Chronic health problems don’t have to limit travel

July 9, 2015 in Travel Health  •  By Miles Varn
chronic health problems

Just because you’re living with a chronic health problem doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy travelling for vacation or join your co-workers on a business trip. To make sure you’re prepared to manage your condition while you’re away and safely handle any issues that arise, follow these recommendations.

  1. See your doctor first. Before you start planning your trip, make an appointment with the physician who is managing your care, whether that’s your primary care doctor or a specialist such as a pulmonologist or rheumatologist. Ask if your condition is well controlled enough for travel, especially if you plan to travel outside the U.S. where it can be more difficult to access the care you need if you experience any complications. Be sure to share any information that could impact your health, such as whether your trip will take you to places with a high altitude or extreme heat.

If overseas travel is part of your plan, it’s wise to see a travel medicine specialist who is familiar with the potential health risks at your destination and what special measures you may need to take to protect yourself. Schedule your pre-travel check-up at least a month, and preferably six weeks, before your departure date so that you have enough time to get any needed immunizations or make alternate plans if you cannot get a vaccine because it has the potential to interact with a medication you take to manage your condition or you need to have vaccines spaced out over a longer period of time.

  1. Make a plan for equipment and medications. If you use medical equipment like supplemental oxygen, a nebulizer, wheelchair, or glucose monitor, make sure it’s in good working condition before your trip. Bring enough supplies, for example glucose test trips and syringes, for longer than you plan to be away in case you face significant travel delays. If you’re flying, contact the airline about their policy for bringing equipment like oxygen, wheelchairs or service dogs on flights. In addition, talk with your doctor about your risk for deep vein thrombosis and what you should do to prevent it.

All medications should be in your carry-on and in their original prescription containers. You should have a note written and signed by your physician that details your medical conditions and the medications and medical devices you need to manage them. This can be helpful with both the TSA and overseas because some medications that are legal in the U.S. are illegal in other countries. Ask your physician if any of the medications you take have the potential to interact with common medications you may need if you fall ill while traveling, like drugs for traveler’s diarrhea or malaria. It’s also a very good idea to carry an electronic curated medical record with you. If you get sick, any treating physician will have instant access to your complete medical history, which can result in safer care.

  1. Have an emergency plan in place. If your condition should flare up or you get seriously ill while traveling, having an emergency plan in place can be life-saving. Talk with your physician or a health advisor to get the name and contact information of a doctor who has experience treating your condition at your destination. You should also check to see if your health insurance will be accepted, especially overseas where upfront payment for care is frequently required. Depending on your health issues, it may also be valuable to purchase medical evacuation insurance.

With careful planning, you don’t have to miss out on travel because of your chronic illness. If you were recently diagnosed, consider making your first trip an easier one that can serve as a test run. Then next time, you’ll feel more confident to take on a more adventurous destination.