Travel can be stressful for everyone, but it poses particular challenges for those with health problems. To travel safely…
- Carry a “health profile.” Suppose that you have sudden chest pains or difficulty breathing. You might be too sick to discuss your health history with the doctor who treats you.
I advise everyone who travels to carry a typed health profile in his/her wallet or purse. The profile should include your name and contact information (along with the phone numbers of emergency contact people)… your medical diagnoses… medications that you’re taking… and information about allergies. It also should include your insurance information, doctor’s telephone number and, if possible, copies of test results revealing your condition, such as cardiograms and lung tests.
- Get vaccinated. If you haven’t gotten flu vaccinations for seasonal and swine flu, ask your doctor if you need them. Most flu deaths occur in people with preexisting health problems.
If you’re traveling outside the US, you may need other vaccinations as well. Check the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov (click on “Travelers’ Health”).
Don’t wait until the last minute to get vaccinated. Some vaccines take weeks before providing total protection.
- Manage medications. Always pack enough medication to last longer than your trip, just in case there’s a delay getting home. Don’t count on filling your prescriptions when you’re away. Many of the drugs that are readily available in the US may be unavailable in other countries or packaged under different names.
When flying, put all your medicines (in their original, labeled containers) and medical devices (such as syringes) in a clear plastic bag and carry them with you (don’t check them in luggage, which can get lost).
- Walk around. One of the main risks of airplane flights (or trips by car, train or bus) is deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots that develop in the legs can break free and travel to the lungs. This condition, known as pulmonary embolism, is frequently fatal.
DVT often occurs in those with other health problems, including congestive heart failure. It’s mainly caused by immobility because clots are more likely to form when you don’t move your legs.
Stretch your legs at least once an hour. On a plane, train or bus, walk up and down the aisle. On car trips, stop and walk for a few minutes. In between walks, rotate your ankles and flex your toes.
Also helpful: Drink at least one extra glass of water every hour or two during trips. It may reduce the risk for clots.
- Plan for altitude. If you’re going to a high-altitude location, you may feel tired and have difficulty breathing, especially if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), anemia or heart disease. Ask your doctor about precautions you need to take. You might just need to take it easy for a few days after you arrive. In most cases, you will be advised to drink plenty of water.
If you use supplemental oxygen because of COPD or other lung disease, airlines typically will provide you with the needed in-flight oxygen equipment (you may be charged a fee). Ask whether you need documentation from your doctor. If you need oxygen when you arrive, be sure to make arrangements ahead of time.