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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 nighttime 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 high altitude (such as Colorado or Utah).

Oxygen and Air Travel

Tell the airline 2 weeks before you travel that you will need oxygen on the plane.

  • Make sure you talk with someone at the airline who knows how to help you plan for having oxygen on the plane.
  • The airline may not be able to provide oxygen if you tell them you will need it less than 48 hours before your flight.
  • You will need a prescription for oxygen and a letter from your doctor.

You cannot bring your own oxygen onto the plane.

  • The airline will provide it for you.
  • Bring your nasal cannula. Some airlines only give you a mask

Airlines and airports will not provide oxygen when you are off the airplane.

  • Not before or after the flight.
  • Not during a layover.
  • Call your oxygen supplier. They 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. Try to stay away from cities with dirty, polluted air. Stay away from places where people are smoking.

Be careful about high-altitude areas. Talk with your doctor before you go.


Review Date: 6/2/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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