Asthma can be a debilitating and at times frightening condition. With sufferers prone to experiencing sudden attacks of severe breathlessness and wheezing, it can in its most serious forms be a disease that leaves people concerned about even leaving their home.
The WHO estimates that 235 million people suffer from asthma worldwide, with symptoms varying from mild and occasional to chronic and life-restricting. For the majority, the condition is manageable and with the right medication and support, they can lead a perfectly normal life. For around one in 20 sufferers, asthma is much more severe and they can need additional support through their day-to-day lives.
For the overwhelming majority of asthma suffers, travel is perfectly manageable. Medical experts do advise, however, that travel carries a number of risk factors that can bring on asthma symptoms. The main ones are the physical and sometimes emotional stress that lengthy periods of travel can cause, and changes in environment. Warm, humid weather, altitude and exposure to new types of pollen and dust are all potential triggers for asthma attacks.
Even if your asthma is well managed and under control at home, it is therefore strongly advised to plan ahead and take precautions before you travel.
Consult your doctor
Asthma sufferers should always book an appointment to see their doctor before they confirm their travel plans. This gives you an opportunity to discuss your intended destination, get advice on what the risk factors are and how to best go about managing them. It might be a case of your doctor advising a change of medication or an increase in dosage while you are away.
It is also important that you get a prescription to stock up on all the medication you need while you are away. You should also ask your doctor for a copy of the prescription to take with you, with your medication described using generic pharmaceutical names rather than brand names. This is so you can get more wherever you travel to should you run out or lose some, and not face confusion over local brand names.
Asthma travel insurance
It is not something people necessarily think about, but if you suffer from asthma, you should take out a special insurance policy that covers your specific medical needs. Travel insurance for asthma expands on the generic medical cover standard insurance policies provide to pay out for treatment, including hospitalisation, should you suffer an attack.
This is crucial because most foreign travellers have to pay for medical treatment abroad. If you suffer an asthma attack and end up hospitalised, the treatment costs could run into thousands. If you have only taken out standard travel insurance, you face your provider refusing your claim on the grounds that you did not declare your condition.
Travelling with chronic asthma
If your asthma is particularly severe, travel is still possible, but may require additional planning. Two key things to consider are whether your asthma causes any mobility issues and whether you need to carry any ventilation equipment with you. In either case, it is strongly advised you contact your airline to discuss your needs. With mobility, your airline will be able to arrange assistance at the airport and provide priority boarding. On ventilation equipment, different airlines have different rules – some will let you take your own equipment on board, others will require you to place it in the hold and then supply an alternative during the flight.