Flying with POTS: 7 Tips on How to Travel with Chronic Illness
Traveling can be stressful. Imagine pushing through a crowd as you’re running at a sprint through the airport. You stop to change the batteries in your handheld video camera, and in that moment you lose your family. Then in a weird plot twist you wind up on the WRONG FLIGHT! Wait. No. That was in Home Alone 2.
Today it would be nearly impossible to get on the wrong flight with all the security checks and digital tickets… traveling is just as stressful on our bodies as that scene in Home Alone. By plane, auto, or train (does anyone actually travel this way anymore?). If you have a chronic illness such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (or POTS) traveling can be a panic and symptom inducing event.
Here’s ways to avoid a flare up of POTS symptoms while you travel.
Calm the Pre-Travel Anxiety
We’ve already said that traveling can be stressful, but if you have POTS or another form of dysautonomia then you may be working yourself up about the unknown. The anxiety related to that alone can cause flares. What helps you relax? A good podcast or getting lost in a book? Maybe chatting up the person sitting next to you? Meditation? Everyone has a different way to manage their anxiety. Be sure to prepare yourself for success by having those tools ready on the day of travel.
Airlines are Required to Help
Airports are large, and the trek to your terminal (or terminal to terminal if you have a layover) can be taxing when you’re already low on spoons. Airports have people who can help. In fact, they are all required by law to assist people with disabilities. Ask a gate agent for assistance when you check in, or better yet, notate that you have a disability when you purchase your tickets. You will get help navigating the airport. You’ll be able to board first so you can take your time boarding. Be aware of your rights as a traveler and so much of your anxiety can melt away.
Wear Something Comfortable
The people you see in the airport and on your flight are only going to see you for a short period of time. Do not be concerned what they think of you because they will forget all about you once they get where they’re going. So, wear your pjs if that’s what makes you comfortable.
If you have POTS, you know how important compression socks are. The biggest benefit of compression socks for POTS is that they aid in blood flow. Traveling often means sitting for extended periods of time so a good compression sock (or we like these compression leggings) can be your savior to manage blood pooling and symptom flares.
Wear a Medical ID Bracelet
We know that a common symptom of POTS is rapid heart rate followed by fainting. The air pressure during flights can be enough to bring this on. The worst thing that could happen is to faint while you’re on a flight. It may not be a big deal to you, but it is likely to worry the people around you. Wearing a medical ID bracelet can alert others to your condition if that happens. It could be even more useful just to tell those around you. Make the person sitting next to you and one of the flight attendants aware it’s a possibility and give them the tools they need to know how to act if it does. This will give you peace of mind as well.
Keeping hydrated is the magic card up your sleeve you pull daily to manage symptoms of POTS. Limited water availability, altitude changes, poor diet while traveling, and the level of humidity can all cause the average person to become dehydrated while traveling. As someone with a form of dysautonomia you know how important it is to stay hydrated. Consider using a medical grade electrolyte powder like NormaLyte to keep your hydration up. They come in stick form so that you can mix with a bottle of water no matter where you are.
In an effort to save funds, many airlines are no longer offering in-flight services where they provide snacks. The great thing is that you can bring your own snacks! Whatever your favorite salty snack is, be sure to pack it in your flight bag before you get to the airport.
If you’re prepared, travel doesn’t have to cause flare ups. Giving yourself some grace and being prepared for any scenario will set you up for success.