But taking some time to choose and plan a trip - whether it's a weekend break or a long-distance adventure - can help prevent problems and help you make the most of your time away.
For most people with asthma, symptoms are mild and aren't always present. But if you have severe asthma or your symptoms are more unpredictable and harder to manage, going on holiday may affect your asthma. Some people find their symptoms improve on holiday because their exposure to allergens such as pollen, pollution or house-dust mites is much lower in certain places. Other people, though, find that changes in routine, location, weather, temperature and/or pollution can make their symptoms worse, or that coming into contact with new allergens can trigger asthma symptoms.
Here are some things to think about before you head off on your holiday:
Choosing a holiday
- Before you go
- Carrying your asthma medicines
- If you need asthma equipment
- European Health Insurance Card
- Travelling when you're young
- Support getting travel insurance
Choosing a holiday
For some people, changes in temperature, whether that’s heat or cold, and humid or damp air, can make asthma symptoms worse.
You can find out more about how weather can affect your asthma, plus practical tips to reduce the chances of it triggering symptoms on our weather page.
If your asthma is affected by pollen, be aware that pollen seasons vary in different countries. You may react to pollens that aren’t found in the UK, such as ragweed and olive pollen. But there are lots of countries where pollen levels are generally lower than in the UK, and coastal areas tend to have lower counts.
Alternatively, you may be able to plan your trip to avoid the peak pollen season at your destination altogether. Check the local pollen information and weather when you’re planning your holiday. Find out more about how pollen can affect your asthma.
People with asthma can, and do, travel to parts of the world at high altitude - anywhere over 1,500 metres above sea level. However, everyone's asthma is different and will be affected by altitude in different ways. If you’re fit and healthy with well-managed asthma you should have no problems, as long you climb slowly and are alert to changes in your asthma.
If your asthma is triggered by the cold you might find the low temperatures at high altitudes are a problem. People whose asthma is triggered by exercise may also find that climbing at high altitude might trigger their asthma.
Each high-altitude region will have its own benefits and risks so it's important to find out as much information as possible about the place you're planning to visit.
If your asthma is well managed and you rarely have any symptoms, you should be able to enjoy any physical activity. But sometimes physical activity can be a trigger for asthma for everyone including children or adults, people who play sports and even elite athletes.
If you’re planning a holiday where you’re likely to be more physically active than usual, especially if you're thinking about doing anything that might fall into the 'extreme sports' category, such as scuba diving or skiing, read about what you can do to help make sure you stay well with your asthma.
If your asthma is well managed and you’re physically fit and well, you should have no problems when you're flying.
If your asthma is more severe, you may have some difficulties due to the reduced air pressure in the airplane cabin. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse before travelling by air to see if you’re safe to travel. Your GP or asthma nurse might ask you about your other flight experiences, how long the flight is, and how your asthma has been generally.
If your GP or asthma nurse thinks your asthma is likely to get worse when you're flying, they may ask you to do a walk test as part of a ‘fitness to fly assessment’ or may refer you for a 'hypoxic challenge' test. This will predict how well you would be able to cope with the conditions in an aircraft cabin, and depending on the results your GP can advise whether you need in-flight oxygen. It’s up to your GP as to whether they charge you for this service.
Remember, not all planes will have oxygen on board – and those that do may charge you to use it.
If you know what your asthma triggers are, for example second-hand smoke, open fires or animals, it’s a good idea to check with the hotel/B&B/self-catering company if you're likely to come across any of them during your stay. Have a look at our triggers pages for practical tips on how to reduce the risk of your triggers affecting you while you’re on holiday.
- Travel vaccines
Speak to your doctor, practice nurse or travel health clinic about travel vaccines at least two months before you travel abroad. You can have the usual travel jabs that are recommended for your destination, unless there are other health reasons for not having them.
Tell your GP or practice nurse if you've recently used high-dose oral steroids before you have any vaccinations.
Asthma and medicines for asthma don't usually interfere with malaria tablets.
- Discuss your travel plans with your GP or asthma nurse
Book an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse and review your written asthma action plan to make sure it's up to date, and you know what to do in an emergency. They can check your asthma's well managed and give you any prescriptions you need. Tell them which country/countries you’re planning to visit and what activities you might do while you’re away so they can give you specific advice, if necessary.
- Get the paperwork ready so you can take your medicines through customs
Take the tear-off slip from your prescription, which lists all of your medicines, or ask for a letter from your doctor which lists them all – this should have the right drug name rather than the manufacturer's name (your GP may charge you for this letter). You may need this if you visit a country with strict rules about bringing in medicine. It’s also useful to have the information with you in case you need to buy more medicine while you’re away. Take a photo of it on your smartphone just in case you lose it.
- Pack your written asthma action plan
Take a couple of photocopies of your written asthma action plan and pack one copy in your hand luggage and one in your suitcase. You could also take a photo of it on your smartphone, so you have it with you all the time.
- Tell a friend
If you're not travelling with your family or someone who knows you well, it's a good idea to let the people you're travelling with know what to do if your asthma gets worse or if you have an asthma attack. You can keep it low-key - just let them know where you keep your reliever inhaler, in case they need to help you with it in an emergency. You could also show them your written asthma action plan so they know how to help you if you have asthma symptoms. This can be particularly important if you're travelling to countries where not many people speak English - it's important at least one other person can explain what's happening if you need help.
- Be prepared in case there’s an emergency
Before you go on holiday, try to find out how you can get medical help (local ambulance or doctor) at your holiday destination, and keep the contact details with you, along with the contact details of your doctor at home in case of an emergency. It’s also worth finding out how you can get more supplies of your asthma medicines at your destination, in case your asthma medicines are damaged or some of your baggage goes missing.
- Learn a few key phrases
If you’re going abroad, learning a few handy phrases in the languages of the countries you're visiting may be useful. Look up 'asthma attack', 'inhaler', 'can't breathe', 'get the doctor' and 'where is the hospital?' Hopefully you won’t need any of them, but knowing the words to use can help you feel more confident and relaxed before you set off.
- If you have severe asthma
If you have severe asthma and have mobility issues, new European regulations guarantee certain rights at airports and on planes. The airport authorities have a responsibility to provide assistance at the airport and the airline you're travelling with has responsibility when you're on board the aircraft. Even if you're fairly mobile, there can be long distances to walk within airports and you may wish to consider taking the help available to you. If you're unable to climb the stairs into the aircraft there are lifts available.
You need to inform the airline of your needs at least 48 hours before you fly - ideally let them know at the same time you book your flight. If you have a carer or someone travelling with you, be sure to book assistance for both of you so you can stay together. Airports have help points in various locations where you can call for help even if you haven't pre-arranged it. Help carrying reasonable amounts of luggage can be given free of charge.
- Always carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you.
- When you’re travelling always carry a spare reliever inhaler (usually blue) in your hand luggage, in case you run out or your checked-in baggage goes missing.
- Make sure you take enough inhalers and tablets with you to last the holiday plus an extra week's supply.
- Remember to keep your medicines in their original packaging with the prescribing details label attached.
- It’s usually best to carry all your medicines with you in your hand luggage, in case your checked-in luggage goes missing or your medicines are damaged in the baggage hold. You'll need to put your inhalers and medicines into the clear sealable plastic bags that are provided when you go through airport security. Staff may also need to carry out additional checks on these items – for example, spray a puff into the air.
Peak flow meter: If you normally use a peak flow meter take it with you so you can monitor your asthma symptoms while you’re on holiday.
If you’re flying, pack it in the luggage you check in. If you’re only taking hand luggage, you may need to get the airline’s permission to take a peak flow meter into the cabin so check with your airline before travelling.
Nebuliser: Most people with asthma don’t need to use a nebuliser. If your doctor has given you a nebuliser, remember other countries may have different power points and voltages, so you’ll either need an adaptor, or a battery-powered portable version.
You’ll also need to talk to the airline before you board if you’re likely to need to use your nebuliser on board the aircraft. Most airlines don’t allow medical equipment such as nebulisers to be used on board if they need a mains supply but will accept the use of battery-operated ones. If you need to use a nebuliser during the journey it's important to contact the airline to get permission to do so before you book your flight. Some airlines will ask for printed information on the flight safety of the device (you can get this from the manufacturer). You won't be able to use a nebuliser during take-off and landing.
The latest research shows using a reliever inhaler (usually blue) with a spacer is easier, cheaper and just as effective for treating mild to moderate asthma attacks as a nebuliser.
By taking out travel insurance and getting a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you can avoid huge medical bills if you have a health emergency during your trip.
The EHIC, which is free of charge, entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost medical treatment in European Economic Area countries and Switzerland. But it’s not an alternative to travel insurance as an EHIC will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of things such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property.
Whether you're thinking about having a gap year or going on holiday with your friends, planning your travels is very exciting. And to make sure you enjoy your trip as much as you hope, it's important to make sure your asthma's well managed while you travel.
As well as following the other travel tips on this page, there are some other things you might also want to think about:
- If you’re planning to be away for a long time and visit lots of different countries, check whether you might experience changes in climate and altitude which may affect your asthma. Not everyone will be affected but make sure you know what can potentially happen and are clear on the signs to look out for.
- Think about all the activities you might be doing, especially anything that might fall into the 'extreme sports' category. You need to make sure you have the right insurance to cover both them and your asthma. Consider getting insurance that covers active holidays even if you think there’s only a small chance you’ll get involved in these activities. You may end up doing things you hadn’t expected!
- When you’re away from home, it may be tempting to experiment with recreational drugs and drink lots of alcohol. Both can be asthma triggers so make sure you’re aware of the effects they may have on your asthma and health.
Travel insurance will cover other medical costs that the EHIC will not, such as paying for your return journey if illness delays you, or covering your personal contributions towards treatment. You will also normally receive cover for non-medical emergencies, such as replacing possessions or a lost passport.
Different insurance companies have different policies for people with health conditions, so it can be useful to shop around to find the best deal for you. Travel insurance quotes, especially for people with long-term health conditions like asthma, vary from person to person and will depend on a range of things such as:
- your age
- the medicines you use
- if your asthma medicine has been recently changed to a higher or lower dose
- the number of emergency admissions you've had
- where you're travelling to
- any other conditions you might have
All travel insurance policies require you to disclose any information about all existing or pre-existing conditions. If you don’t do this, the insurance company can rightly claim it was misinformed and may not pay out if you make a claim.
Below are some links to websites you can go to for help and support in getting travel insurance. If you have any further suggestions please let us know.
- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office - This website provides a variety of information on travel including travel insurance advice.
- Tourism for All - The national charity dedicated to making tourism welcome for all people.
- Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) - ABTA offer an independent arbitration service if you've had a problem with one of their members.
Specialist travel insurance companies
Please note: We are not recommending these companies, or saying they will definitely insure you.
Unique Insurance provide specialist travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions including asthma. This should not only help people with asthma get cover but also provide further benefits:
- It is quick and easy to purchase.
- There is no age limit on single trip policies.
- As a partner of Unique Insurance, Asthma UK will receive a donation for each policy sold.
Unique cannot promise to be the cheapest, but provide a valuable service in partnership with many charities, including Asthma UK.
If you are concerned over price, however, it's worth getting a number of alternative quotes (ensuring that you declare all details of asthma and any other conditions in full).
Freedom Travel Insurance
Freedom Travel Insurance offers specialist travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Their cover is underwritten by a very large insurance company called AXA.
Tel: 01223 454 290
Free Spirit is a specialist travel insurance policy for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Tel: 0800 170 7704 (8am-6pm Monday-Friday)
It's So Easy Travel Insurance
It's So Easy provides travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Tel: 0845 222 4205 (Medical Screening Line)
Tel: (annual policies) 0845 222 2226
Orbis Insurance Services
Provides cover for people with pre-existing medical conditions
Tel: 01424 220 110
Specialises in providing travel and other insurance for people who are considered 'high risk' by the insurance industry generally.
Tel: 01280 850666
Saga can provide travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions who are 50 years old and above.
Tel: 0800 015 8055
Provides travel insurance created for people who are disabled and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Tel: 0845 338 1638 (Monday to Friday - 9.00am to 5.30pm)
Asthma Enterprises is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Heath Lambert Limited and Unique is a trading name of Heath Lambert Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered Office: The Walbrook Building, 25 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AW. Registered Number: 1199129 England and Wales. www.ajginternational.com
Last updated August 2015