Travelling with Diabetes

26/04/2013 -- Admin
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Around 3 million people in the UK have diabetes. If you’re one of them, you can enjoy all the thrills, adventure and fun of foreign travel and overseas holidays simply by planning ahead and taking a few extra precautions to avoid problems.

Talk to your GP

Visit your GP at least 4 – 6 weeks before you travel for advice on how climate and crossing time zones can affect your diabetes.

Vaccinations

Holiday vaccinations can upset your blood glucose control so don’t leave these to the last gasp.

Holiday Destination

Choose wisely – very hot or very cold climates can affect how your insulin and blood glucose monitor work.  Regular glucose monitoring is vital, so any adjustments in dose can be made safely.

For most popular tourist destinations (Spain, France, Italy), getting insulin supplies and kit shouldn’t be a problem.

For places off the beaten track, check with your pharmaceutical company about types and strengths available. 

For holidays in Europe, take your free EHIC (EU Medical Insurance Card). Necessary state provided healthcare is provided free or at reduced cost, including the monitoring of pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes.

North America (USA) - private medicine costs the earth.  If you fall seriously ill in the USA without travel insurance to cover hospital bills, you might need to take out a second mortgage.

Elsewhere in the world, check for reciprocal health care arrangements such as those with Australia and New Zealand.

If you’re driving, ensure your car insurance covers driving abroad.

Medication

Take more diabetic drugs, insulin and kit than you need in case of travel holdups, loss or damage.  NHS Choices advises twice the quantity of medical supplies you’d normally use.

In hot climates, keep insulin cool and out of direct sunlight. 

Community website Diabetes.org.uk has put together a handy traveller’s checklist of everything you’ll need for your journey, both for injectors and insulin pump users.

It’s a good idea to carry a diabetes ID card or jewellery so doctors are aware you have diabetes if you do fall ill.

Diabetes UK can provide a personalised ID card and leaflets in the language of the country you’re travelling to.

See Taking Prescription Medication Abroad

Air Travel

Let the airline/airport know at least 48 hours in advance that you have to take syringes or injection devices and insulin on board.

Carry a letter from your GP confirming your diabetes and the need for syringes and medicine.

Keep insulin in hand luggage as it could freeze at high altitude in the hold.

If that’s not possible, keep it well insulated with bubble wrap or in an airtight container wrapped in a towel in the centre of your suitcase.  Discard if ice crystals are present.

NHS Choices don't recommend airline diabetic meals as they can be low in carbohydrate. Take some healthy snacks with you, especially on long-haul flights.

Travel Insurance for People with Diabetes

For Type 2 diabetes sufferers whose condition is controlled by diet alone and who don’t need to take insulin, finding comprehensive travel insurance shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s a different story for travellers with Type 1 diabetes who must use insulin to break down glucose (blood sugar) for energy.

For over 65s, having diabetes can make the search for cheap travel insurance harder, especially if you have other chronic health problems as well, eg heart condition or arthritis.

All pre-existing medical conditions need to be disclosed, otherwise your insurer could quash any claim for medical emergency expenses if you do fall ill or have an accident abroad.

If booking with a travel agent you don't have to take their policy - it probably won't cover your condition. Staff may be unfamiliar with the small print of policies.

Helpful websites: NHS Choices, Diabetes UK, Diabetes.co.uk