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Traveling and Asthma

Is Travel OK for Kids With Asthma?

Having asthma shouldn't stop kids from enjoying a family vacation, sleepover camp, or a trip with friends. With careful planning, they can get 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 getting worse, check in with the doctor. Your child might need a change in medicines or a visit with the doctor before going away.

What Should We Pack for Traveling?

When packing, be sure to include:

  • Medicines: Keep all asthma medicines handy, not in bags loaded in the car trunk. For air travel, bring them in carry-on bags. That way, you'll have them if needed during the flight or if your checked bags are lost or delayed. Time zone changes can be tricky: During travel, try to have your child take medicines at the usual home time. But when you arrive in another time zone, have them take their medicine according to the local clock. Remember to bring the medicine that your child uses for quick relief of symptoms (often called quick-relief, fast-acting, or rescue medicine) and any medicine they take every day to ease inflammation (often called controller, maintenance, or long-term control medicine). Sometimes both types are combined in one inhaler. Take a little more medicine than you think your child might need.
  • Other equipment: If your child uses an inhaler, remember to bring a spacer to help make it more effective and easier to use. If your child uses a nebulizer, you might want to get a portable version. Some are battery-powered, while others can be plugged into an outlet in the car. If you’re traveling abroad, make sure you have the adapter or converter you need to use it. Masks and hand sanitizers can help keep away the germs that often trigger asthma flare-ups. These supplies should go in your carry-on bag too.
  • Important information: Be sure to have your health insurance cards and information, and your child's asthma action plan (with the names of medicines, dosage information, and the doctor's phone number, just in case). For travel abroad, consider taking a letter from the doctor that describes your child's diagnosis, medicines, and equipment. This can help you with airport security or customs. It's also good to know the generic names of all medicines, in case they're called something else in another country. If your child needs to get a refill, the medicine might have a different brand name.

How Can We Avoid Asthma Triggers During Travel?

Triggers are everywhere, and your child may run into a few while traveling. Always be sure to have quick-relief medicine handy in case of emergencies.

Here are some tips for the trip:

Traveling by 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. If your child is allergic to mold or dust, run the air conditioner or heater, with the windows open, for at least 10 minutes before getting in the car. This helps clear the air.

Traveling by Plane

The air on planes is very dry, which can trigger an asthma flare-up. Make sure you have your child's quick-relief inhaler handy and encourage them to drink a lot of water. There can be dust, mold, fumes, or other things in the air that can irritate the airways too, so it can help for them to wear a mask and turn on the air vent over their seat.

Many airlines allow the use of battery-operated nebulizers (except during takeoff and landing), but check on this before you leave home. Nebulizers aren't routinely included in aircraft emergency kits due to their bulky size. They may have inhalers but they don’t usually have spacers. So it’s important to have your own equipment on hand at all times.

How Can We Avoid Asthma Triggers at Our Destination?

Your child's triggers will determine the best ways to avoid them and prevent flare-ups.

Watching Out for Weather Conditions

If pollen or air pollution are triggers and you're traveling to an area with high readings, you may want to go during times of the year when pollen counts and smog levels are lower. You can check air quality anywhere in the United States by visiting the AIRnow website.

If your child's asthma is well-controlled, you should be able to enjoy sightseeing, hiking, and other fun activities. Just keep the asthma triggers in mind when planning what you'll do. For example, avoid lots of walking or hiking when air pollution or pollen counts are high or in very cold and dry weather. If you're 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), and carry your child's medicine at all times.

Be prepared to change your plans if your child is struggling with asthma symptoms.

Staying With Friends or Family

Make sure any friends or family you stay 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.

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 might not want to stay with friends or family who have a pet if animal dander is a trigger for your child.

Renting a Room

If you stay in a hotel, ask if it has allergy-free rooms. Ask for a sunny room away from the hotel's pool. 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're 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.

Wherever you stay, consider bringing your child's pillow and blanket from home so there's some hypoallergenic bedding.

Can Kids With Asthma Travel Alone?

If your child travels solo (to sleepover camp, to friends or family, etc.), talk with the adults in charge. Parents, counselors, or chaperones should have copies of your child's asthma action plan, a list of medicines, and all emergency phone numbers. Also send written (and notarized) permission for them 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. They should know their asthma triggers, when and how to take medicines, and how to recognize the signs of a flare-up.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2024

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