Around 5.4 million people in the UK currently receive treatment for asthma – caused by inflammation of the bronchi (the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs) - making it the most common long-term health condition. It varies massively in severity and while breathlessness, wheezing, coughing and a tight chest are typical characteristics, not everybody’s symptom patterns are the same. Thankfully, with appropriate treatment and by taking necessary steps to avoid ‘triggers’, on the whole, asthma can be managed well and needn’t stop people living life to the full.
“Asthma doesn’t mean you can’t travel and enjoy your holidays,” says Sonia Munde, nurse manager at Asthma UK, who is also head of the charity’s helpline. “But taking time to plan your trip can prevent problems and help you make the most of your time away.”
With asthma, symptom triggers can vary from person to person. Plus, some people will experience more acute reactions – and sometimes there’s no way of predicting these patterns. It’s worth considering whether your holiday destination could expose you to ‘triggers’ (will you be exposed to high pollen counts, lots of animals, what is the climate like?), and bear in mind that your asthma could be affected. “People with asthma have airways that are very sensitive. A change in weather can trigger asthma symptoms in some people, but it’s not known why this happens,” says Munde. “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 symptoms.”
It’s a good idea to pack more medication than you’d normally need – just in case. “Taking enough inhalers and tablets to last the duration of the holiday, plus an extra week’s supply is essential,” suggests Munde. If you are flying, “inhalers and medicines should be placed into the clear plastic bags provided when going through airport security”, she notes, and adds that it’s also worth checking the airline’s policies on carrying asthma medications in your hand luggage before you reach the airport. “Airport staff may also need to carry out additional checks on these items. For example, spray a puff into the air.”
This is stock advice for anybody on long-term medication. If your luggage goes missing, or your bag happens to get stolen or lost while you’re away, it’s always a good idea to know that you have a back-up supply of essential medicines. “We’d advise people to always carry their inhaler with them, and when travelling, to always carry a spare inhaler in their hand luggage, in case their check-in baggage goes missing,” says Munde.
Should you need to replace or restock your medication while you’re away, be prepared by carrying a list with all the information you might need. “Take the tear-off slip from prescriptions which list all medicines, or carry a doctor’s letter that lists all medication carried (with the correct drug name rather than the manufacturer’s name). Medicines should be kept in their original packaging with the prescribing details label attached,” says Munde. It’s helpful to research details of local pharmacies and hospitals where you’ll be staying too, so you have the information to hand should you need it.
Depending on where you are going, bear in mind that not everybody will be able to speak English – especially if you’re going somewhere very remote and off the beaten track. Just as it’s advisable to have an ‘action plan’ in the event of an asthma attack at home in the UK, be prepared for what you’d do if an attack happened while you’re away. “Learning a few key phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting is useful,” suggests Munde. “Be prepared by looking up how to say ‘asthma attack’, ‘inhaler’, ‘can’t breathe’, ‘get the doctor’ and ‘where is the hospital?’ in advance. Knowing the words can help you feel more confident and relaxed.”