Traveling with breathing problems
If you have breathing problems such as asthma or COPD, you can travel safely if you take a few precautions.
Oxygen - travel; Collapsed lung - travel; Chest surgery - travel; COPD - travel; Chronic obstructive airways disease - travel; Chronic obstructive lung disease - travel; Chronic bronchitis - travel; Emphysema - travel
Talk With Your Doctor About Traveling
It's easier to stay healthy while traveling if you are in good health before you go. Before traveling, you should talk with your health care provider if you have breathing problems and you:
- Are short of breath most of the time
- Get short of breath when you walk 150 feet (45 meters) or less
- Have been in the hospital for breathing problems recently
- Use oxygen at home, even if just at night or with exercise
Also talk with your provider if you were in the hospital for your breathing problems and had:
- Chest surgery
- A collapsed lung
Check with your provider if you plan to travel in a place at a high altitude (such as states like Colorado or Utah and countries like Peru or Ecuador).
Oxygen and air Travel
Two weeks before you travel, tell your airline that you will need oxygen on the plane. (The airline may not be able to accommodate you if you tell them less than 48 hours before your flight.)
- Make sure you talk with someone at the airline who knows how to help you plan for having oxygen on the plane.
- You will need a prescription for oxygen and a letter from your provider.
- In the United States, you can usually bring your own oxygen on a plane.
Airlines and airports will not provide oxygen while you are not on an airplane. This includes before and after the flight, and during a layover. Call your oxygen supplier who may be able to help.
On the day of travel:
- Get to the airport at least 120 minutes before your flight.
- Have an extra copy of your provider's letter and prescription for oxygen.
- Carry lightweight luggage, if possible.
- Use a wheelchair and other services for getting around the airport.
Stay Away From Infections
Get a flu shot every year to help prevent infection. Ask your provider if you need a pneumonia vaccine and get one if you do.
Wash your hands often. Stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.
Find out About Medical Care Where you are Going
Have a name, phone number, and address of a doctor where you are going. Do not go to areas that do not have good medical care.
Bring enough medicine, even some extra. Bring copies of your recent medical records with you.
Contact your oxygen company and find out if they can provide oxygen in the city you are traveling to.
Other Travel Tips
- Always ask for non-smoking hotel rooms.
- Stay away from places where people are smoking.
- Try to stay away from cities with polluted air.
American Lung Association website. What goes in an asthma or COPD travel pack? www.lung.org/about-us/blog/2017/09/asthma-copd-travel-pack.html. Updated September 8, 2017. Accessed January 31, 2020.
American Thoracic Society website. Oxygen therapy. www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/oxygen-therapy.pdf. Updated April 2016. Accessed January 31, 2020.
Luks AM, Schoene RB, Swenson ER. High altitude. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 77.
McCarthy A, Burchard GD. The traveler with pre-existing disease. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 26.
Suh KN, Flaherty GT. The older traveler. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 24.
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.