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Asthma and Travel

If you have asthma, travel shouldn’t generally limit you as long as you are prepared. Travel can expose you to your known asthma triggers, but also to new asthma triggers. Try to find out about possible asthma triggers you may be exposed to at your destination, in any accommodations, and also during transportation.

You should not travel if your asthma is out of control. You should only travel if you are free of acute and chronic asthma symptoms. If in doubt, ask your family doctor. Also, make sure you have a written asthma action plan from your doctor. This plan will guide you in better managing your asthma and quickly adjusting your medication if you start having any asthma symptoms.

Potential asthma issues that could arise during travel

 

Transportation issues
  • If travelling outside North America, your flight may not be smoke-free, and smoke is well known to trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Although the effects of perfumes on asthma vary from person to person, it is difficult to avoid all scented products on an airplane or other enclosed space.
  • Some airlines still serve peanuts which can be a dangerous allergen and asthma trigger for some people.
Destination issues
  • Some countries have less strict air pollution measures such as for vehicles, so there may be higher levels of pollutants. If available, check the air pollution levels at your destination:
  • Developing countries and rural areas may have less pavement and more dirt roads, which can be dusty.
  • Coal is used for home heating in many countries, producing a lot of outdoor air pollution.
  • If you will be outdoors a lot on your vacation (e.g., camping, hiking), you can be exposed to more pollens and moulds than usual. In general, people spend more time outdoors while on vacation.
  • Some destinations will have more or different pollens or moulds. Try to find pollen and mould forecasts for your destination:
Smoking

Smoking is more common in some countries and is still allowed in public places including airports, restaurants, etc.  The World Health Organization publishes a list of worldwide smoking rates. The countries with the highest smoking rates are in Europe.

Climates and Altitudes
  • For people with asthma, scuba diving can sometimes be dangerous. Ask your doctor for advice before planning this activity.
  • If you are going to higher altitudes, be aware that there is less oxygen there
  • If you are going to a cold climate, be aware that cold air can trigger asthma symptoms in some people, especially during physical activity such as skiing or skating
Accommodation Issues
  • In some areas of the world, wood fires are used for heating and cooking in accommodations and restaurants, which can expose you to smoke.
  • Tropical regions may have more indoor moulds due to higher humidity.
  • Be aware that you may be exposed to indoor triggers at a bed & breakfast type of accommodation, such as pet allergens.
  • In a hotel, drifting tobacco smoke can get in your room from other rooms – ask for a smoke-free hotel or at least a smoke-free floor.
Helpful Hints

Although asthma control should not generally be a problem when you travel, here are some steps that can help:

  1. Take an adequate supply of asthma medications for your whole trip.
  2. If possible, carry all your asthma medications with you on the plane in case your luggage gets lost.
  3. Keep your asthma medications in their original containers.
  4. Make sure all your asthma medications are labelled with your name. You can also ask your pharmacist to print out all your medications or have your doctor write a letter explaining your need for the medications.
  5. If you are using a compressor to take your asthma medications, make sure the electrical plug and voltage work in the country you are visiting.
  6. Make sure you have a written asthma action plan from your doctor, to help you decide what to do if your asthma gets worse.
  7. If your asthma gets better, do not stop or reduce your medications without consulting with your doctor first.
  8. Make sure you have adequate traveller’s insurance to cover you in case of an asthma attack or an asthma emergency.
  9. Find out where the nearest emergency medical services are located at your destination so that you are prepared if you have an asthma attack/asthma emergency.
  10. If you are travelling by plane, find out the carry-on baggage security measures with respect to your asthma medications. Check the following websites for more information: