Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a long-term condition of the lungs where the flow of air to the lungs is restricted. It's often, but not always, related to smoking. COPD used to be called emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
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Before you go
Check with your doctor in advance. They may recommend that you avoid certain types of travel or destinations.
Get your symptoms as well controlled as possible in advance. Having a review with your nurse or doctor to adjust your medication can reduce the chance of a flare-up while you're away.
Have a self-management plan. This is a plan agreed with your doctor or nurse about what action to take if your symptoms get worse. This might include increasing the dose of your regular ('preventer') inhaler, keeping a course of antibiotic or steroid tablets to take in case of worsening breathing or when to seek emergency help.
If you're travelling by air
If you're planning to fly, speak to your GP about whether you need a fitness to fly spirometry check. This can help determine whether it's safe for you to fly and whether you would need oxygen on board the aircraft.
If you need assistance at the airport, let the airline know well in advance. This includes a wheelchair or other help to get you through the airport and on and off the plane.
If you do need oxygen on board, contact your airline well in advance. Every airline has their own rules about supplying oxygen – while some provide it free of charge, others may charge.
Your oxygen therapy
If you use long term oxygen therapy, you can arrange this through your oxygen supplier if you're holidaying in the UK. They'll need to know the dates and destination of your holiday and ideally six weeks' notice.
If you use long term oxygen therapy and are travelling abroad, you'll usually need to contact an oxygen supplier at your destination to provide this (most UK companies don't allow their equipment to be taken abroad. Your oxygen supplier or hospital specialist can give you details. The European Lung Foundation also has a database of suppliers.
Oxygen used to be possible in Europe through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme. This will no longer be possible from 1st January 2021 so make sure you make private arrangements in advance.
If you're using a portable oxygen concentrator, make sure you have international plug adaptors (including a spare!).
Remember your medication
Request your repeat prescription well in advance and make sure you have enough medication to last for the whole of your holiday and ideally a couple of weeks more.
Take your medication in your hand luggage in case your hold luggage is delayed or lost. Check with your pharmacist if you need a letter from your doctor detailing your medication; take a copy of your repeat prescription; and carry your medication in its original packaging.
Other top tips
High-altitude destinations often involve thinner air with lower levels of oxygen. This can make breathing harder if you have lung problems.
You must declare COPD as a pre-existing condition. Always get specialist travel insurance if you have COPD – the wrong insurance could mean any claims are invalid, leading to potentially astronomical costs and a huge amount of worry.
Frequently Asked Questions
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