What precautions should my dad, who has type 2 diabetes, take when traveling?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 22, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father, recently diagnosed with diabetes, is flying across the country to visit. Are there any special measures he should take to protect his health?

Expert Answers

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

When your father takes a trip, his diabetes travels with him; he can't take a vacation from his disease. So he should bring his glucose-monitoring equipment and any medications he's taking in his carry-on bag, not his checked luggage. (It's smart to check with the airline beforehand about its policy regarding fluids and sharp objects, as these are subject to change, but in general airlines allow medications to be brought on board as long as they're properly labeled.) As a rule of thumb, he should pack more medication and blood-testing supplies than he thinks he'll need -- usually double, to be safe. He needs to carry medications in their original prescription bottles, and, if he also uses insulin, carry vials in their original pharmacy-labeled manufacturers' packaging and keep his syringes with his insulin. If your dad uses insulin, he needs to pack a glucagon kit in case of an emergency. And he should wear comfortable shoes and socks to protect his feet.

You might want to remind your dad that it's good to get up now and then and move about the cabin to help his circulation. (People occasionally develop blood clots on long flights if they stay in one position.)

Your dad will also want to be prepared for potential food delays. It's a good idea to pack a substantial snack such as trail mix, a protein bar, or a sandwich and fruit in his hand luggage. He'll want to bring a supply of glucose tablets with him in case of a low blood sugar episode. He should also bring bottled water, as it's easy to get dehydrated while flying, which can affect glucose levels. At least two days prior to his trip he can call and request a special meal, such as a diabetic, low-fat, or low-cholesterol meal. If there's no meal service, he may need to bring extra food on board.

Travel can be stressful, which can also affect your dad's blood glucose, so he should check his blood sugar more often than usual. It's a good idea for him to keep medications and supplies, including glucose tablets, with him -- not in the overhead bin -- in case he needs them in a hurry. And it's best if he tells a flight attendant he has diabetes, especially if he's traveling alone, in case of an emergency.

It's also smart for your dad to carry a letter from his doctor explaining what he needs to do for his diabetes, such as take pills or insulin shots. This document should list all the equipment he needs to care for his disease, including drugs, syringes, and devices, and list any allergies he may have. He may want to have a prescription with him for any drugs he needs in case he misplaces his meds. If he doesn't already, make sure your dad wears a medical ID tag that states he has diabetes and carries a card with contact information for family or friends in case of an emergency, along with his medical insurance card.

This may sound like a daunting amount of details, but after all, your dad is used to putting in some extra effort to deal with his diabetes. Once he's properly prepared for his trip, he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight -- and his visit with you.