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Traveling with breathing problems

Talk with your doctor about traveling

If you have breathing problems and you:

  • Are short of breath most of the time
  • Get short of breath when you walk 150 feet or less
  • Have been in the hospital for breathing problems recently
  • Use oxygen at home, even if just at night or with exercise

If you were in the hospital for your breathing problems and had:

  • Pneumonia
  • Chest surgery
  • A collapsed lung

Also talk to your doctor if you plan to travel in a place at a high altitude (such as Colorado or Utah).

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 you will need it 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 doctor.
  • 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; not before or after the flight, and not during a layover. Call your oxygen supplier who may be able to help.

On the day of travel:

  • Get to the airport at least 90 minutes before your flight.
  • Have an extra copy of your doctor'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 doctor if you need a pneumonia shot. 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. Do not go to areas that do not have good medical care.

Bring enough medicine, even some extra. Bring 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 dirty, polluted air.
  • Be careful about high-altitude areas.
  • Talk with your doctor before you travel.

Updated: 4/26/2014

Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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