Traveling with Diabetes

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Traveling with Diabetes

Diabetes Type 2
Traveling with Diabetes
Traveling with Diabetes
In most instances, all it takes to make traveling pleasurable and reasonably worry-free is a bit of thought and careful planning.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Traveling With Diabetes
Living with diabetes can pose challenges. Still, most people who manage diabetes conscientiously can lead full lives with the disease. A person with diabetes does not need to limit travel. In most instances, all it takes to make traveling pleasurable and reasonably worry-free is a bit of thought and careful planning.
Your primary goal in charting your trip is to minimize your chances of becoming ill or injured while away from home. That means anticipating disease-related risks. Before any long trip, schedule a medical exam and consultation with your doctor. He or she will make sure that your diabetes is under control or will help you to get it under control before you leave.
Discuss your immunization history with your doctor. Appropriate vaccinations protect you from disease. Some countries also require visitors to get specific vaccinations to protect their own citizens from imported diseases. If you expect to need shots, it is best to receive them several weeks before you leave. This will allow enough time for them to be fully effective when you arrive at your destination. It will also allow you enough time to recuperate before the trip, in case the shots cause you to have a mild illness or an allergic reaction.
For some destinations, your doctor may recommend medicine to prevent malaria or medicine to treat diarrhea, if it should occur.
Assembling a Travel Folder
With your doctor's help, put together a travel folder containing medical and other relevant information. Be sure to label it with your name, address, phone number, doctor's name and number, and an emergency contact number.
Include the following:
  • A complete travel itinerary

  • A detailed description of how to manage your diabetes, whether with pills or insulin injections. This should include the number of syringes, other medications and devices you use.

  • A list of any allergies you have as well as any foods or medicines to which you are sensitive.

  • A prescription for insulin or diabetes pills in case of emergency

  • A general health report, including
      • Lab tests and results within the last six months
      • Most recent electrocardiogram
      • Immunization records
      • Summary of any times you have been in the hospital, any surgeries, and your current medical conditions
  • If you're traveling in a foreign country, carry a list of organizations and medical groups affiliated with the International Diabetes Federation. This can be especially important if you need help in understanding prescription laws and standards in other countries. You can get this list from:

    International Diabetes Federation
    166 Chaussee de La Hulpe
    Brussels, Belgium

    Also, you can get a list of English-speaking foreign doctors from:

    International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers
    1623 Military Rd. #279
    Niagara Falls, NY 14304

No matter where you are traveling, always wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace, or at a minimum carry a card that clearly identifies you as a diabetic.

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Pack more than enough insulin and syringes or pills to last through the trip. Pack at least twice as much as you think you'll need. This advice goes for blood-testing supplies as well. Pack half in a bag you can keep with you when you're flying, hiking or just sightseeing so that your medicine is with you at all times.
In general, you'll need:
  • Insulin and syringes and/or pills. If you're traveling with someone else, ask your companion to carry duplicate supplies. Consider bringing an extra set of unopened insulin vials, in the event that one breaks.

  • Blood- and urine-testing supplies (including extra batteries for your glucose meter)

  • A supply of small juice packs, fruit, well-wrapped crackers, cheese, peanut butter and some form of sugar (hard candy or glucose tablets that won't melt or get sticky) to treat low blood glucose. You never know when a meal will be delayed or you'll be delayed in your travel.

  • Water bottles

  • A cell phone, if available

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Traveling With Insulin
Insulin does not need to be refrigerated. However, it never should be stored in places where it is exposed to extreme temperature. Temperatures that are very hot or very cold can make it less potent. Therefore, avoid leaving your insulin in the trunk or glove compartment of your car. Also, don't leave your backpack or travel bag in the direct sunlight. Consider bringing a padded or insulated travel pack to protect your insulin.

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Getting From Here to There
No matter how you travel, staying still for too long can cause problems with your blood flow. Move about as much as possible. If you are traveling by car, stop regularly and take a short walk. On a plane or train, stroll up and down the aisles. On a bus, get out when the bus stops.

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Air Travel: Security
If traveling by air, most diabetics need to alert the airline before travel that they will need to carry medical supplies on board. This is true if you will be carrying lancets for glucose testing or insulin syringes.
The airline will tell you if you are required to provide specific documents about your medical needs and about the items that will be carried. You should carry any such documents with you through all airport security gates. Carry your own supplies, or stay with your traveling companion who is carrying them.
Most sharp objects cannot be carried onto a commercial flight. However, you are permitted to bring lancets and an unlimited supply of insulin syringes on board, according to the U.S. government's Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you are carrying insulin syringes, you must also carry insulin. Insulin must carry either a professionally printed label or a manufacturer's name or pharmaceutical label. This rule applies whether or not the insulin is preloaded into a pen or syringe.
As you go through an airport screening checkpoint, tell the screener if you have any implanted medical devices such as an insulin pump that may set off the alarm on the metal detector. Some people worry that the security X-rays will affect their glucose meter or insulin. There's seldom a problem, but if you have any concern, ask to have your carry-on bag hand-inspected.

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Air Travel: On Board Your Flight
On long flights, it is also a good idea to order special meals that are low in calories and cholesterol. Be sure to ask at least two days before the flight. Otherwise, the airline may not have enough time to honor the request.
Be careful if you have to inject insulin while in the air. It's more likely that you will inject air into the vial. The pressure in the cabin can cause resistance in the plunger. This means that precise measuring can be more difficult.
Don't take your insulin until you are about to be served your meal. Service can be slower than you expect. A delay or mix-up can lead to an abrupt drop in blood glucose.

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Crossing Time Zones
Crossing time zones takes on a whole new dimension when you have diabetes. Talk to your doctor, with flight schedule in hand, so that you can plan the timing of your insulin injections when you travel.
If you are traveling east, the day will be shorter, so you may need less insulin. If you are traveling west, the day will be longer, so you may need more insulin.
Be sure to keep track of your meals and injections as you pass from one time zone to another. To be on the safe side, do not change your watch to the new time until the morning after your arrival.

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Traveling Abroad
If you are traveling abroad, carry the address of the American Consulate in the countries you'll visit in case you experience a medical emergency. You also can contact American Express or the local medical schools for a list of doctors.
Learn how to say "I have diabetes" or to ask for sugar or orange juice in the appropriate language.
The standard strength of insulins used in the United States is U-100. In other countries, insulins may come as U-40 or U-80. If you need to use these, you will need to buy the right kind of syringes so that you don't make a mistake in your dosage.

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Upon Arrival
Measure your blood glucose level as soon as you can upon landing. A long flight usually disturbs your normal routine. You should expect your blood sugar to be somewhat high.
After a long flight, take it slow the first day or so. Make sure you have time to rest. Follow these tips throughout your visit:
  • Plan your activities around your insulin and meals.
  • Check your blood glucose levels often.
  • Don't forget to bring snacks wherever you go.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Drink bottled water and avoid tap water — including ice cubes — when you are traveling in an airplane in any country.

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Caring for Your Feet
Other rules of self-care apply even when you're on vacation. As always, watch your feet.
  • Don't wear new shoes without first spending several test days in them at home.
  • Check your feet daily.
  • Apply a mild antiseptic to any blister. Cover it with a small gauze pad held in place with non-allergic tape.
  • Resist the temptation to break blisters.
  • Be careful not to walk barefoot on hot beach sand or in areas where you can cut your feet. Instead, wear beach or water slippers or sandals at all times.
Have a great trip! With all this planning, you will be extremely well prepared for your travel.

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35117, 35258,
insulin,diabetes,blood glucose,glucose,immunization
Last updated July 30, 2014

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