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 quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) and long-term control medicine (also called controller or maintenance medicine) handy, not buried in the car trunk. If you're flying, take them in your carry-on luggage. That way, you'll have them if needed during the flight or if your checked bags go astray. Time zone changes can be tricky. While traveling, try to have your child take medicines at the usual home time. Upon arrival in another time zone, adjust the dosage times to the local clock.
- Nebulizer: If your child uses one, you might want to get a portable version. Many of these can be plugged into a car's 12V accessory power outlet (or the cigarette lighter in older vehicles). If you're traveling abroad, make sure you have the adapter you need to use it.
- Peak flow meter, if your child uses one.
- Important information: Be sure to have your health insurance cards and information, your child's asthma action plan (that way you'll have the names of medicines, dosage information, and your 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 a good idea to have the generic names of all medicines, in case they're called something else in another country.
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 quality on planes may affect your child's asthma. Smoking is banned on all U.S. airlines' commercial flights, and on all foreign flights into and from the United States. But rules differ 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 very dry, so encourage your child to drink plenty of water. Many airlines allow 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.
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.
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 quick-relief 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-proofed rooms. Requesting a sunny 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'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. It's very important for parents, counselors, or chaperones to have copies of the 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. Your child should know his or her 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: May 2017