Traveling with COPD

The team at Comprehensive Cancer Centers celebrates the arrival of summer, which means being outdoors, taking time off and spending time with family and friends. This time of year also means traveling, which can present challenges to those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As traveling with the disease can be difficult, those with COPD are often hesitant to travel. While patients should always consult with their doctor before traveling with COPD, there are ways to safely and smartly manage the disease as you travel to your preferred destination and enjoy time away from home.

Many steps in travel precautions for those with COPD include avoiding allergens and being ready for air quality and elevation changes. Certain needs, including using portable oxygen tanks, require more preparation. An important first step in managing your COPD is to work with your health care provider, such as your pulmonologist at the Lung Center of Nevada, to set up a custom COPD Action Plan. The following guidelines have been adapted from the information shared by the American Lung Association.

An action plan for travel can include most, if not all the following preparations:

Plan Your Trip and Pack Properly

Start by thinking about where you’re going and how that place, or those places, may offer different climates than the one found here in Las Vegas.

  • Air Quality: Changes in air quality can make it harder for people with COPD to breathe. Check the air quality of the places you are traveling to and through.
  • Medications: Keep all of your medications with you in your carry-on bag and keep copies of prescriptions for your medications in case your checked luggage is lost by your airline, train or cruise ship.
  • Oxygen: Bring an adequate oxygen supply and prepare for the unexpected by bringing spare supplies if you can. Plan ahead and learn about oxygen suppliers along your route and destination and add their phone numbers and address to your notes.
  • Doctors: Have a list of names and locations of a doctor and hospital at your destination in the event you need help. Your own doctor or healthcare provider may be able to offer a referral to a trusted source. If not, check online reviews and call the practice to get a familiarity with them, including insurance acceptance.

Planes, Trains and Airports with COPD

Before you get going on your trip, figure out what airports or train stations you may be visiting, which can include layovers and aircraft, train changes. While your travel plans may only include a few minutes of planned time in an airport, delays can often mean spending unplanned hours or overnight in an airport or train station.

  • Oxygen Policies: Call in advance to learn policies and procedures regarding personal oxygen equipment. This may include necessary documents from your physician or a current prescription for oxygen. Personal medical oxygen and other respiratory-related equipment and devices are permitted through the security-screening checkpoint once they have undergone screening.
  • Secure Your Oxygen: Many airlines require that you use oxygen from their special needs department during the flight, instead of your own. Plan ahead so that a supply of oxygen is waiting for you at your destination.  Your oxygen supplier can usually help with this.
  • Arrive Early: Passengers with oxygen may be required to check-in in advance of their flight or train ride. Give yourself plenty of time to pass through security.

On the Open Ocean with COPD

When getting on a cruise ship or boat, those with COPD must understand that they might not be able to get off quickly, should the need arise, making advanced preparation critical.

  • Advance Notice: Contact your cruise line well in advance and advise them of any special needs, such as oxygen or wheelchair/scooter. Most cruise lines are well equipped to deal with these requests when notified in advance.
  • Medical Documents: Ask your doctor to provide you with a letter that includes brief medical history and a copy of prescriptions for oxygen or any medication you may need replaced.
  • Oxygen Arrangements: Arrange to have oxygen tanks delivered to the ship prior to departure.

Hitting the Open Road in a Car with COPD

Most summer travel happens in a car, which can be comforting knowing that you have nearly complete control over your environment. Just make sure that that familiarity doesn’t create complacency, and make sure all your details are set up before you leave your driveway.

  • Easy Oxygen Access: Position oxygen upright in the seat next to you. Secure with a seatbelt, if possible. If traveling with extra units, keep them accessible, nearby, not in the trunk.
  • Avoid Fumes and Allergens: Avoid traffic fumes and allergens in the air by keeping windows closed and air conditioning on. And make sure that no one smokes while in the car.
  • Take Breaks: Pace yourself. Leave time to rest whenever you feel fatigued.

Finding the Right Accommodations when Traveling with COPD

Whether you are staying in a hotel or a tent in the woods, remember that you may be exposed to new triggers that make your COPD symptoms worse. Plan accordingly, with a sufficient supply of all your medications and oxygen.

  • Request a Smoke-free Environment: Choose a hotel that is non-smoking or ask for a non-smoking room. If you are staying with family or friends, ask to stay with those who don’t smoke. If residents do smoke, ask them to smoke outside.
  • Reduce Allergens: Some hotels now offer rooms that minimize allergens. They may be furnished with hardwood floors instead of carpet, have roller shades instead of fabric drapes, etc.
  • Go Fragrance Free: If strong odors aggravate your COPD, ask for a hotel room without scented soaps, lotions or cleaning products. If you are a houseguest, ask your host to not burn candles or incense, or use air fresheners.

Lung Center of Nevada Can Help

When it comes to care for your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), count on Lung Center of Nevada, a division of Comprehensive Cancer Centers and its team of board-certified pulmonologists, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, and administrative support staff. We are dedicated to providing high-quality care to patients with lung disease and sleep disorders. To schedule an appointment with the Lung Center of Nevada, please call 702-737-5864.

The content is this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.