Traveling With COPD: Tips to Make Your Trip a Success

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:

Schedule An Appointment With Your Doctor

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Talking to your doctor about your travel plans is one of the most important elements of traveling with COPD. Here are a few of the questions you should ask:

  • 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?

Your doctor can discuss these with you during your pre-trip appointment. It's also a good idea to have a basic physical, just to make sure you're well enough for travel.

Don't Forget Your Medical Records

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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 records 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.

If Possible, Don't Travel Alone

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When you have a serious medical condition like COPD, it's best to travel with a partner, regardless of whether that person is your spouse, your significant other, your relative or your friend.

If you become ill on your trip and can't answer questions about your medical condition, that person should be able to step in. This means your travel partner should be familiar with your medical care, including your medications and oxygen requirements.

Your partner also should be familiar with any medical equipment you're bringing on your trip, including your oxygen concentrator, nebulizer, and/or COPD inhalers.

Review Your Insurance Policy

Insurance Policy

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?

Many people don't realize that traditional Medicare does not cover medical care provided outside the United States, except in extremely rare instances. Some (but not all) Medicare supplemental plans do cover international travel.

Your best bet, of course, is to check with your insurance company before you travel to avoid any insurance mishaps along the way, and to determine whether you'll need supplemental travel insurance. Don't forget to pack a copy of your insurance card in both your luggage and your onboard carry-on.

Stock Up On Meds

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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 extra doses 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. Always keep your medications in your carry-on in the event your luggage gets lost or delayed.

Line-Up Medical Care At Your Destination

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Traveling to an unfamiliar destination? Ask your doctor to recommend a doctor and hospital in that destination, just to be on the safe side. Be sure to obtain the correct address and phone number of each and add it to your medical folder.

If your doctor can't recommend anyone, your insurance company may be able to provide you with a list of providers.

Check with Your Airlines about Traveling With Oxygen

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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 than normal.

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 for them to breathe.

That's why it's critical to 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 absolutely certain you understand and meet their requirements for traveling with oxygen.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration only allows certain portable oxygen concentrators to be used on flights, so you may have to rent an approved unit. You'll need a prescription from your doctor, and you'll need to carry extra batteries, as well.

Learn more about traveling with oxygen by airplane.

Exercise Your Calf Muscles Regularly

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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 tiptoes 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.

Remember Those Vaccinations

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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 you're traveling aboard a train or airplane in close contact with other passengers who may be sick.

Also, take basic precautions against illness: 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.

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

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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.

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 to pace yourself. Take 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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