Your guide to planning a safe and healthy trip with multiple sclerosis
Chris Lombardi is not your ordinary traveler. The 42-year-old
writer and educator has multiple
sclerosis (MS). But the threat of a disease flare-up didn't keep Lombardi
from a recent whirlwind tour of Asia. And according to travel and medical
experts, it needn't stop others with MS -- and an itch
to travel -- from vacationing either.
When guitar picker Clay Walker lost coordination in his right hand while
playing basketball with friends in 1996, the Texan was justifiably nervous. "At
first I was kind of laughing about it," he recalls. "But then I started having
double vision and
dizziness, and I couldn't stand up. And I realized, whoa, this is pretty
serious." Walker went straight to a doctor, who diagnosed the chart-topping
country singer with relapsing-remitting
multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic neurological disorder...
If you're like most people with MS, you rely on medication to reduce the
frequency and severity of attacks. But traveling with your medication can be
tricky, especially if you take one of the commonly used injectable therapies
that require refrigeration.
"Determining, in advance, how you're going to transport
your medications is essential," says Robert Fox, medical director of The
Cleveland Clinic's Mellon Center for MS.
For starters, know whether your medication can be stored at
room temperature and for how long. Some medications that generally require
refrigeration can temporarily be stored at room temperature. For instance,
Copaxone can remain at room temperature for one week, but it is
light-sensitive, so remember to protect it from light when storing it. Rebif
can be stored at room temperature for up to 30 days as long as it is not
directly exposed to light or heat.
In some instances, flexibility of a medication's formulary can
save hassles. Such is the case with Avonex. This medication is available in
prefilled syringes, but they can be stored at room temperature for only 12
hours. However, Avonex also comes in a powder, which requires no refrigeration,
but it requires reconstitution with sterile water prior to injection. Fox
suggests that patients who take Avonex and plan to vacation somewhere that may
lack refrigeration ask their doctors for a prescription for the powdered
If you're planning on flying, the airlines will require you to
justify why you're carrying syringes. To this end, Fox suggests having an
official labeling of injection medication with you. He also recommends carrying
the medication in the original pharmaceutical manufacturer packaging. And
although airlines don't require flyers to have the original prescription from
your doctor, Fox says, "It can't hurt."
Climate, always a factor for vacationers, takes on even greater
significance if you have MS. Heat can exacerbate many of the symptoms of MS.
But there's good news on this front.
"We don't think climates can bring on relapses or induce
inflammation. For some, a hot environment can bring out underlying, or latent,
symptoms. But it's a common misconception that patients with MS can't get
hot," Fox tells WebMD.
Rather than avoiding certain climates altogether, Fox advises
vacationers with MS to play it smart. Dress appropriately -- wear wide-brim
hats and loose-fitting clothing to help keep you cool. Also consider wearing
cooling garments like those used by athletes. And find out beforehand if your
destinations contain air-conditioned accommodations.