Traveling Tips for Thyroid Patients

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Whether it's by car, plane, bus, train, or boat, millions of Americans travel for work and play. If you have thyroid disease, it helps to make sure that you're aware of safety precautions and ways that you can plan ahead regarding your condition. Here are some tips for making all of your travel experiences as safe and healthy as possible.

General Travel

While air travel in particular can pose some unique concerns (see below), there are things that all people with thyroid disease who are planning any kind of trip should do to be as prepared as possible.

Bring Enough Medication

Make sure that you pack extra medication, enough to cover you in case you get delayed or stuck somewhere due to weather, strikes, breakdowns, changed plans, or you drop or lose pills.

Had RAI? Get a Doctor's Note

Airports, public transit stations, and other ports of entry often have radiation detectors. If you have had radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment, you can set these off for weeks or even months afterward. Be sure you travel with a card or letter from your doctor explaining your situation in case you trigger any alarms.

Avoid Seasickness and Motion Sickness

If you're going on a cruise ship or boat, you may want to talk to your doctor about having prescription scopolamine patches on hand for seasickness—especially if you have hyperthyroidism, as the condition itself can cause nausea and vomiting. Dramamine, Seaband wristbands, and natural supplements with ginger may also be helpful for seasickness or motion sickness.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Motion Sickness

Stretch Often

Whatever way you're traveling, if possible, take frequent breaks to stretch, stand up, and walk around. This can help relieve any joint and muscle pain that you have from thyroid disease as well. If you've been sitting for more than 30 minutes, get up slowly as blood may have pooled, which can cause dizziness when you stand up too quickly.

Flex and rotate your neck, back, shoulders, calves, and ankles every 20 to 30 minutes to avoid stiffness. When flying, take a walk around the cabin every hour or two if flight safety permits. All of these tricks can help prevent the risk of developing dangerous blood clots that can form in your legs during long periods of sitting while traveling.

An Overview of Blood Clots

Check Your Insurance

Before you leave on an international trip, check with your health insurance company to make sure they'll cover you when you're out of the country. If not, you may want to look into purchasing travel health insurance to cover any healthcare costs you might incur on your trip.

Is Travel Health Insurance Necessary?

Get Your Flu Shot

Give your immune system a boost by getting a flu shot before you travel, especially when going to another country where the flu season may be different. Similarly, if you're traveling internationally, make sure you have all the appropriate vaccines. This is particularly important when you have a chronic illness like thyroid disease.

Avoiding the Flu When You Travel

Try Melatonin

Sleep is important, especially when you have a chronic illness like thyroid disease. Melatonin can help you adjust to time zone changes and reset your internal clock. If you're traveling east, the general guidelines suggest that you take 3 mg of melatonin at 11 p.m. in your destination's time zone for two nights prior to traveling.

If you arrive in the morning or during the day, do your best not to sleep or nap until bedtime, and again, take the melatonin at 11 p.m. or an hour before heading to bed if you won't be up that late. You may find that you'll wake up fully readjusted to the new time zone and without jet lag symptoms.

How to Beat Jet Lag

Air Travel

Some of the health risks involved in flying, such as blood clots after long flights, apply to everyone. But as a thyroid patient, you may face some additional challenges concerning your health and medication when traveling by air.

Keep Your Medications With You

Place all of your medication(s)—both prescription and over-the-counter—and any medical supplies like insulin syringes in your carry-on bag so they're with you. Not only will they be less likely to be lost, but they won't be exposed to moisture or temperature changes that occur in the cargo/storage area and on the tarmac.

Make sure your medications are in their original bottles to avoid security issues. Some states may also have laws regarding how prescription medications are labeled, so you might want to research this before your trip.

You don't need to put liquid medications in a zip-top bag, but when you go through the security checkpoint, you will need to tell the security officer that you have them so they can be screened separately.

Sometimes you're asked to "gate check" your carry-on right before boarding due to limited overhead space. If this happens, make sure that you take your medications out of the bag before handing it over to a crew member so that you can carry them with you on the plane.

How to Reduce the Stress of Traveling

Get Copies of Your Prescriptions

Bring a copy of all your prescriptions and your doctor's contact information with you so that if your medication is lost, stolen, or becomes unusable, you'll be able to get more if you're traveling in the United States. You can also take photos of your prescription bottles and save them on your smartphone and/or email PDFs or photos of them to yourself so you can access them anywhere if needed.

For international travel, don't plan on purchasing more medication while you're there, since their medication standards may be different than those in the United States. If you need more than a 30-day supply to take with you, talk to your doctor and/or pharmacy about getting a prescription that allows for extra medication for your trip.

How to Travel Internationally With Your Medication

Figure Out a Medication Schedule

People with thyroid disease and diabetes often have a fairly strict schedule for taking medications. If you're going to be crossing multiple time zones, discuss in advance with your doctor how best to time your medications while you're away from home. Ideally, you'll want to try to get on a schedule as close to your usual home schedule as possible.

Protect Your Immune System and Stay Hydrated

Having an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's thyroiditis or Graves' disease can make you more susceptible to picking up infections. For your best defense against sitting in an enclosed space and breathing the same air as your fellow passengers, some of whom may be sick, for a long period of time:

  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your trip.
  • Don't use airline-provided blankets or pillows. Even if they're sealed, they're rarely cleaned and may be germ-laden from previous passengers.
  • If the person next to you is coughing, request to be moved, if possible.
  • Drink about 8 ounces of fluid a hour; water and fruit juices are your best options, as alcohol and caffeinated beverages can be dehydrating. This can also help you fight fatigue.

Avoid drinking water that comes from the plane itself; this includes airline-provided coffee and tea. The tanks that store the drinkable water on planes are cleaned infrequently, and immune-challenging bacteria have regularly been found in these tanks by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though they're working to fix these issues.

Ask for bottled water, or purchase some in an airport shop prior to boarding.

Bring along disinfectant wipes for your seatbelt, tray table, and armrests. Tray tables, in particular, have been shown to be a prime source of bacteria on airplanes. Use hand sanitizer after touching anything other people have touched like the reading light or vent.

Be Careful About Flying With Infections

If you have a cold or an infection—particularly ear, nose, and/or sinus infections—you may need to cancel or change your flight. Congestion can lead to pain, bleeding, and possibly a ruptured eardrum or sinus damage because air can't flow as freely.

If you have an infection and are considering cancelling your trip, get a note from your doctor; many airlines won't charge you for a cancelled flight if you provide this documentation. If you must fly while ill, contact your doctor to ask about what precautions you should take. Some doctors may suggest that you take a decongestant or follow other recommendations before or during a flight.

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

Avoid Dryness

While most homes have humidity levels above 30 percent, the humidity in the cabin of a plane is usually below 20 percent, which can cause or exacerbate dry eyes and skin—symptoms many with thyroid disease already deal with every day. If you wear contact lenses, you might want to wear glasses during the flight or use lubricating eye drops, since reduced cabin humidity can cause eye irritation. If dry skin bothers you, bring along a travel size bottle of lotion and saline spray for your nose if your nasal tissue tends to get dried out.

Dress Warmly

If you experience cold intolerance as a result of your thyroid disease, be sure to wear warm clothes when traveling by air, as plans are notoriously chilly. Dressing in layers is a good idea, as you can take clothes on/off if your temperature fluctuates.

A Word From Verywell

Since thyroid disease is a chronic illness, it's best to get your doctor's OK before you plan a trip, especially if you're going to fly. This is particularly important if you've had surgery or other medical procedures of any kind in the last month.

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