Top tips for travelling if you have epilepsy
For most of us, the fact that holidays are so different from the rest of our lives is part of the appeal – different weather, different routine, different time zones, exotic locations. But while it's perfectly possible to holiday safely if you have epilepsy, some of these changes can increase the risk of more frequent seizures.
With a few simple precautions and a little advance planning you can keep the risk of seizures to a minimum and maximise the chance of coming back with nothing but happy memories.
Many epilepsy medications are controlled drugs, which means there may be special regulations covering when or whether you can take them with you. Taking some controlled drugs into certain countries is illegal, regardless of the reason. Before you book, you'll need to check the list on the website of the relevant foreign embassy in the UK to make sure you can travel with your medication. Our article on carrying medication abroad has all the details of what you need to do.
Make sure you have the necessary paperwork. Even if you don't use controlled drugs, you will probably need a letter and/or a copy of your repeat prescription. Keep your medication in its original packaging with your name on the label.
Remember that drugs may have different names in different countries. If you take branded medication (eg Epilim) ask your pharmacist for the details of the generic drug name too (in this case, Sodium valproate). This will help just in case you do need to access medical help or medication abroad.
Set medication reminders. Given that your routine is likely to be very different on holiday, a phone reminder will help you ensure you take your medication regularly.
It's essential to avoid running out of medication while you're away. Order your repeat prescription well in advance and make sure you have enough to last all the time you're away and ideally a couple of weeks more.
Carry your medication in your hand luggage in case your hold luggage is lost or delayed. If you can, split your medication between your hand luggage and that of a travelling companion. However, you will need to be with them when they go through airport security in case questions are asked.
Think about time zones. Missing or delaying your regular medication could increase the risk of a seizure. If you're travelling across time zones, work out how you need to adjust your medication timing gradually: your pharmacist can help if you're in doubt.
Think about temperatures: some epilepsy medications need to be kept in a cool dry place, which could be a challenge if you're backpacking or travelling to remote areas. Speak to your pharmacist, who can advise on storing your medicines.
If you're travelling by air
Tell airport staff if you have a vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device. While airport security scanners shouldn't affect your device, it may trigger them. Letting them know in advance could avoid an awkward conversation or any delay.
Other top tips
Check out travel times. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of having a seizure. This could be an issue if your travel involves early starts or late arrivals, or if you're travelling across time zones and could suffer jet lag.
Take travel medication and vaccinations into account. Most vaccines will not affect anti-epilepsy medication or your risk of seizures. However, some antimalarials such as Mefloquine (also called Lariam) is not recommended as it may increase your risk of seizures.
Consider an epilepsy ID card or identity jewellery. This will let people know you have epilepsy if you have a seizure while you're away. You can order an epilepsy ID card free of charge from Epilepsy Action.
Make sure you get specialist travel insurance. Even if you've been seizure free for some time, you still need to declare epilepsy when applying for travel insurance. Failure to get the right cover could invalidate your insurance.