The scenery is supposed to take your breath away when you're on vacation -- not asthma. But too often, it's the other way around.
Dr. Yoav Golan, assistant professor of medicine at New England Medical Center in Boston, and several other colleagues recently studied 203 vacationers with asthma. Eighty-eight of these travelers experienced asthma attacks during their trips. Of these, 32 reported their "worst asthma attack ever." Eleven had life-threatening episodes.
Two factors seemed to especially increase the risk for trouble: a recent history of needing inhaled bronchodilators three or more times per week prior to the trip, or exertion at higher elevations during the trip (many of the travelers were high-altitude hikers). The higher use of bronchodilators indicated that some people's asthma was unstable even before the added stress of a vacation.
Even if your vacation plans don't include scrambling over the Alps, you need to make sure you're prepared for an unexpected asthma attack. That means keeping your inhaler close at hand while you're away from home. You also want to check in with your doctor before you leave to see if you should adjust your medications.
Unfortunately, few travelers had done these things in Golan's study, setting themselves up for unnecessary grief. "Almost all failed to predict any problem," he says.
Travel can be tough on people with asthma because new locales can expose them to disease triggers they don't normally experience, says Dr. Stanley Goldstein, spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. That includes things like new allergens, molds, cold and dry air, or secondhand smoke.
1. Carry a good supply of medications and your inhaler and nebulizer in your carry-on luggage, not in your checked bags. If you're headed overseas, you'll also need to pack a universal plug adapter for your nebulizer because your North American plug may not fit the outlets. 2. Take all medicines in their original pharmacy containers, and make sure the name on the bottles matches the name on your passport. Otherwise, unforgiving customs officers could confiscate your medicines. 3. Find out what medical facilities will be available at your destination. Keep their names and addresses handy. Your travel agent can help with this. 4. Many international flights allow smoking. Make sure you're seated well away from the tobacco smoke, and ask to move if someone lights up near you. 5. Take along a dust-proof pillow and mattress cover. This can protect you from unfamiliar allergens on hotel beds.