When Traveling With Diabetes, Preparation Counts

Longer trips involving travel between five or more time zones pose additional considerations when it comes to scheduling meals and insulin injections.

"I think it's more complicated when changing time zones," Wolpert notes. "Insulin requirements will vary according to the time of day, and they will need to adjust."

In light of this, people with diabetes should take time out in the days before their trip to scan their itineraries and realize what changes they may have to make to their schedule.

Security No Longer an Issue

Along with the concern over what to pack, some with diabetes may be concerned that the needles and vials they have in their carry-on will present a problem in the security line.

In years past, such problems have been reported. Take, for example, the case of one 54-year-old engineer with diabetes returning to Australia after a four-month placement in Norway.

At a Norwegian airport, security staff told him that he was not permitted to carry his insulin or equipment in the cabin without a letter from his doctor and a current valid prescription. Despite the man's protests, he was forced to board without his insulin.

In the course of his trip to Sydney, he began to vomit, sweat profusely and display other symptoms consistent with dangerously high blood sugar. Fortunately, quick treatment upon his arrival in Australia saved his life.

But while such accounts may sound frightening, the chances of such an occurrence in the United States today are nearly zero.

"In the past, there was a major crisis of what you could and couldn't bring on an airplane," Deeb says. "The truth is that today, the TSA people are very understanding. I've found them to be much more understanding now of people with diabetes."

Wolpert agrees. "In terms of security, it is generally not as much of an issue as it was before."

Nonetheless, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a list of guidelines for those with diabetes to follow to minimize the possibility of problems clearing security. These include only carrying insulin in vials, pens or cartridges that carry a professional, preprinted pharmaceutical company label clearly identifying the medication. They also recommend that patients bring the original box in which their insulin was packaged. Lancets should be capped, and glucose meters should bear the manufacturer's name.

But Wolpert says that even if some of these guidelines fall by the wayside, travelers should still be fine from a security standpoint.

"It has been recommended post-9/11 that people need to take their insulin with them in a vial with a label," he says. "In practice, this is no longer necessary, because the TSA has become more familiar with this."

The Importance of Identification

Far and away, one of the simplest things that those with diabetes can do to ensure their safety on long trips is to have a bracelet, necklace or other item that identifies them as having diabetes.

"I was not wearing anything that identified me as diabetic," Frank says. "Since then I have learned my lesson. .... The truth is I should have been wearing a bracelet."

The other thing they can do, Wolpert says, is keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels, taking action when necessary.

"They need to monitor, monitor, monitor," he says. "Diabetes is much more difficult to manage when traveling."

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