How to Travel Effectively With Sleep Apnea

man with luggage on road during sunset

Traveling and vacationing, especially in these times, requires a great deal of planning, no matter where you’re going. One of the most important things during your trip is getting enough sleep. That way, you will be refreshed and able to make the most of it. When you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition like sleep apnea, though, you have more to think about.

Given that you have sleep apnea, you probably have a continuous positive airway pressure machine, too. How are you going to deal with your CPAP device on the road? How will you keep your mask clean? Will there be room for it beside the bed in that charming B&B? Traveling with sleep apnea presents challenges, but if you approach it with consideration and care, the world is yours.

1. Handling Your CPAP Machine While in Transit

Your CPAP machine and mask are a vital part of your sleep apnea therapy and together count as a medical device. In these days of cramped airline cabins and luggage limits, that’s a good thing. While the device has its own carrying case, it’s not counted as a separate carry-on item according to Transportation Security Administration rules. You will, however, have to take the device out of the case and put it in a bin to go through security.

Prior to packing, carefully clean and dry your machine, the humidifier, all tubes, and the mask. You and your doctor have worked hard to determine the best CPAP mask for your face and sleep habits, so this needs extra care. When going through security, the mask may stay in your carry-on, and it’s good to have it in a separate plastic bag as well. 

Should your CPAP machine or mask need further examination, ask the security person to change their gloves and use sanitized swabs. This will ensure your device remains completely clean. These are standard procedures, so you should have no problem with TSA representatives honoring your request.

What if you need to find a place for your CPAP device in your cabin on a cruise ship? No problem. Most cruise companies will be glad to accommodate your CPAP device in your cabin and make sure you have everything you require. Let them know your needs when you make your reservation. The same goes for trains and overnight ferries.

2. Using Your CPAP Machine in Hotels, Apartments, and Vacation Rentals

When reserving a hotel room, ask whether there will be a place by the bed to put your CPAP machine. Make sure there will be room for the device and tubes — and that there will be an available outlet. 

Speaking of outlets, if you are traveling overseas, remember to bring the correct adapter for each country you visit. And if your machine isn’t dual-voltage — many are — you’ll need a power converter as well. The last thing you want is for your machine to die in a puff of smoke! To take proper care of the device’s humidifier, either bring distilled water or ensure it’s available at your destination.

In apartments, Airbnbs, and other vacation rentals, the same checklist applies, with the addition of a small power strip and/or extension cord. Some vacation rentals are in small or older buildings and aren’t always set up with outlets in the necessary places. It’s also a good idea to invest in a battery backup for your machine, just in case.

3. Camping With Your CPAP Machine

Perhaps you’re a traveler who prefers getting back to nature when you vacation. If so, you might be wondering whether you can camp with your CPAP machine. The short answer is … absolutely! 

That said, you might well be concerned about bringing a medical device into the wild. Many people have upgraded to a new machine and kept their older one as a backup. If that describes you, don’t hesitate to bring your old machine on your woodsy adventure. 

Your backup CPAP will work well hooked up to a generator, an external battery, or even a solar charger. Check that it’s clean, you have a well-fitted mask to go with it, and you’ve brought distilled water along. These precautions will ensure your slumber under the stars will be uninterrupted — by your apnea, at least, if not the local wildlife. 

Recently, the industry has brought out travel CPAP devices, which are battery operated and much smaller and lighter in weight. Those with sleep apnea are finding them useful for both business travel and camping. When using these travel devices, make sure you carry a backup battery pack with you. 

Never Skip Your CPAP Therapy

Sleep apnea can be potentially serious, as your breathing stops and starts many times during sleep. Leaving behind your CPAP device just because you’re going on vacation could damage your health. Your doctor has recommended a specific CPAP machine and had you fitted for the mask that works best. Bring along some spare parts, a battery backup, and a few other items, and you’ll be set.

Alternatively, if your sleep apnea is mild to moderate, talk to your doctor about leaving your CPAP device home and using an interim therapy. One such therapy is a disposable device placed inside the nostrils each night to help keep the airways open. Also, there are dental devices that work by keeping throat tissues from sagging into the windpipe. Many doctors recommend them for occasional use, and they are easy to carry while traveling.

Whether you bring your CPAP machine along or temporarily adopt an alternative therapy, don’t ignore your condition during travel. You want to stay safe and healthy for the journeys to come! With careful consideration and planning, you needn’t let your sleep apnea keep you from seeing the world. 

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