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Traveling with COPD

(July 11, 2016)

Summer vacation time is here. But when you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), travel can present special challenges. COPD makes it difficult to breathe, causing many people with COPD to be reluctant to travel far from home. But with proper preparation, people with COPD can travel anywhere, safely. The American Lung Association has tips to help you prepare and stay healthy while you travel.

Couple taking vacation photo.

Many of the travel precautions for people with COPD are the same as those for people with other chronic lung diseases, like asthma, such as avoiding allergens and preparing for air quality changes. But some needs, like portable oxygen tanks, make traveling with COPD unique. An important first step in managing your COPD is to work with your healthcare provider to complete this COPD Action Plan, then follow it at home and while traveling.

Plan and Pack

Plan smart and make sure you take everything you need for a safe and enjoyable trip:

  • Air Quality: Changes in air quality can make it harder for people with COPD to breathe. Check the air quality of the places you are traveling to and through. Sources of daily air pollution forecasts include local radio and TV weather reports, newspapers and online at Learn more.
  • Medications: Keep all of your medications with you in your carry-on bag, and keep copies of prescriptions for your medications.
  • Oxygen: Be sure to bring an adequate oxygen supply, and prepare for the unexpected. In case of an equipment malfunction, bring spare supplies if you can. Plan ahead and learn about oxygen suppliers along your route and destination.
  • Doctors: Have a list of names and locations of a doctor and hospital at your destination, in the event you need help. Your own doctor or healthcare provider may be able to offer a referral.

Air Travel with COPD

  • Oxygen Policies: Call your airline in advance to learn their policies and procedures regarding personal oxygen equipment. This may include documents from your physician, or a current prescription for oxygen. Personal medical oxygen and other respiratory-related equipment and devices are permitted through the security-screening checkpoint once they have undergone screening. Find out more here.
  • Secure Your Oxygen: Many airlines require that you use oxygen from their special needs department during the flight, instead of your own. Plan ahead so that a supply of oxygen is waiting for you at your destination.  Your oxygen supplier can usually help with this.
  • Arrive Early: Passengers with oxygen may be required to check-in in advance of their flight.  

Traveling by Bus or Train

  • Call Ahead: Call your bus or train line in advance and advise them you will be traveling with oxygen. Generally, you are allowed to take your own oxygen onboard.  Be sure your travel accommodations are smokefree.

Traveling by Cruise Line

  • Advance Notice: Contact your cruise line well in advance and advise them of any special needs, such as oxygen or wheelchair/scooter. Most cruise lines are well equipped to deal with special needs when notified in advance.
  • Medical Documents: Ask your doctor to provide you with a letter that includes brief medical history and a copy of prescriptions for oxygen or any medication you may need replaced.
  • Oxygen Arrangements: Arrange to have oxygen tanks delivered to the ship prior to departure.

Traveling by Car

  • Oxygen Access: Position your oxygen upright in the seat next to you. Secure with a seatbelt if possible. If traveling with extra units, keep them accessible, nearby, not in the trunk.
  • Avoid Fumes and Allergens: Avoid traffic fumes and allergens in the air by keeping windows closed and air conditioning on.
  • Go Smokefree: Make sure no one smokes while in the car with you.
  • Take a Break: Pace yourself. Leave time to rest whenever you feel fatigued.

Choosing a Place to Stay

Whether you are staying in a hotel or a tent in the woods, remember that you may be exposed to new triggers that make your COPD symptoms worse. Plan accordingly, with a sufficient supply of all your medications and oxygen.

  • Request a Smokefree Environment: Choose a hotel that is non-smoking, or ask for a non-smoking room. If you are staying with family or friends, ask to stay with those who don’t smoke. If residents do smoke, ask them to smoke outside.
  • Reduce Allergens: Some hotels now offer rooms that minimize allergens. They may be furnished with hardwood floors instead of carpet, have roller shades instead of fabric drapes, etc.  
  • Go Fragrance Free: If strong odors aggravate your COPD, ask for a hotel room without scented soaps, lotions or cleaning products. If you are a houseguest, ask your host to not burn candles or incense, or use air fresheners.

Vacation Spots

  • Outdoor Activities: Take your allergy medication before you leave your house to avoid allergy symptoms that may trigger a COPD flare up. Pace yourself and rest as needed. If you feel overheated or have trouble breathing, go inside where it’s air-conditioned and take medications as prescribed. Stand upwind or a few feet away from any source of smoke or fumes.
  • Zoos and Animal Parks: If you are allergic to animal dander, avoid petting or getting too close to animals. If you are exposed to animals, keep your face away from them as much as possible. 
  • Water Parks and Pools: Swimming is great exercise, but chlorine and other chemicals found in pools and water slides can irritate your lungs. Before jumping in the deep end make sure the pool area is well ventilated and doesn’t have a strong chlorine or chemical odor.
  • Campfires: Smoke from campfires can make COPD symptoms worse. Try not to sit too close, and stay upwind to avoid breathing in the smoke. Go inside if you feel your symptoms worsening.

You can learn more about living with COPD on our website.

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