Travel and holidays
There are some specific issues that people with epilepsy may wish to consider before they travel. By taking time to plan ahead, and by taking into consideration anything that may affect your seizures, you will be in the best position to relax, enjoy yourself, and make the most of your holiday.
Travelling by air
Having epilepsy does not usually prevent people from being able to travel by air. However, some people’s seizures are triggered by being very tired (which could happen because of long journeys or ‘jetlag’). Seizures can also be triggered by excitement or anxiety, which can affect some people when they are flying.
If there is a chance that you might have a seizure on the plane, it is useful for someone travelling with you to know about your epilepsy and how to help if you have a seizure. Telling the airline about your epilepsy when you book means that they can let the cabin crew know about your seizures, and you can tell them anything about your epilepsy that you think might be important for them to know.
It is recommended that you keep your complete supply of tablets (in their original containers) with you in your hand luggage, in case your main luggage gets lost or delayed. It is also recommended that you take enough medication to cover your entire holiday, plus a few extra doses in case of travel delays. This is particularly important if you are travelling outside of the UK as your medication may have a different name in other countries. However be aware that customs officials may ask you about your medication, so it can be helpful to have written information from your GP or specialist, which explains about your epilepsy and the anti-epileptic medication you take. Airport security regulations allow you to carry tablets, capsules or liquids up to 100ml in your hand luggage in case you main luggage is lost. If your medicine is in a container larger than 100ml you will need to contact the airline before you fly.
If you are planning a trip of more than 3 months, be aware that your GP may not prescribe you medication for this length of time. You may find it helpful to contact the company John Bell and Croyden, who can arrange to send medication from the UK. You can call them on 020 7935 5555 or email: email@example.com.
Crossing time zones
If you take medication at regular intervals, and are travelling to a different time zone, then you may need to gradually adjust when you take your medication, so that you can take it at an appropriate time of day. As these changes will depend on how far you are travelling and for how long, you may find it helpful to ask your GP or pharmacist for help with planning this.
It is highly recommended that, before travelling abroad, you book travel insurance to protect against such things as illness, accidents, or losing your luggage.
According to the Equality Act 2010, holiday insurance companies are obliged to look at each individual’s circumstances before giving a quote. It is important that you make the insurance company aware of any pre-existing medical conditions, such as epilepsy, otherwise they may not cover you if you make a claim. If the insurer feels that your epilepsy puts you at a high risk of needing to use a hospital while abroad, then they may increase your premiums. Your premium will also depend on the type, frequency and severity of seizures that you have. Giving as much information about your epilepsy and how much impact it has on your life, may help the insurance company to give you an accurate and fair quote.
As with taking out any insurance policy, it is worth checking exactly what is, and is not, covered by the policy. Also by contacting a number of different insurance companies, you can ensure that you get the best quote for your situation. Please be aware that if insurance comes as part of a holiday package that you have booked through a travel agent, then it is not regulated in the same way as when you book travel insurance directly through an insurance company. This means that you will need to check the policy thoroughly to know exactly what you are, and are not, covered for.
To ensure you get the cover that you need, check you are clear that the insurer has:
- asked you about your medical history
- has made you aware of what the policy does and does not cover
EHIC - European Health Insurance card
Most UK residents are entitled to free or reduced cost emergency medical treatment that they may need while visiting other European companies (plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). To get treatment you will need to carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which is free of charge. This card replaces the E111 form that you may be familiar with.
Depending on the country you are visiting, you may or may not have to contribute to the cost of the medical care you receive, and you may or may not be able to claim these costs back.
For more information, and to apply online, visit www.ehic.org.uk or visit your local post office.
Vaccinations and anti-malarial medication
Travel vaccinations aim to protect you against infectious diseases when visiting some countries. The vaccinations recommended depend on the country you are visiting, the time of year you are travelling, and your medical history. Most types of vaccine will not affect epilepsy, seizure control, or anti-epileptic drugs. However some anti-malarial medication can provoke seizures and are not suitable for people with epilepsy. The Hospital for Tropical Diseases recommends the treatments proguanil (Paludrine), Malarone and doxycycline (Vibramycin), depending on the area you are visiting.
The anti-malarial medications chloroquine and Larium should be avoided as they can causes seizures in some people. As medications are not always 100% effective, it is important that you take precautions to avoid being bitten. Insect repellents containing the chemical DEET are safe for you to use.
More information about the legally required and recommended vaccines for different countries, as well as the EHIC card, can be found in the ‘Health advice for travellers’ leaflet (T7 Leaflet). This leaflet is free of charge from your post office or online at: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics.
You could also call the Hospital for Tropical Diseases’ Travellers Health Advisory Service on 020 7950 7799 (national call rate).
What if I get ill?
If you become ill on holiday, you may need to take medication. It may help to take with you the medication you usually use, in case medicines abroad do not have instructions written in English. If you are concerned that sickness could affect your anti-epileptic medication, then you may find it reassuring to read the patient information leaflet included with your medication, as it normally advises what you should do should this happen.
A number of organisations provide holidays with support for people with medical conditions or disabilities.
The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) produces a number of travel guides. These list organisations that provide holidays for people with disabilities, including epilepsy. Their publications include 'Holidays in Britain and Ireland 2002 – a guide for disabled people'.
The organisation Physically Disabled and Able Bodied (PHAB) runs clubs and holidays schemes around the UK. They bring people with and without physical disabilities together. PHAB also produces a holiday guide each year.
General travel information
You may also find the following websites helpful:
www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk - produced by NHS Scotland;
www.fco.gov.uk - the foreign and commonwealth office website. This includes a section on ‘travelling and living abroad’;
www.thehtd.org - general health advice for travellers from The Hospital for Tropical Diseases; and
www.ibe-epilepsy.org/publications/travellers-handbook - includes downloadable first aid instructions in 13 different languages, reminders regarding medication and practical phrases to assist travellers with communication while travelling abroad.
© Epilepsy Society.