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Traveling with CPAP: 7 Things You Need to Know About Managing Sleep Apnea on the Go

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The holiday season isn’t fast approaching – it’s here! And that means that travel season is in full swing, ready or not. If you’re treating your sleep apnea with a CPAP machine, or soon will be, you may have some questions. Fortunately, we’ve got answers.

One of our helpful on-staff DME technicians here at Blue Mountain Sleep Shop is answering some frequently asked questions about taking CPAP therapy on-the-go. As a bonus, we've assembled a FREE printable CPAP travel checklist and luggage tags for you, available in the store.

So wherever you’re headed – whether you’re going by plane, train, or automobile – you can be sure you’ll get a great night’s sleep once you get there.

1. What kind of CPAP machine is good for travel?

There are several “travel CPAP machines” that are designed with travelers in mind. Travel machines like the  Somnetics Transcend AutoThe ResMed Airsense 10, or the HDM Z1 Auto are going to be smaller and lighter than their standard counterparts, which makes them easy to slip into an overnight bag or set up on a hotel nightstand.

These kinds of machines retain their functionality, too, so it isn’t always necessary to have a dedicated standard machine for home use and a travel machine for therapy when you’re away. All the travel machines we carry are automatic, which means they automatically adjust to your breathing during the night.

2. What kind of power supply do I need?

It’s possible to supplement your machine’s regular D/C corded power supply if you’re traveling. For instance, many manufacturers sell battery packs that you can use as a backup power supply in a pinch, and those are perfect for travel.

For instance, they’re great if your travel plans involve the great outdoors, like a camping trip. International travelers also find battery packs useful, although it’s a great idea to purchase outlet adaptors with your destination country in mind.

If you’re planning on charging on the open road, most manufacturers even have power adaptors that plug right into your car’s 12V outlet.

Most travel machines on the market today are easy to supplement with battery packs or external power sources that are especially made for your device, like Z1’s  PowerShell for the Z1 Travel and Z1 Travel Auto or the  ResMed Power Station II for the AirSense. If you have an older or standard sized machine, it gets a little trickier, but it’s still doable: you’ll need an external power source and a power adaptor or converter specific to your machine.

If you’re not sure how to power your CPAP from an external source or what adaptors you might need for your machine, ask! Your friendly DME or even the manufacturer can tell you where to start.

Special Note: If you choose an external battery source, know that you’ll likely need to carry that on as well – lithium ion batteries are not allowed in checked baggage. Know what you’re packing!

3. Can I take my CPAP machine on a plane with me?

Absolutely. In fact, you should always carry-on your CPAP machine as opposed to checking it. Since they’re medical devices, a separate travel case with just your machine in it won’t be counted toward your total amount of allowable checked bags. TSA agents are used to seeing CPAPs come through the security line, as well, so that keeps things moving pretty quickly.

Keep in mind, though: you still have to take the machine out to be X-rayed as you make your way through the security line. Since thousands of people will use those bins, you can imagine that they aren’t exactly the most sanitary things in the world. So consider packing your CPAP machine, mask, and hose in separate clear plastic bags. That way the agent can see what’s inside, but you aren’t sticking your machine where a thousand pacifiers and toothbrushes have been before.

If you’re still worried that you’re in for sidelong glances and a lengthy delay, bring a copy of a letter of medical necessity from your doctor or a letter of travel compliance from the company that manufactures your CPAP,  like this one from Resmed.

That will keep things running smoothly!

Special Note: According to the TSA blog, an occasional Explosive Trace Detection (EDT) test will be in order. An agent will use gloves and a swab to test the machine, and you’re within your rights to request that they put on new gloves and use a fresh swab if they need to test your machine .

4. Can I use my CPAP machine if I’m flying?

Yes. Again, a PAP machine is considered a medical device. There are a few catches, though, that you’ll have to make sure to account for before you travel.

First, some airlines require advanced notice that you’ll be using your device on your flight, and the amount of time you need can vary. You’ll want to contact them when you book your tickets to find out what other steps you must take to make sure you won’t have any hiccups.

Second, take power supply needs into consideration. If you’re using a corded machine, you’ll have to request and potentially pay more for a seat with a power adaptor.

Third, if you’re considering taking the S10 with you, you’ll have to disable the WiFi when the flight crew directs passengers to do that on their devices.

Finally, remember that a reclined seatback sandwiched between total strangers is a lot different than your comfortable bedroom at home. Our travel CPAPs are very quiet and can easily fit on a tray table, but try to anticipate what other adjustments you would need to get a (relatively!) comfortable night’s rest using your CPAP in-flight. Also, let your seat neighbors know what the machine is if you’re flying solo, and tell them you’ll be using it. It’s just considerate.

Special Note: At the end of the day, you may not be comfortable using your machine on an airplane – and that’s OK! But if you are, and feel you’re not being treated fairly, you should call the DOT Disability Coordinator hotline to file a complaint: 1-800-778-4838 .

5. Do I have to adjust my CPAP machine when I’m travelling?

You might! If you use an automatic machine, it will adjust to your breathing without you needing to do anything. But keep in mind that if you’re travelling between different climates of altitudes, you’ll want to make adjustments to your humidifier to compensate. Otherwise, if you’re travelling between say, Baton Rouge and Boulder, you’ll be in for a dry – and uncomfortable – surprise.

Travel machines with integrated humidifiers – like the ResMed AirSense – are pretty easy to change, but not all machines have this feature. If you don’t have the option to compensate for your climate on your actual machine, consider making other adjustments:

You can carry a travel-sized general use humidifier, and most hotels offer full-sized humidifiers free of charge.

You should always be drinking lots of water, but up your intake if you’re going to a drier climate. This will help keep your air passages – particularly your sinuses -- moist and comfortable.

If you tend to suffer from dry eye caused by mask leaks or just in general, drier climates definitely won’t make the situation more comfortable. EyeEco Eyeshields are a great way to combat that whether you’re at home or away.

6. What should I pack with my machine when I’m getting ready?

Don’t forget your mask! You would be surprised how many people come in just for an appointment with all of their equipment but no mask. Make sure you include yours when you’re packing your stuff up. You’ll also want to bring mask wipes, any air hoses you need, and batteries if you’re going portable. 

Right now, we're including tubing and filters at no additional cost to patients when they purchase select masks to make it a little easier on travelers.

Also, even if you’re carrying your machine onto the plane with you, it’s always a great idea to label it with your name and contact information. That way if it does get misplaced, you can have it returned to you. We actually have two travel bundles on sale right now with everything you’ll need for your machine in one place.

Special Note: If you can, carry a copy of your prescription with you, particularly if you’re planning to be away from home for an extended period of time. That way, if you do misplace, lose, or forget your machine, you can get a rental in your destination city to manage your therapy.


Looks like you could use a checklist! Download Blue Mountain Sleep Shop’s CPAP travel prep kit.


7. This is my first time travelling with a CPAP, and I’m worried I won’t be able to get to sleep!

Sleeping in a new place can already be challenging, between noisy hotel neighbors or tossing and turning on a borrowed foldaway cot at your cousin’s place. One of the best things you can do for yourself is attempt to make your sleeping space as similar to your comfortable home-base bedroom as possible. If you sleep with a white-noise machine, consider tossing it in with your luggage. Grab a familiar blanket or a favorite pillow and try to make yourself as comfortable as possible.

Special Note: If you’re brand new to CPAP therapy and still adjusting to sleeping with a mask and machine, consider a pillow with a compensatory shape and structure,  like The Ultimate Pillow. CPAP pillows are shaped to accommodate your mask and sleeping position to make the transition as easy as possible.

Travelling with a CPAP is a learning process, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare can determine how steep that learning curve is. Happy travels!

Are you travelling with a CPAP this holiday season? Have any travel tips or advice our DME missed? Come join our discussion on the Blue Mountain Sleep Shop Facebook page.


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