October 19, 2016

Don’t let your breathing troubles stop you enjoying a holiday

Ainsley Ringma, Lung Care Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia

Whether it’s a weekend away at the beach, a cruise or a flight, there is no reason people with a lung condition can’t enjoy a holiday. It all comes down to having a plan and preparing well ahead of time.

Here are some helpful hints to enable you to enjoy a stress-free holiday:

Plan in advance: if you leave things to the last minute, you could forget something crucial. Think about how far you can walk, how many stairs you can manage, access to toilets and what transport you can use.

Be realistic: places you liked in the past may not be suitable now. Pick a trip you can cope with physically.
Shop around: different insurance companies have different policies for people with lung conditions, so find the best one for you.

Ask questions: travel agencies regularly deal with special requirements. You can also consult online sources such as the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website http://smartraveller.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx; Trip Advisor which has an online forum at https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ForumHome where you can post questions; or http://www.travelonline.com/travel-checklist.

Planning your holiday

Check in with your doctor

Before any trip, check in with your doctor first and have a thorough check-up. Ask for an up-to-date record of your health and what medicines you are taking that could be given to a hospital or doctor at your intended destination.
If you have COPD or asthma, check you have a current Action Plan and review this with your doctor. Ensure that all your scripts are up-to-date and that you have filled the relevant ones. Your doctor may prescribe oral steroids or antibiotics to use with your Action Plan, so check if these will be necessary. If you use a spacer, make sure that you take it with you – many spacers are now very compact and you can also purchase disposable ones that can be packed flat to travel. Have your rescue medicine packed where you can reach it immediately. If travelling overseas, it is important to ensure all medicines are labelled by your pharmacist with your name and instructions. Some countries may have restrictions to certain medicines so check with the appropriate agency such as the Department of Health whose website has a section on travel health information:

Holidays in Australia

Travelling in Australia is generally less complex than travelling overseas as the facilities across Australia are usually similar to what you are used to. However, extra care must be taken if you wish to travel to the outback as hospitals and medical services are limited in remote and outback areas and you cannot always rely on a pharmacy to stock your specific medicines.

Hints for travel in Australia

  • Ring ahead to determine access to facilities such as hotels or even tourist attractions. Check if they have ramps or lifts.
  • Check if the accommodation/facility is easy to get to. Is it on a bus route? Is it a steep road? Is there easy access parking? Is there disabled parking?
  • Check if the accommodation is suitable.
    Is there a lift to the floor your room is on? Can you open the window? Is there air conditioning? Is there someone to help with luggage?
  • If you use oxygen, will the accommodation supplier allow you to use the oxygen?
  • If travelling by plane, coach or train, check with the appropriate company to see if you can power portable oxygen concentrators on-board.

Travel insurance

The importance of arranging full travel insurance before going on a holiday abroad cannot be under-estimated. If you are travelling with a friend or family member, check they are fully covered too. By taking out travel insurance, you can avoid huge medical bills if you are taken ill or if you have an emergency during your trip. Look into the cost of this well in advance as you may find it is too expensive or you may need to find a specialist provider.
Make sure your insurance policy covers all your medical conditions. If you don’t declare relevant medical information to your insurance company, your policy may not be valid, leaving you facing a huge medical bill. When you are travelling, keep your insurance documents in a safe place, such as your hand luggage.

Flying with a lung condition

Your lung condition does not necessarily prevent you from flying, however, you should first discuss your travel plans with your doctor. Most people with a lung condition, even if they use oxygen can travel on planes. If you use oxygen therapy, you should ask your doctor if you might need additional oxygen on the plane. In addition, you may need to have a fitness to fly test, known as a High Altitude Simulation Test (HAST) to assess your oxygen need at altitudes. See http://www.lungcentre.com.au/#!high-altitude-smulation-tests/c495 for further information. Once your doctor has given you the all-clear to fly, contact the specific airline to discuss your requirements and their policies. Most have their own medical form that will need completing.

Lung Foundation Australia has a “Fitness to Fly” factsheet which you can download from our website at http://lungfoundation.com.au/patient-support/living-with-a-lung-condition/fitness-to-fly/. Finally, once all your plans are in place and your bags are packed, relax and enjoy your trip.