Travelling with asthma

If you or someone in your family has asthma, it's still possible to enjoy travelling. Follow our tips for stress free holidays with asthma.

 

Choosing a holiday when you have asthma
6 things to do before you go 
Air travel
Carrying your asthma medicines
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Travel insurance
Travelling when you're young
Travelling with severe asthma

Choosing a holiday when you have asthma

Choosing and planning your trip carefully can help you stay well with your asthma so you can make the most of your time away.

Accommodation

If you know what triggers your asthma, whether it's second-hand smoke, air pollution, or animals, it’s a good idea to check in advance to see if you're likely to come across any of them during your stay.

Get practical tips on how to reduce the risk of your triggers affecting you while you’re on holiday.

Weather

Some people find weather changes like heat, cold, humidity or thunderstorms, can make asthma symptoms worse, so it’s worth thinking about the climate when you’re choosing a holiday destination.

Find out more about how weather can affect your asthma.

Pollen

Pollen is a common asthma trigger, and pollen levels can vary in different countries.

You might want to avoid travelling to countries that have high pollen levels, especially during their pollen season.

There are plenty of other destinations that have lower pollen levels, and coastal areas tend to have lower pollen counts too.

Find out more about how pollen can affect your asthma.

Altitude

Most people with well controlled asthma can travel to places at high altitude. In fact, some people find their asthma symptoms improve at high altitude.

However, everyone's asthma is different, and you might find your asthma is worse at high altitude, especially if your symptoms are triggered by cold air or exercise. 

If you’re planning a climbing or skiing trip, read our advice on asthma and adventure sports.

Physical activity

If your asthma is well managed and you rarely have any symptoms, you should be able to enjoy physical activity on holiday, but some people find that exercise makes their asthma worse.

If you’re likely to be more active than usual on holiday, read about what you can do to help yourself stay well with your asthma during physical activity and exercise.

6 things to do before you go 

1. Check if you need travel vaccines

If you’re travelling outside the UK, you may need travel vaccinations. See your GP or a private travel health clinic at least eight weeks before your trip.

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’re taking, or have recently taken, oral steroids before you have any vaccinations.

2. See your GP or asthma nurse to review your asthma action plan

Book an asthma review before you travel so you can make sure your asthma is well controlled. You can also get your asthma action plan updated. Don't forget to take it with you so you know what to do if you have symptoms while you're away.

It’s a good idea to pack one copy in your hand luggage and one in your suitcase. You could also take a photo of it on your phone, so you have it with you all the time.

3. Get your asthma prescriptions and paperwork sorted

Take a copy of your prescription with you, and a letter from your GP that states that you have asthma (and any other health conditions that you may have) and lists the medication that you take, including its generic name, not just the brand name.

4. Tell travelling companions you have asthma

It’s sensible 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 could show them your written asthma action plan so they know how to help you.

5. Be prepared for asthma emergencies

Try to find out how to get medical help from a doctor and emergency services in case you have an asthma attack while you’re on holiday. Keep these details with you, along with the contact details of your doctor at home in case of an emergency, and a list of medicines you're taking alongside any repeat prescriptions.

It’s also worth finding out how you can get more supplies of your asthma medicines at your destination, in case they get lost or damaged. You could ask your travel provider, or hotel reception. Or look online for the nearest pharmacy or healthcare centre so you know where they are before you go. 

If you have severe asthma or asthma that's difficult to control, you might find it reassuring to wear a medic alert band

6. Learn a few key phrases

If you’re going abroad, learning a few handy phrases in the local language may be useful, such as 'asthma attack', 'inhaler', 'can't breathe', 'get the doctor' and 'where is the hospital?'

You could also get a translation app for your phone to help explain what’s happening in case you need medical help. But get a head start by knowing the translation for words like 'steroids' and 'nebuliser' for example.

Air travel

Air travel is generally safe, even for people with medical conditions, so if your asthma is well managed you should have no problems when you're flying.

Some people, particularly those with severe asthma or asthma that's difficult to control, may find their asthma symptoms get worse due to air pressure or allergens that can trigger asthma in the aeroplane cabin, so speak to your GP or asthma nurse before travelling by air.

If they think your asthma is likely to get worse when you're flying, they may suggest tests to see if you might be at risk of an asthma attack. They might recommend using in-flight oxygen to help keep your asthma under control.

Remember, it’s OK to use your reliever inhaler on the plane if you do get symptoms, and to ask the cabin crew for help if you need it.

Carrying your asthma medicines

  • Carry your inhalers and any other medication in your hand luggage: suitcases can get lost or delayed.

  • Split your asthma medicines between separate bags if you can, such as your hand luggage and your travel companion’s, so you have supplies available if one bag goes missing.

  • Make sure you can get to your reliever easily - keep it in a safe, accessible place, not buried under everything else you've packed.
  • Keep your medicines, and equipment like your peak flow meter, in their original packaging, with the prescription label attached.

  • Take paper copies of all your prescriptions with you. You can also keep photos of them on your phone.

  • Get a letter from your GP listing which medicines you take. You can check with your travel provider if you'll need this. And be prepared that you may need to show your medicines and any documentation at border control when you get to the country you're travelling to.

  • Ask your GP or asthma nurse if you can take oral steroids or antibiotics with you if  you’re travelling to a remote location, in case you become unwell with your asthma. And make sure you have clear instructions with you on when and how to use them.

  • If you're travelling for quite a few months, take enough inhalers with you to cover it. If you do need to get more than your usual prescription, make sure you leave enough time to do this. You might need to explain your plans to your GP to get the right quantity prescribed.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

At the moment the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) still entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost medical treatment in EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

This includes treatment for existing health conditions like asthma. But the EHIC is only valid up until 31 December 2020.

From 1 January 2021 you’ll need to make sure you get travel insurance that covers pre-existing health conditions.  

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is essential if you’re travelling overseas, even if you have an EHIC. Make sure you declare that you have asthma so that you're fully covered.

It’ll cover medical costs that aren’t included in your EHIC, as well as other costs that you might encounter, such as paying for your return journey if you have to change your travel arrangements because of illness.

And from the 1 January 2021, when the EHIC will no longer be valid, it’ll be even more important to find the right travel insurance for you which has cover for asthma and other pre-existing health conditions.

If you don’t tell the insurance company about your asthma, it may not pay out if you make a claim.

You may need to find a specialist travel insurance company that will cover you for your asthma, so be prepared to shop around.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides information on travel, including travel insurance advice.

Travelling when you're young

Whether you're thinking about taking a gap year or going on holiday with friends, making sure your asthma's well managed while you travel will help to stop it getting in the way of you having fun.

As well as following the other travel tips on this page, here are some other things you might want to think about:

Travelling with severe asthma

If you have severe asthma there are extra things you might need to think about before you go away, such as dealing with mobility issues.

Get some useful tips on travelling when you have severe asthma

 

Last updated February 2020

Next review due February 2023