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Traveling with breathing problems

Oxygen - travel; Collapsed lung - travel; Chest surgery - travel; COPD - travel; Chronic obstructive airways disease - travel; Chronic obstructive lung disease - travel; Chronic bronchitis - travel; Emphysema - travel

If you have breathing problems such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you can travel safely if you take a few precautions.

Talk With Your Doctor About Traveling

It's easier to stay healthy while traveling if you are in good health before you go. Before traveling, you should talk with your health care provider if you have breathing problems and you:

  • Are short of breath most of the time
  • Get short of breath when you walk 150 feet (46 meters) or less
  • Have been in the hospital for breathing problems recently
  • Use oxygen at home, even if just at night or with exercise

Also talk with your provider if you were in the hospital for your breathing problems and had:

Check with your provider if you plan to travel in a place at a high altitude (such as states like Colorado or Utah and countries like Peru or Ecuador).

Oxygen and air Travel

Two weeks before you travel, tell your airline that you will need oxygen on the plane. (The airline may not be able to accommodate you if you tell them less than 48 hours before your flight.)

  • Make sure you talk with someone at the airline who knows how to help you plan for having oxygen on the plane.
  • You will need a prescription for oxygen and a letter from your provider.
  • In the United States, you can usually bring your own oxygen on a plane.

Airlines and airports will not provide oxygen while you are not on an airplane. This includes before and after the flight, and during a layover. Call your oxygen supplier who may be able to help.

On the day of travel:

  • Get to the airport at least 120 minutes before your flight.
  • Have an extra copy of your provider's letter and prescription for oxygen.
  • Carry lightweight luggage, if possible.
  • Use a wheelchair and other services for getting around the airport.

Stay Away From Infections

Get a flu shot every year to help prevent infection. Ask your provider if you need a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine and get one if you do. Be fully immunized against the virus that causes COVID-19. Use a mask according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wash your hands often. Stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.

Find out About Medical Care Where you are Going

Have a name, phone number, and address of a provider where you are going. Do not go to areas that do not have good and accessible medical care.

Bring enough medicine, even some extra. Bring copies of your recent medical records with you.

Contact your oxygen company and find out if they can provide oxygen in the area to which you are traveling.

Other Travel Tips

You should:

  • Always ask for non-smoking hotel rooms.
  • Stay away from places where people are smoking.
  • Try to stay away from areas with polluted air.

References

American Lung Association website. What goes in an asthma or COPD travel pack? www.lung.org/blog/asthma-copd-travel-pack l. Updated August 30, 2023. Accessed February 12, 2024.

American Thoracic Society website. Oxygen therapy. www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/oxygen-therapy.pdf. Updated July 2020. Accessed April 12, 2024.

Luks AM, Schoene RB, Swenson ER. High altitude. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, Lazarus SC, Sarmiento KF, Schnapp LM, Stapleton RD. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 105.

McCarthy A, Burchard GD. The traveler with pre-existing disease. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 26.

Suh KN, Flaherty GT. The older traveler. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 24.


Review Date: 2/3/2024

Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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