Newswise — The busiest travel season of the year will find many Americans packing their bags for places near and far. But for individuals with diabetes, travel always requires a little more planning. Cecilia Sauter, Program Coordinator of the University of Michigan Diabetes Education Program, offers some tips to diabetic holiday travelers.
"A diagnosis of diabetes doesn't mean you cannot travel " you just need to take some extra steps before you leave. Then you can have fun on your trip, enjoy yourself and not run into problems," Sauter says.
There are 18.2 million Americans with diabetes. Of those, about five million don't realize they have it. Diagnosing and controlling diabetes is essential because, once it's under control, those with diabetes can either postpone or even prevent complications like blindness, heart or kidney disease, or even amputation of limbs. That's why managing your diabetes effectively while traveling is so important.
If you plan to travel, start by making an appointment to see your health care provider six to eight weeks before you leave. This way, if your diabetes isn't under control, there is still time to make the necessary lifestyle changes to bring it back under control. Recognizing that foods and beverages from other places can cause an upset stomach, you should find out what medications to take for diarrhea or vomiting that won't upset your diabetes care plan. Also get advice on what to do if you become seriously ill on your trip.
Then ask your physician to provide you with two things.
One of these is a letter that says you have diabetes, whether it's Type I or Type II, what medications you are taking, including an explanation of how to use those medications. Names of pills, types of insulins, when and how to take them, and what kinds of diabetic supplies you'll be taking with you should also be included in the letter. Second, have your physician fill out an extra prescription for each medication and supply you'll be taking on your trip.
Take precautions so that, if luggage is lost, you still have all the supplies and medications you need close at hand. Sauter tells her patients to double the amount of diabetic supplies that will be needed, and place half in a suitcase, keeping the other half " with all medications " in a gym bag or other container that can be carried and kept close at hand.
No matter where your prescriptions are packed, make sure all medications, including syringes, have the complete, original labels from the pharmacy on them. Many patients remove these items from their original packaging and find it becomes an issue at the security checkpoint.
Carry two or three snacks with you, such as packages of crackers with cheese or peanut butter. Restaurants and snack bars may not be convenient when you need a snack to help regulate your blood sugar levels. Likewise, carry a couple of bottles of juice, some hard candy and some glucose tablets.
"Keep your glucose tablets on your person. That way, you have them immediately if you need them to counteract low blood sugar," says Sauter.
Activities while on a trip can also influence the amount of insulin or pills needed. For example, if you'll be doing a lot of hiking, you may not need as much medication as usual. Your physician can provide guidelines for how to adjust your insulin or pills if you anticipate being more active.
On the other hand, some people may spend more time lounging and relaxing while away, possibly eating more, as well.
"Talking with your physician, getting some advice on what to do with high blood sugars, and how to adjust medication will make your trip a lot more enjoyable," she advises.
Proper foot care is vital for diabetics, so think of your feet and bring the kinds of socks, shoes or boots that aren't going to cause blisters. During your trip, check your feet on a regular basis to catch any sores or blisters early, before infection sets in.
Many diabetics use an insulin pump to continuously administer the right amount of insulin, and some special planning is needed for people who will be using their pump while traveling. Extra supplies to pack include additional batteries and the phone number of the pump company. Confirm in advance whether your pump is still covered by a warranty; many of the pump companies will ship a new one within 24 hours if a pump under warranty fails. Also make sure you discuss with your physician what to do to manage your blood sugar levels if your insulin pump fails.
The insulin pump also poses a special situation at airports because it may trip the metal detectors at security checkpoints.
"Let them know at the airport's security checkpoint that you're wearing an insulin pump. Very often they will choose not to send you through the checkpoint. However, they should not disconnect the pump because it will interfere with your diabetic care," cautions Sauter. For this reason, it's a good idea to notify the airline in advance that you are diabetic and have an insulin pump.
Andy Low is a diabetic who travels extensively, both for business and to visit family. Low recalls a trip to New York, where he discovered he had forgotten to pack enough syringes. He lost valuable time going from one pharmacy to another trying to purchase syringes.
"I finally persuaded a kind pharmacist to loan me a few while I got the prescription called in," he remembers.
Low now uses an insulin pump.
"Some items you can only get by prescription are available off the shelf in other countries, but they might not have your brand or the specific supplies to fit your pump, so it's still best to bring everything with you that you need," he says. He also advises travelers to have a back-up plan so that someone at home can help in an emergency, such as to ship emergency supplies to you, if needed.
For more information, visit the following Web sites:
American Diabetes Association: When you travel
American Diabetes Association: Traveling with diabetes supplies
Transportation Security Administration: Persons with diabetes
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: Tips for flying with diabetes supplies
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: Summer vacation travel tips
Children with DIABETES: Traveling with diabetes
Written by Mary Beth Reilly