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Traveling With COPD

10 Travel Tips for People With COPD


Updated January 11, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

After reading this article, you'll have an opportunity to share some of your own, personal travel tips that allow you to travel safer with COPD.

Traveling with COPD can be challenging, especially if you don't plan ahead. Whether it be for treatment, business or pleasure, adequate preparation is essential to a safe and enjoyable trip. Before you pack your bags and walk out that door, consider the following 10 travel tips when mapping out your plans:

1. Schedule An Appointment With Your Doctor

Schedule a Pre-Trip Physical
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Talking to your doctor about your travel plans is one of the most important elements of traveling with COPD. Is it safe for you to travel? When traveling to areas of higher elevation, will your oxygen requirements change? How soon can you travel after lung surgery? These are just a few of the questions your doctor can answer during your pre-trip appointment. It's also a good idea to have a basic physical, to make sure you're well enough for travel.

2. Don't Forget Your Medical Records

Medical Records
Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Simon Battensby
During your pre-trip medical appointment, ask your doctor for a copy of your medical records. Better yet, have her print out a summary of your care so that, in the event of an emergency, any doctor unfamiliar with your medical history will have a better idea of how to treat you. At the very least, your medical record should include a list of your current medications, your prescription for supplemental oxygen (if you use it) and a statement from your doctor acknowledging that you're fit for travel. For easier access, place your medical records in a folder with the rest of your travel papers. Keep the folder on your person, in case your luggage gets lost.

3. If Possible, Don't Travel Alone

Don't Travel Alone
Courtesy of Flickr.com, user kthschssir
God forbid you should become ill on your trip and unable to answer questions about your medical condition. When you have COPD, it is entirely possible. Whenever you have a serious medical condition, it's best to travel with a partner, whether it be a spouse, significant other or friend. Ultimately, your travel partner should be familiar with your medical care, including your medications and oxygen requirements. They should also familiarize themselves with any medical equipment you're traveling with, including your oxygen concentrator, nebulizer and/or COPD inhalers.

4. Review Your Insurance Policy

Insurance Forms
Photo courtesy of Getty Imagers, user Peter Dazeley
What if you run out of, or lose your medication while on the road? Does your insurance policy cover refills in another country? More importantly, does your policy cover emergency treatment out of network or will you need to obtain a supplemental travel policy? Check with your insurance company before you travel to avoid any insurance mishaps along the way. Additionally, don't forget to pack a copy of your insurance card in both your luggage, and your on-board carry-on.

5. Stock Up On Meds

Stock Up On COPD Medications
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There's nothing worse than being away from home and running out of medication. That's why it so important to stock up on essential medications, including a few extras, before you leave. Always carry your medications in their original container. They should be properly labeled and prescribed to you alone, not to someone else. If you use an inhaler, it should be transported in its original box that includes a prescription label. Keep your medications in your on-board carry on in the event your luggage gets lost or delayed.

6. Line-Up Medical Care At Your Destination

Airplane Travel and COPD
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user egdigital
Traveling to an unfamiliar destination? Ask your doctor to recommend a doctor and hospital in the area to which you are traveling. Be sure to obtain the correct address and phone number of each and add it to your medical folder. If your doctor is unable to accommodate your request, your insurance company may be able to provide you with a list of out-of-network providers.

7. Check With Your Doctor & the Airlines About Traveling With Oxygen

Traveling With Oxygen
Photo courtesy of Istockphoto.com, user Leigh Schindler

If you'll be flying to your destination, be aware that the cabin of an airplane is pressurized for high altitudes. This means that during flight, the air in the cabin contains less oxygen. Some people with COPD are unable to tolerate lower levels of oxygen in the ambient air and subsequently develop hypoxemia, a condition that makes it more difficult to breathe. Discuss your oxygen needs with your doctor before you travel. Even if you don't normally use supplemental oxygen, your doctor may recommend it for when you fly.

If you do need to use supplemental oxygen when flying, notify the airlines before your trip and make sure you understand their requirements for traveling with oxygen. In addition to having a prescription from your doctor, there are only a handful of oxygen concentrators approved by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) for travel aboard an airline. Not sure which concentrators are on the FAA's list or how many batteries you'll need during your flight. Learn more about traveling with oxygen by airplane.

8. Exercise Your Calf Muscles Regularly

Calf Stretch
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com
Oftentimes traveling, whether by plane, train or automobile, requires sitting for prolonged periods of time, a known risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Smoking, being older than 60 years of age and being overweight increases this risk. If possible, while en route to your destination, get up once every hour and walk around. If walking isn't possible, stand in the aisle next to your seat and raise up and down on your tip toes 10 times every hour. If traveling by automobile, take periodic walks during stops at gas stations or rest areas. Walk to and from the restroom or cafe car if traveling by train. If it's not possible to walk around or stand, exercise your calf muscles in your seat by stretching out your legs, then pointing and flexing your toes at least ten times every hour. For more information about reducing health risks associated with extended travel, visit About.com's Air Travel Guide Site.

9. Remember Those Vaccinations

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, user Hillsdale
If you're planning to travel internationally, be aware of which vaccinations you'll need by checking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC offers a worldwide, A to Z map that includes specific travel requirements for each country. If international travel is not part of your plans, at the very least, consider getting a flu shot, especially if your traveling aboard a train or airplane with other passengers who may be sick. Wash your hands frequently and carry a bottle of hand sanitizer to reduce your chances of catching a virus that could lead to COPD exacerbation.

10. Rest, Eat Well and Exercise Before, During and After Your Trip

Exercise and COPD
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One of the most overlooked parts of traveling is taking care of yourself before, during and after your trip. This means you'll need to eat right, exercise and get enough rest to increase your energy, lesson fatigue and decrease jet lag. Although many people don't tend to include rest periods, healthy eating and daily exercise in their travel plans, doing so can turn an otherwise stressful trip into a more pleasurable one.

These days, many hotels make it easy for the avid exercise fan to maintain exercise away from home by offering vacationing guests free use of their health club facilities. Cruise ships often include group exercise classes in their vacation packages that are fun and free. If working out isn't possible, including a daily walk in your travel plans is one of the most convenient ways to exercise away from home.

Making healthy food choices while traveling is now easier than ever. Most restaurants have jumped on the healthy-eating bandwagon by offering meal choices that cater to those who want to maintain their health while still enjoying delicious food.

Last but not least, remember Rome wasn't build in a day. Pacing yourself includes taking time-out to rest between daily excursions, even if you don't sleep. Doing so will restore your energy so you won't miss out on exciting plans for the evening.

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