depending on your destination, it may be hard to find the right replacement medications.

Be sure to pack any asthma devices that you use, such as a spacer or peak flow meter. If you use an electric nebulizer to manage allergic asthma, find out if you need an adapter for foreign electrical outlets. All of your devices should be packed in your carry-on luggage, too.

When booking your accommodations, be sure to request a non-smoking, pet-free room. This will help you avoid tobacco residue and pet dander. If your hotel can’t guarantee a smoke-free and pet-free room, consider staying elsewhere.

Find the closest hospital to where you’ll be staying. Figure out how you’ll get to the hospital in an emergency. Different countries use different numbers to call for an ambulance. Here are some examples of national emergency numbers:

  • in the United States and Canada, call 911
  • in the European Union, call 112
  • in the United Kingdom, call 999 or 112
  • in Australia, call 000
  • in New Zealand, call 111

Not all countries have well-developed emergency response systems. Find out the best way for you to get help quickly if you need it.

Learning how to care for yourself during an asthma attack could save your life. Remember these basic steps if you’re having an asthma attack:

  • Use your rescue medication right away.
  • If your medication doesn’t seem to be working, seek emergency medical help.
  • Let someone know what’s happening and ask them to stay with you.
  • Stay in an upright position. Don’t lie down.
  • Try to stay calm, since panicking may worsen symptoms.
  • Try to take slow, steady breaths.

If symptoms persist or worsen, continue to take your rescue medication following your doctor’s directions for use in an emergency, while you wait for medical help.

Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical help for asthma symptoms. Asthma attacks can worsen suddenly and unexpectedly.

If you’re staying in a hotel, consider bringing dust mite-proof pillow and bedding encasements. These encasements can reduce your risk of exposure to allergens.

Encasements are affordable online or from your local big box store. They pack flat, so they won’t take up too much space in your luggage.

If you have a food allergy, ensure airline snacks, restaurant meals, or meals prepared by family or friends are safe for you. If you’re unsure, ask about the ingredients used and how the food was prepared.

Online restaurant review sites can make it easy to look at menus ahead of time. Consider calling restaurants to make sure they can prepare allergy-safe food for you.

Many airlines, trains, and cruise ships can accommodate special diets. Let the travel company know about your allergies in advance.

Many people with allergic asthma are triggered by low air quality and air pollution. Take this into account in your planning.

When you arrive at your destination, check the air quality in the morning. This can help you be prepared for your day if the air quality isn’t ideal. Many weather apps and websites include daily air quality reports.

Allergic asthma doesn’t have to interfere with your everyday life — or a much-needed vacation. Take the time to check in with your doctor before you go. With good preparation and an allergist-approved packing list, you can have a healthy and relaxing vacation trip.