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Travel Tips for People With Diabetes — It’s All in the Planning

Preparing to travel can be a hassle as you try to pack everything you’ll need without taking the entire house. But for patients with diabetes, travel can be downright dangerous if they don’t prepare appropriately. It’s important to help your clients plan ahead for what they’ll need to take to ensure a safe, stress-free trip.

“I tell patients, especially type 1 diabetics, to be diligent about blood-sugar control when they travel—especially across time zones—because it’s easy to lose control of your glucose management when you get out of your usual routine,” says Fernando Ovalle, MD, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Multidisciplinary Diabetes Clinic and a senior scientist in the Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

Ovalle says the following tips can help make travel easier and safer.

• Be oversupplied. If you’re traveling in the United States or most places in Europe, pack twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you need. If you’re traveling to Africa or places where medical resources can be scarce, pack three to four times what you need.

• Carry on. Flying travelers should pack at least one set of medication and supplies in a carry-on bag so their medication is always with them; checked luggage can get lost. “Keep this carry-on with you at all times,” Ovalle says. “If it snows and you’re stuck in an airport, you may not be able to leave to get to a local pharmacy for replacement supplies.”

• Document for security. Get two papers from your doctor: a letter and a prescription. The letter should explain the treatment for your diabetes, such as “take diabetes pills or insulin shots.” It also should list insulin, syringes, and any other medications or devices you use. “This can help avoid air travel hassles and delays when dealing with airport security,” Ovalle says.

• Prepare for change. If you’re traveling across time zones, start adjusting your medication times for insulin in increments in the days leading up to your trip to help soften the blow of the time change. “If you’re traveling [to a place where] there’s more than a four-hour time difference, ask your doctor to devise a new dosing schedule to avoid making a mistake and stacking, or taking too much, insulin,” Ovalle says.

• Move your body. Finally, if you’re traveling long distances, make sure you move around or get out and walk at least every hour or two. People with diabetes are more prone to blood clots, and movement can prevent clots from forming.

• Check that pump. Ovalle also cautions those on insulin pumps to be careful when flying. Recent studies have shown changes in cabin pressure during flights can cause insulin pumps to deliver too much insulin when the plane is ascending, putting people with sensitive diabetes patients at risk. “Individuals with diabetes who are extremely sensitive to insulin may want to consider disconnecting the device before taking off and while the plane is ascending as well as checking the insulin supply for air bubbles upon landing,” he adds.

Ovalle says the best tip when traveling is to use common sense. “With the technology we have today—cell phones, personal glucose meters, electronic pharmacy communication—traveling today is much easier than it was even 30 years ago. Simply by paying attention to the necessary details, someone with diabetes can go just about anywhere they want to go.”

— Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

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