Traveling and Asthma
Your child’s asthma shouldn’t stop you from planning a family vacation or sending your child to sleepover camp or on a trip with friends. With some careful preparation and communication, you and your child should be able to enjoy all the benefits of time away from home.
Before you travel, make sure that your child’s asthma is well controlled. If it’s been flaring up, you should check in with the doctor. Your child might need a change in medications or might need to see the doctor before leaving.
Before You Go
When packing, be sure to include your child’s quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) and long-term control medicine (also called controller or maintenance medicine). Keep them handy, not buried in the car trunk. And if you’re flying, be sure to take them in your carry-on luggage. That way, you’ll have them if your child needs the medications during the flight or if your checked bags go astray.
You’ll also want to pack a peak flow meter (if your child uses one), health insurance cards and information, and the asthma action plan (that way you’ll have the names of medicines, dosage information, and your doctor’s phone number, just in case).
If you’re traveling abroad, consider taking a letter from the doctor that describes your child’s diagnosis, medications, and equipment. This can help you with airport security or customs. It’s also smart to have the generic names of all medicines, in case they’re called something else in another country.
If your child uses a nebulizer, you might want to invest in a portable version. Many of these can be plugged into the cigarette lighter in a car. If you’ll be traveling abroad, make sure you have the adapter you need to use it.
Buses, trains, and cars may contain many of the same potential allergens as your home, including dust mites and mold that are trapped in the upholstery or the ventilation system. You can’t do much about the bus or train, but if you’re traveling by car, try this: Run the air conditioner or heater, with the windows open, for at least 10 minutes. This will help reduce mold and dust mites in the car.
If pollen counts or pollution levels affect your child’s asthma and are high during your trip, travel with the windows closed and the air conditioner on.
Taking to the Sky
The air quality on planes may affect your child’s asthma. Although smoking on airplanes used to be commonplace, it is now banned on all commercial flights of U.S. airlines. Foreign airlines also must ban smoking on all flights into and from the United States. But smoking is not banned by law on charter flights, so if you’re taking one, ask about their smoking policy and request seats in the non-smoking section.
The air on planes is also very dry, so encourage your child to drink plenty of water while you’re in the air. Many airlines permit the use of battery-operated nebulizers (except during takeoff and landing), but check on this in advance. Nebulizers aren’t routinely included in aircraft emergency kits due to their bulky size. But inhalers with spacers have been shown to be as effective as nebulizers in treating asthma and might be easier to keep handy during travel.
Your Home Away From Home
Your child’s triggers will determine what steps you need to take to prevent asthma flare-ups where you’re staying. If pollen or air pollution are triggers — and you’re traveling to a region with high readings — you may want to schedule a trip during times of the year when pollen counts and smog levels are lower.
If dust mites or mold are a problem and you’ll be staying in a hotel, check to see if any rooms have been allergy proofed. Requesting a sunny, dry room away from the hotel’s pool might also help. If animal allergens are a trigger, request a room that has never had pets in it. And you should always stay in a nonsmoking room.
If you’ll be staying in a rented cottage or cabin that’s near the beach or in a forest, ask that it be thoroughly aired out before you arrive. Make sure any friends or family you’ll be staying with know about your child’s asthma triggers before you arrive. Although they won’t be able to clear away all dust mites or mold, they can dust and vacuum carefully, especially in the room where your child will sleep.
If scented candles, potpourri, aerosol products, or wood fires bother your child, ask your hosts to avoid using them. You should also ask that no one smokes inside while your child is there.
Because it can take months for animal dander to be effectively removed from a room, even if a pet isn’t allowed in it, you probably won’t want to stay with friends or family who have a pet if animal dander is a trigger for your child.
Wherever you’ll be staying, consider bringing your child’s pillow and blanket from home to ensure there’s some hypoallergenic bedding.
Time zone changes can be tricky. When traveling, try to have your child take medications at the usual home time. Upon arrival in another time zone, remember to adjust the dosage times to the local clock.
If your child’s asthma is well controlled, you should be able to enjoy sightseeing, hiking, or other leisure activities. Just keep the asthma triggers in mind when planning what you’ll do. For example, avoid lots of walking or hiking when the air pollution or pollen counts are likely to be high or if the weather is going to be extremely cold and dry. If you’ll be camping, keep your child away from campfires.
Ski vacations or hiking trips aren’t out of the question. But make sure you plan for plenty of rest (indoors if possible), carry your child’s quick-relief medicine at all times, and be prepared to change your plans if your child is struggling with asthma symptoms.
As at home, if anyone else will be supervising your child, you should make sure that person knows about the asthma and is familiar with your child’s asthma action plan.
If your child will be traveling alone (going to sleepover camp or staying with friends or family, etc.), make sure to advise any adults caring for him or her. It’s extremely important that counselors or chaperones be familiar with and have copies of the asthma action plan, list of medications, and emergency phone numbers. Also send written (and notarized) permission for the counselor or chaperone to care for your child in an emergency.
Sit down with your child before the trip to go over the asthma action plan and what to do in an emergency. Your child should be familiar with any asthma triggers, should know how to administer medication, and should be able to recognize the signs of a flare-up.
Explaining that you’ve let the adults in charge know what to do during a flare-up should also help relieve any nervousness your child feels. And of course, offer reassurance that he or she isn’t different from other kids because of the asthma and should be able to join in on all the fun.
If your child hasn’t been taking long-term control medicines and is relying on quick-relief medicine to control the asthma, it might not be wise to allow a solo trip, especially for an extended period of time. You’ll want to discuss this with your child’s doctor.
Most of all, be sure that your child still takes all medications as prescribed and tries to avoid triggers. Ignoring asthma during a trip could send your child to the emergency department — and that’s no place to spend a vacation.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014