Cystic fibrosis (CF) is one of the UK’s most commonly inherited conditions. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, approximately 10,400 people in the UK have cystic fibrosis, and one in every 2,500 babies are born with the condition.
If you have CF, your condition may affect you in many different ways. Whilst an overseas trip can be a welcome break, it’s vital to think about how travel may impact your health before making any bookings. The first step is always to speak to your doctor or consultant as they will be able to assess whether or not your travel plans are suitable.
As long as they confirm that you are fit to travel, you’re free to start planning. To make this easier, we’ve gathered the information you need about travelling with CF, as well as the key facts about this condition.
What is cystic fibrosis?
CF is a congenital condition, which means that it is something people are born with. It is caused by a pair of defective genes, one from each parent, and these genes cause a build-up of sticky mucus in the body. The mucus can affect each person who has CF slightly differently and to differing degrees of severity, but in general, it affects the functioning of the lungs, the pancreas and the digestive system, making breathing and digestion difficult.
There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, but it is possible to minimise the symptoms through medication, physiotherapy (to help dislodge the mucus), diet and exercise.
Types of cystic fibrosis
There are over 2,000 different mutations, or ‘types’, of these genes that have been identified. This is why the symptoms of cystic fibrosis can vary so much from person to person, in fact, it may not affect two people in exactly the same way.
As well as respiratory and digestive problems, CF can cause recurring chest infections, jaundice and several secondary conditions, including diabetes and osteoporosis.
Tips for travelling with cystic fibrosis
If you, or someone you care for, has CF, be sure to follow these tips for a happy and healthy holiday:
1. Speak to your CF team
As we mentioned above, the first step to take when planning a trip is to speak to your CF team, including your doctor or consultant. It’s crucial to talk over your travel plans, so tell them where you want to go and what you’d like to do while you’re there.
Some activities are generally best avoided for people with cystic fibrosis, including scuba diving – due to the effects of changing air pressure on the lungs and using jacuzzis, which may contain a type of bacteria that is harmful to people with CF.
Your CF team will also be able to supply you with extra medication to cover your trip if necessary, as well as any written documentation you might need to take it with you to your chosen destination, and/or onboard a flight. Some countries have very strict rules on the carrying of some medications, even some of those that may be commonly prescribed in the UK, and you may need extra permissions.
2. Think about your destination
There is a bacteria, known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, that is found in the soil and surface water of certain countries, and as a result, travel to these areas isn’t recommended for people who have cystic fibrosis. This bacteria can cause an infection called melioidosis, which can be very serious if you have CF.
Your CF team will be able to advise further on the countries that may not be suitable for you, but it’s important to be aware of these ahead of time. Areas of the world where melioidosis can occur include Northern Australia, South East Asia, Western and South Africa, South America and parts of the Caribbean. Within these countries, it is rural areas that present the most risk, especially during rainy seasons. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has produced a downloadable document about melioidosis and travel which contains lots of useful information about this.
3. Make sure you’re fit to fly
Many people with cystic fibrosis can travel by air without any problems at all, but it may be that you need an assessment of your health to ensure that it is completely safe for you to do so. This is known as a ‘fit to fly’ test and if you need one, your CF team can arrange it for you. For cystic fibrosis, a fit to fly test will involve assessing your breathing ability to see if you may need extra medical assistance while onboard the plane. If you need one, be sure to complete this test before looking to buy cystic fibrosis travel insurance.
It may be that you need to take a source of oxygen into the cabin with you if so, call your airline in plenty of time before your departure date to arrange this. Different airlines have different policies and costs regarding taking oxygen on board, so it may be worth looking at how each one compares before booking.
Remember that you won’t be able to charge any of your own respiratory devices, such as nebuliser compressors or oxygen concentrators, while you’re on the plane. Make sure your device has 50% more battery power than you should need for the flight. Mains electricity voltages also vary around the world, so double-check that your device will charge correctly in the country you will be visiting.
Finally, try and move around the plane cabin regularly, especially if yours will be a long flight. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and eat salty snacks to replace lost salt.
4. Protect yourself from heat and the sun
If you will be travelling to a warm destination, it’s important to take precautions against dehydration. Make sure to drink lots of water every day, and ask your CF team about whether you might need to take salt tablets with you as an extra measure.
Wear a high-factor sun cream at all times to protect your skin, as well as a hat and light, loose clothing. If you need to take antibiotics while away, some types can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and prone to burning than it usually would be, so ask your CF team if this could be the case.
5. Arrange travel insurance for cystic fibrosis
Having travel insurance in place that covers your cystic fibrosis, and any associated health conditions you may have is essential. Cystic fibrosis travel insurance is there to ensure you get the healthcare you need if you need it while you’re away, and that you won’t be left facing large medical bills for any care you do receive.
While many standard travel insurance companies decline to cover pre-existing conditions like cystic fibrosis, a specialist provider like Free Spirit is dedicated to offering medical travel cover.
Contact us today to find out more about our travel insurance for cystic fibrosis. You can apply for a no-obligation quote online or, if you’d rather speak to someone, call our friendly team of UK-based travel insurance specialists on 02392 419 080.