Taking Your Lungs on Vacation

Littauer Respiratory Therapists invite people with lung disease to enjoy summer vacations again.

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Caption for photo: Ms DeLuca warns people not to store medications in a hot car when traveling.

GLOVERSVILLE, NY (06/14/2010)(readMedia)-- Consider this: AAA estimated 32.1 million Americans started the summer traveling season this past Memorial Day. But for those with a lung condition like asthma or COPD, many opt for a "staycation" because of their apprehension to travel. If Nathan Littauer Respiratory Therapists have their way, more people with lung conditions will join the ranks of those taking an old fashioned summer vacation. Nathan Littauer is offering some advice and some practical tips for people with lung disease planning on traveling this summer.

"Getting ready to go on vacation is always a lot of work, but if you have breathing problems that require you to be on oxygen, an inhaler or a nebulizer, planning for a trip can sometimes seem overwhelming." stated Barbara DeLuca, Registered Respiratory Therapist at Nathan Littauer Hospital.

"I find that people with lung conditions often do not travel" Ms. DeLuca explains. "Patients tell me they are afraid they will run out of oxygen, or they are afraid they won't be able to take their treatments when they need them or they may simply be embarrassed of their condition."

It doesn't have to be that way say respiratory therapists from the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC). Ms. DeLuca adds, "I want people to know that their lung disease should not hinder them from enjoying life. They just need to plan ahead."

Ms. DeLuca remembers, "I know of a patient who had very bad COPD and we worked with her and her son to get her back to something she really enjoyed: boating. She went out on a boat for the first time in 5 years with her son. We helped her get a portable unit and spent the afternoon floating around on the Sacandaga. She was ecstatic."

Using Oxygen

"A lot of people who are on oxygen think they can't travel anymore," says Barb DeLuca. "That's just not true. It just takes a little extra planning."

Ms. DeLuca says the first thing to do is talk to your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for the trip. "Your doctor knows your specific medical problems and needs, and will be able to answer your questions." The next step depends a lot on what form of transportation you're going to be using to get where you want to go.

"If you are traveling by car, bus, train, or ship then you can take your portable oxygen system with you," says Ms. DeLuca. You'll need to let the bus, train, or cruise line know you will be taking oxygen on board, however, and follow their instructions for its use. You'll also need to make sure the bus or train stops at cities where you can get your portable oxygen tank refilled. If you're taking a cruise, you'll need to have enough oxygen delivered to the ship before leaving harbor.

Also check the latest information on airline travel. Certain oxygen concentrators are now allowed aboard airlines, thanks to lobbying efforts by the AARC and other health care groups. A list of those approved devices is on the AARC's patient education website, YourLungHealth.org.

If you'll be staying in a hotel during your trip, you'll also need to call them ahead of time and let them know you'll be using oxygen during your stay.

While traveling with oxygen may sound complicated, Ms, DeLuca emphasizes help is readily available for people who give it a try. In most cases, your oxygen supplier will work with you to set up the trip, making sure you have what you need when you need it.

"One purpose of oxygen is to improve the quality of your lifestyle," says the respiratory therapist. "That 'quality' includes being able to visit friends, make business trips, and take vacations."

Helpful Hints for Traveling with Oxygen

Here are some helpful hints from the American Association for Respiratory Care on taking oxygen on the road:

  • Call your oxygen supplier and let them know when, where, and how you plan to travel so they can arrange to meet you at the airport, hotel, or other locations along the way to deliver you the oxygen you'll need while you're away.
  • Notify your doctor about your travel plans. You'll need a special prescription for oxygen used while on the airplane.
  • For more information on traveling with oxygen visit the AARC's consumer web site, www.YourLungHealth.org

Asthma "on the road"

For those people with asthma who are traveling, Ms. DeLuca recommends the following:

  • Speak to your doctor before you leave. Your health care provider can be a wealth of knowledge.
  • Take with you a detailed list of medications showing prescription refill number, prescribing physician and dosage. (Each medication's original label should have all the needed information.)*
  • Pack the needed quantities of medications and, if possible, also pack a backup quantity to avoid being caught short. Be sure to pack your medication in your carry-on luggage in case checked luggage is lost.*
  • If you are using a peak flow meter, be sure to bring it along on your vacation, with the chart that is used to record results.*
  • If you are using a nebulizer to deliver anti-asthma medication, it should not be left at home when going on vacation. Be sure that, if traveling abroad, you have an electrical current converter for the nebulizer. For campers and others who will be spending vacation periods in "the rough," portable nebulizers powered off an auto cigarette lighter receptacle are available.*
  • When booking a hotel room, make sure you ask for a non-smoking and mold-free room. Some hotels are now advertising hypoallergenic rooms. Ask.
  • Traveling can be a very dusty environment. Make sure you replace the cap on the inhaler after each use. This keeps dust and dirt off the mouthpiece, and keeps anything from getting into the inhaler and blocking the action. *
  • Store your inhaler in a clean environment, convenient place. Put your inhaler in a sealed zip-top bag. It will still be handy when you need it, but it will always be clean. *
  • Keep your inhaler with you and not in a car! The glove box of your car might seem like a handy place to store an inhaler, but the extreme heat in your car can change the composition of the medication and render it ineffective. Some inhalers can burst when exposed to extreme heat. Think your car is not extreme heat? Think again. Cars can reach an internal temperature of over 130 degrees on hot days. A study from Stanford University shows that even on comparatively cool days, such as 72 degrees, a car's internal temperature will rocket to 116 degrees within 60 minutes. And keeping the windows open a crack hardly slows the rise at all.
  • If you have questions about the primary allergens and pollen count in the area you are visiting, contact the local Chamber of Commerce. Or you can call the National Allergy Bureau at 1-800-9-POLLEN or visit the Asthma and Allergy page of our website. AAFA also has a national network of educational support groups. One may be in the area you are traveling to and could provide you with useful local information.

And finally Ms. DeLuca suggests, "If you are apprehensive about getting back on the road, you may want to plan a short overnight trip, as a trial run well before a long trip." She concludes, "What is important is to have a good quality of life and if you want to travel we can help you get there."


* Information provided by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. You can get more information by visiting: The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology www.aaaai.org

To learn more about lung health, visit the American Association for Respiratory Care's patient education website at www.YourLungHealth.org.

Respiratory therapists are specially trained health care professionals who assist physicians in treating and managing respiratory patients in hospitals, outpatient centers, physicians' offices, skilled nursing facilities, and patients' homes.

The American Association for Respiratory Care is a professional membership organization of respiratory therapists dedicated to respiratory therapy education and research. Among its goals are to advocate on behalf of pulmonary patients for appropriate access to respiratory services provided by qualified professionals and to benefit respiratory health care providers.

Nathan Littauer Hospital and Family of Health Services serves Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton Counties Upstate New York with a full-service 74-bed hospital, eight primary care centers, 84-bed nursing home and a community education center. The hospital opened 116 years ago, has 950 employees and recently opened a new Birthing Center. The hospital also opened a new Emergency Care Center this spring.