Can I travel if I have a lung condition?
Before planning a trip, speak to your doctor for advice. If you haven’t seen your doctor recently, it’s worth arranging a review and making sure your self-management plan or asthma action plan is up to date.
Travelling abroad can take more planning than travelling in the UK, especially if you’re flying. You should give yourself enough time to speak to your doctor before travelling. They will be able to advise you about taking medicine or equipment abroad. If you’re planning to fly, they can also tell you if you’ll need to do a fitness-to-fly (hypoxic challenge) test.
Your doctor will be able to give you advice about any vaccines you might need before you travel. If you take oral steroids or immunosuppressive medicine, see your doctor at least eight weeks before you plan to leave. You may not be able to have some vaccines, or you may need a vaccine further in advance before going away.
You can find more information and advice on the NHS Fitfortravel website.
What to consider when planning a trip
When you’re planning a trip, it’s good to think about things like:
Very warm or cold weather can affect you and lead to flare-ups or an asthma attack. Hot weather also increases the amount of ozone in the air, which can make symptoms worse.
Weather changes like heat, cold, humidity or thunderstorms can make symptoms of lung conditions worse. For some people with asthma, they can trigger attacks.
Air pollution is harmful to everyone, but people with lung conditions are more at risk.
Pollutants can irritate your lungs and trigger symptoms, so you may want to consider the air quality at your destination.
Your lungs get less oxygen at high altitude, for example in mountainous areas. This can make it more difficult for people with lung conditions, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before travelling.
For some conditions, your doctor may suggest you have a test to see if you should use oxygen while at high altitude. If you already use oxygen, they may suggest you increase your flow rate.
Pollen can trigger symptoms for some people with lung conditions. Some people find they actually get fewer symptoms from pollen when abroad, because they’re not allergic to some native trees and grasses in the way they are in the UK.
You still might want to avoid going to countries that have high pollen levels, especially during their pollen season. There are plenty of destinations that have lower pollen levels. Areas by the coast also tend to have lower pollen counts.
If your condition is triggered by things like cigarette smoke, pets or dust mites, you should check whether these could be a problem at your accommodation. If you cannot avoid a trigger, make sure you follow your treatment plan and take your medicines as prescribed to lower your risk of symptoms.
If you have access needs, we have more information about finding accommodation.
Flying with a lung condition
...you may be worried about flying. If your condition is well managed you should not have problems.
Some people may find their symptoms get worse because of low humidity or allergens in the cabin. Make sure you pack your reliever inhaler in your hand luggage and continue to take all your medicines as prescribed. European and American regulations also require aircraft to carry reliever inhalers, though this may not be the case for airlines in other parts of the world.
If you have severe asthma or severe COPD, talk to your GP or specialist before travelling. They may advise you to take an emergency supply of steroids in your hand luggage along with your usual medicines.
...talk to your doctor before you plan any travel. They may prescribe you an emergency supply of antibiotics.
...you will need a letter from your doctor or healthcare professional to travel with your machine.
You might need to use your machine during long haul flights. Some airlines have restrictions on what machines can be used on board. The Sleep Apnoea Trust has produced a list of the policies for different airlines. It’s a good idea to check with your airline well before travelling.
Contact the airline before you book to discuss your needs. If you’ll need assistance, tell your airline at least 48 hours before flying.
Travelling with medicine
Give yourself plenty of time to organise medicines for the whole of your trip. Discuss your plans with your doctor at least two months before you plan to travel.
For some conditions like severe asthma, COPD, or interstitial lung disease, your doctor may prescribe an emergency supply of antibiotics or steroids.
Will my medicine be allowed?
Different countries have different rules about the types of medicine they allow to be taken into the country, and how much you can take in. Make sure you check the rules for all the countries you’re going to, even if you’re just passing through them.
Some prescribed medicines contain controlled drugs and may require a personal licence to take abroad.
International rules vary – contact the embassy for the country you're visiting. GOV.UK has a full list of foreign embassies in the UK.
Taking your prescription and a letter from your GP
It’s a good idea to travel with a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP with:
- details of your medicine
- the name of the health condition you need it for.
These will help if security staff ask about your medicine at customs. They will also be useful if you need medical help while you’re away.
Your GP may charge for writing this letter, as it’s not a required NHS service.
Flying with medicine
If you’re flying, you should carry your medicines and any medical equipment in your hand luggage. Keep your medicines and medical equipment in their original, correctly labelled packages. If you can, split your medicines between several bags, so you have some available if one bag goes missing.
It’s a good idea to take paper copies of all your prescriptions with you. You can also keep photos of them on your phone or view them in the NHS app.
If you need to take medical equipment or more than 100ml of liquid or gel medicine in your hand luggage, you’ll need a letter from your doctor or a copy of your prescription.
Travelling with medicine checklist
Check the expiry dates for your medicines to be sure that they are valid for the whole of your holiday.
- Make sure you’ll have enough medicine and equipment to cover your whole trip.
- Make sure you have a copy of your prescription and a letter from your GP with you.
- Some medicines need to be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. If you need advice on how to keep your medicines cool, talk to your GP or pharmacist. They might advise you to store your medicines in a thermos flask or cooler bag.
- If you’re given medicine abroad, check whether it can be brought back into the UK. If you’re in any doubt, declare the medicine at customs along with your doctor’s letter.
- Take a photo of your passport, prescriptions, and insurance policy details to keep on your phone, so you always have a copy with you.
- If you use a reliever inhaler, make sure you can find it quickly in an emergency.
- If you use a spacer, don’t travel with it in a plastic bag, as this will cause it to build up static. Try a medicine bag instead, and make sure it’s easy to find if you need it.
- If you have a rescue pack for flare-ups, make sure it is stocked and make sure you know when to use it. Talk to your GP if you’re not sure.
- If you normally use a peak flow meter, take it on holiday so you can monitor your symptoms while you’re away.
- If you use equipment like a nebuliser or CPAP machine, remember that other countries may have different electric sockets and voltages, so you may need an adaptor or battery-powered equipment. If you’re not sure, check with the manufacturer or your healthcare professional.
- Most airlines allow battery-operated medical equipment to be used on board, but do not allow ones that need a mains supply. Check with your airline about carrying and using your equipment on the plane.
Be prepared for emergencies
When travelling with a lung condition, you should be prepared for emergencies, like a flare-up or asthma attack. Make sure you:
- always carry your reliever inhaler with you if you use one
- take a list of emergency numbers you might need
- have details of your emergency contact with you and keep them somewhere accessible
- take extra medicine with you in separate bags in case any luggage gets lost
- have your self-management plan or asthma action plan and make sure it lists details of the treatments you need in an emergency. It’s helpful to give this to the people you’re travelling with and healthcare professionals if necessary.
More information and support
You can find more information and advice about staying healthy when travelling abroad on the NHS Fitfortravel website. The Department of Health Travel Health Pro website has travel health advice for places around the world.
You can read about the travel experiences of other people with lung conditions on our Health Unlocked forum.
Use our helpful checklist to make sure you’re fully prepared for your trip.