Hitting The Road

Ask the DOC

Travel, once reserved for the wealthy and high-level executives, has become a regular experience for many people. U.S. domestic travel in 2017 was estimated at 2.25 billion person-trips. It is also estimated that 17 million people with diabetes travel annually for leisure and another 5.6 million for business. There are certain considerations and advice for those with medical conditions, including diabetes, who travel, especially if that travel is out of the country. First of all, for those who take medications and travel frequently within the country, it is recommended that they use a chain pharmacy, as chain pharmacies share a common computer network. For example, a Duane Reade in Oshkosh will be able to access a patient’s medical information and prescriptions from the same computer system used by the Duane Reade in Rockaway Park.

If you plan to travel and you take medications, it is recommended that you start with a visit to your physician about four to six weeks before your trip. Your physician can give you a document that lists your medical conditions and the medications that you take. This will make your experience with the TSA and Customs much easier. In addition, your physician can provide you with prescriptions for emergency situations that you might encounter while away. For example, it is wise to take at least an antibiotic and a prescription for diarrhea with you when you travel. Also, especially if you are diabetic, it is important to wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace so that, should you have a medical issue, you can be identified as being a diabetic. Learn how to say, “I have diabetes” and “Sugar or orange juice please” in the language of the country you are traveling to, and  carry a list of all the medication that you take. Be sure that the list is on your person at all times.

Never put your medications in a checked bag. Always put them in a carry-on bag. Checked baggage sometimes gets lost, plus the baggage compartment in a plane is unheated. Extremes of cold or heat can cause medications to undergo a chemical change, rendering them ineffective. This is especially true of liquid medications like insulin. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people carry double the amount of medication that they would expect to need for the trip. Travel plans may change or be canceled and getting additional medication while out of the country may be difficult, especially for insulin. The standard for insulin in the U.S. is U-100. That means that there are 100 units of insulin in one ml. of insulin. In Europe, the standard for insulin is U-40, meaning there are only 40 units per ml. If you used U-40 insulin in a U-100 syringe, you would have to multiply the amount of insulin by 2.5 to get the correct dose. That would get confusing very fast. Lastly, for diabetics using a blood glucose monitor, it is important to know that for every 1000 feet of elevation above sea level, the device will underestimate the glucose level by one to two percent. Then there are issues regarding foods, time zones and medication dosing intervals, etc. Check with your doctor before you go. It will make your trip that much easier and enjoyable.

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