Choosing a holiday when you have asthma
6 things to do before you go
Carrying your asthma medicines
Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)
Travelling when you're young
Travelling with severe 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
If you’re travelling or going on holiday to an EU country, you can apply for a free GHIC card. This allows you to get reduced cost, or free, state healthcare in the EU, including emergency healthcare if you have an asthma attack on holiday.
The GHIC card replaces the old EHIC (European health insurance card). You can still use your EHIC card if it remains in date. Once it expires you’ll need to apply for the GHIC card instead.
The GHIC, like the old EHIC card, is not an alternative to travel insurance.
You can find out more about the GHIC card, what it covers, and how to apply on the NHS website.
Travel insurance is essential if you’re travelling overseas, even if you have a GHIC. 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 GHIC, 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.
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.
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:
- Make sure any activities that you might do while travelling are covered by your travel insurance.
- If you think you might take part in activities like climbing, scuba diving or even bungee jumping, read our advice on extreme sports and asthma.
- Be aware that alcohol and drugs could trigger asthma symptoms.
- Planning to go to a festival? Read our tips on looking after your asthma at festivals.
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 2021
Next review due February 2023