Traveling with Asthma and Allergies
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 25 million Americans have asthma and more than 50 million have allergies. Allergies and asthma are unique in that people with these diseases are dependent on the quality of the environment around them.
Before you travel, there are steps you can take to prepare for a safer, healthier trip.
Plan Before Your Trip
Prepare for your medical needs:
- Refill your prescription medications and pick up over-the-counter medicines.
- Create a list of your current medical conditions, medications, prescribing physician and dosage.
- If you have asthma or severe allergies, consider ordering and wearing a medical identification bracelet.
- Check with your allergist or doctor to discuss travel-related risks. Update your Asthma Action Plan or Allergy Action Plan.
- Get your immunizations, especially a flu shot.
- Check your health insurance policy. Know in advance if your plan will cover doctor or emergency visits in other states or countries.
- If you have food allergies, be sure to have an allergy alert chef’s card to help you alert restaurant staff about your allergies.
- Check the weather and pollen forecast for your destination. Use services like Accuweather and Pollen.com.
Traveling by air with pet or food allergy:
Call the airlines and explain your medical condition to their customer service representative. Find out the airline’s policies on accommodations.
- Pet allergy: Find out if the airline allows pets to travel in the passenger cabin. Ask if another passenger on the same flight has made reservations with a pet and if you can be seated away from the animal. Take note that federal law must allow service animals in passenger cabins. Additionally, all flights will have pet dander, even without pets in the plane. This is because pet dander gets on people’s clothes.
- Nut or other food allergy: Find out if the airline has a policy for food allergies. Ask if you can pre-board to wipe down your seat and tray table. Ask if the airline can create a buffer zone around your row. Ask if you can order a safe meal for your food allergy.
Traveling by car with pollen or mold allergy:
- Service your vehicle to replace air filters and clean the ventilating and air conditioning system.
Traveling by train with pet or food allergy:
- Find out if the train allows pets (in addition to service animals). Ask to be seated away from animals. If meals are served onboard, ask if they can accommodate food allergies. If not, make sure you can bring your own food.
- Request a hotel room that is non-smoking, mold-free and pet-free.
- Ask your hotel if they provide allergy-friendly rooms.
Packing for Your Trip
- Pack your medications with their original labels on. If possible, bring back-up medicines. Always keep your medications with you – so pack them into a carry-on bag or backpack that stays with you at all times (e.g., under the airplane seat). Medically necessary liquids and medications in excess of TSA limits are allowed in your carry-on bag, but they still must be screened.
- If you or someone in your family has food or insect sting allergy, be sure to bring your self-injectable epinephrine. These are allowed on airplanes.
- Pack your health insurance card and list of medical conditions and medicines.
- If you have a food allergy, pack safe foods to eat and your allergy alert chef’s card. Inform the TSA agent at the beginning of the screening process. If you are traveling with children, formula, breast milk and juice in excess of the TSA limit are allowed.
- To protect against dust mites, pack your own allergy-proof pillow or mattress casings.
- Pack your asthma equipment: spacers, nebulizers and peak flow meters. If you use a nebulizer, it should not be left at home. For campers and others who vacation “in the rough”, consider portable nebulizers. Some are battery powered; others can be plugged directly into 12 volt receptacles in your vehicle or through a power inverter. If traveling abroad, be sure you have an electrical current converter. Tell the TSA about your nebulizer or other equipment so they can screen it.
- Pack wipes (to clean surfaces such as your food table/tray).
- Consider packing a mask to wear during flu outbreaks or in case you are seated near animals, allergens or other irritants. It may help reduce your exposure to contagious illnesses or irritants that can trigger your asthma or allergies.
During Your Trip
- Always carry your emergency medicines with you everywhere you go.
- Know the nearest locations to seek medical treatment.
- Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
- During hot weather, people with asthma and allergies should stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
- Reduce your risk of respiratory infections by frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers. Also, consider wearing a mask in public areas during flu season.
- Travel by car: during high pollen or pollution times, travel with your windows rolled up and the air conditioning turned on. Be aware that some allergy medications cause drowsiness.
- Travel by plane: ask if you can pre-board. Tell the flight attendants about your medical condition. Wipe down your armrests and tray tables. Avoid using airline pillows or blankets. If you have a food allergy, consider only eating food that you packed with you.
Unexpected detours during travel can be fun, but only for the right reasons, and not when they are health related! Take these precautions before and during your trip so you can enjoy the getaway. Whether for vacation or business, travel is possible for people with allergies and asthma.
Additional Information and Resources:
Medical Review: September 2015