How to fly safely with asthma

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Millions of people have asthma. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1 in 13 people has asthma, including 25 million Americans. That boils down to 7.7 percent of the adult population and 8.4 percent of children.

Not all types of asthma are the same, either, which means they can be triggered by different things and cause different reactions. Some are related to allergies, others are related to exercise, and some are even tied to your work environment. 

Though it was once thought that people with asthma are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, they actually are not. Doctors and scientists have not been able to find a correlation between asthma and COVID-19 beyond the fact that asthma can exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms. However, asthma doesn’t put you at higher risk.

With that being said, traveling with asthma in the time of COVID-19 presents more of a challenge than normal. First, you’re dealing with the complications of unfamiliar air on the plane and second, the stress involved in travel could potentially trigger an attack. 

Asthma is different for everyone, though, so there’s no universal rule for exactly what to do if you’re about to fly during COVID-19 if you have asthma. However, there are some best practices you can follow if you’re traveling right now, especially keeping in mind the changes the travel industry has made because of the pandemic.

Ahead, we’ll lay out some tips for preparing for a trip, what to do on the plane, and even how to make the most of your travel credit cards to save money, all with the help of a medical professional.

There’s much more to consider when traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, especially if you have Asthma. (Image by Getty Images)

Preparations before your trip

With any medical condition, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your doctor before you travel. Especially now in the time of COVID-19, it’s important to go over travel plans with your doctor and get any recommendations regarding safety precautions. We spoke with Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead of Forward, on how to prepare to fly if you have asthma. While he doesn’t advise asthmatics to fly leisurely right now during COVID-19, he did provide some tips for what you can do if you absolutely have to get on a plane. 

Before your travel, there are a few things you can do to ensure you have a safe trip. Keep all of the following in mind:

  • Create a plan with your doctor: When you meet with your healthcare provider, come up with a plan for travel. This should include best practices that your doctor has designed for you, as well as an action plan should anything go wrong. Your doctor can tell you what to do if you have an emergency mid-flight or away from home.
    “Given that moderate to severe asthma may be a risk factor for a severe case of COVID-19, it’s worth being more cautious during the pandemic,” Dr. Favini said, which is why meeting with your doctor before you leave home is so important. Your doctor should know your case and medical history and will know how best to prepare if you have to travel.
  • Pack an asthma travel kit: This is incredibly important and should not be left off your to-do list. Your travel kit must include all your medications, which you shouldn’t have any issue getting through security. Make sure your medications are in their original packaging and carry a prescription or note from your doctor along with you. If you have any form of medical identification, carry that as well. This is another thing you should discuss with your doctor because they’ll make recommendations regarding what you should have with you at all times. Dr. Favini noted that you should have your rescue inhaler and controller meds in this kit and always keep it nearby. 
  • Make a list of your meds: Have a list of your medications readily available and with you. It’s not a bad idea to have a digital copy in your phone, as well as a paper copy in your purse or wallet. This way you’re pretty much guaranteed to always have access to it.
  • Be aware of how much medication you’ll need: Bring enough medication to last you for your whole trip, plus an extra few doses of everything, just in case your return is delayed. Your doctor can make the best recommendation on how much medication to have on hand.
  • Review asthma triggers: You know your asthma best, so be aware of what triggers it so you can either avoid those situations or be ready to react if you inevitably find yourself dealing with it.
  • Familiarize yourself with your destination: No matter where you’re traveling to, just make yourself aware of the destination, including its weather or availability of medical care, etc. You want to be as prepared as possible in relation to your asthma, so having this information before you leave home is ideal.

Tips for flying with asthma during COVID-19 

The air in an airplane is incredibly dry. Think about how parched you feel overall when you get off a flight — it’s because of the dry air circulating in the plane. It’s possible you’ve also noticed that your breathing pattern is slightly different when flying, and that’s due to the cabin pressure. While the effect is minimal, because airplanes closely regulate oxygen levels and cabin pressure, there is still a difference between what you breathe outside and on the ground.

Now, because of COVID-19, face masks are required on all flights which adds to the irregular breathing experience. There are a few things you can do, though, to make your flying experience safer and more enjoyable if you have asthma.

  • Keep your medication handy: This is a universal rule for flying with medication. Always keep it on you in case you need it and in case your checked bag gets lost. We actually recommend you keep a stash both in your carry-on and in your checked bag. Also bring more than you think you’ll need, just in case. Have your inhaler at the ready while on the plane too. Dr. Favini adds, “If your flight is long enough that you’ll be due for a dose of your regular controller meds, be sure to bring that in your carry-on as well.”
  • Ask to preboard: Because of COVID-19, airplanes are being disinfected more than ever. For some people with asthma, these disinfectants can affect breathing. Before you board the plane, speak with a gate agent and make them aware. Let them know the concern with disinfectant and ask to preboard so you can gauge any reaction before the plane is full.
  • Give the flight attendants a heads up: Flight attendants are there for you. Their job is to make sure your flight is safe and comfortable, so let them know as soon as you board that you have asthma and while you don’t anticipate any issues, you want them to be aware in case anything does come up. This won’t be an unusual conversation for them — they deal with all kinds of passengers, so they’re happy to help.
    Even Dr. Favini makes this recommendation for asthmatics who are traveling. “Alert the flight crew and they will generally ask for any medical professionals on board who may be able to help. The crew will also communicate with their medical teams on the ground to determine if they need to land the plane to get you the help you need,” he said. 
  • Make sure your travel companion is aware: If you’re traveling with a family member, they probably already know about your asthma. But if you’re with a new friend or significant other, you should let them know what’s going on. If you have an emergency, they can better assist you if they’re in the know.
  • Wear the right mask: Not all face masks are created equal, and some are a little more breathable than others. Before you go, check with your doctor to pick the right mask for your travels. It’s important to have a compliant mask that also accommodates your needs.
  • Drink water: There’s rarely a situation where drinking water won’t be of assistance. As we said, the air on a plane is dry, so bring water with you or get some when boarding to ensure you stay properly hydrated. This will help you breathe a little bit easier.
  • Use the seat’s air vent: Dr. Favini strongly recommends making use of that air vent over your seat while you’re traveling. “I suggest turning on the air ventilation above your seat as high as possible,” he shared. “That is fresh and HEPA-filtered air coming out and can help create a bubble around you and allow you to breathe less air from people in neighboring seats.”
(Image by Khairil Azhar Junos/Shutterstock)

Avoid added financial stress

Financial stress might not be something you’ve considered in relation to your asthma, but you really should. COVID-19 has affected people in a lot of different ways, and many across the country are struggling with finances right now. With pay cuts, lost jobs, and more, many are struggling to keep up with bills and financial requirements. Thus, stress and emotions are high. That can actually have an effect on your asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Strong emotions — good or bad — and depression can trigger asthma attacks, so this is another thing to keep in mind while considering travel.

One way to alleviate this stress while traveling is to come up with a budget before you go. From the outset, set yourself up for success by doing the following:

  • Be flexible: If possible, keep your travel dates flexible so you can find the best deal. Certain days of the week and certain times of day are consistently cheaper for flights, so if you’re not tied to a specific time frame, this can easily help you save money.
  • Use points and miles: Now’s the time to cash in on those points you’ve been saving. For the most part, award flights are much easier to find than normal, which means you might be able to cash in your points for your whole round-trip fare or even multiple trips, which could save you a ton of money. The same goes for hotel points — use them! Airlines usually jack up cash prices around the holidays, so this is can be a prime opportunity to get good value out of your miles.
  • Use the right credit card: Because you know you’ll be spending money on this trip, why not get some of it back with a cash-back or travel credit card? These cards are designed to help you out, so use them for all the parts of your trip, not just the flight and accommodations. These credit cards are perfect for food (some of them even offer discounts at various restaurants), rideshares, rental cars, prescriptions, or even medical treatment should you have any problems with your asthma while traveling.  

Bottom line

While traveling for leisure amid COVID-19 isn’t necessarily advised by doctors, we understand that sometimes you have to get on a plane and go. If you’re someone who deals with asthma, it’s important to speak with your doctor before traveling so they can prepare you for your trip. Being ready for any situation will make your trip that much less stressful and hopefully get you to your destination safely and in good health.

Featured image by d3sign / Getty Images.

Hedy Phillips is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has appeared in MSN, Yahoo News, Cosmopolitan, Popsugar, Refinery29 and more.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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