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Is it Safe to Travel? Travel Tips for Kids with CHD

As families prepare for summer vacations, one question parents frequently ask is whether it’s safe to travel with children with congenital heart disease. Our pediatric cardiologists have created a travel guide for heart families that contains things to consider when planning your trip and tips to prepare. This is general information. If you have specific questions or concerns about your child, please reach out to your pediatric cardiologist.

Emergency Plan and Travel Tips

  • Create a document with pertinent medical history to give to an urgent care or emergency department provider who may not have access to your child’s medical records.
    • Surgeries (include date and surgical procedure)
    • Medications (include dose and frequency)
    • Allergies (include the reaction)
  • If your child has a cardiac device, travel with the device ID card so you can alert security staff at the airport or theme park.
  • Identify the nearest Children’s Hospital or pediatric urgent care near your vacation/travel destination. It is preferable to identify a Children’s Hospital with heart surgery/cardiology services in case of emergency. Adult ERs/hospitals/urgent care centers may be unfamiliar with some of the heart conditions in children, which can lead to overtreatment, unnecessary x-rays/scans or delayed diagnosis of a significant issue. Save the address and phone number on your phone or bookmark it on a web browser.
  • Prolonged standing and hot weather can lead to dehydration so be sure your child is hydrating well. Signs of inadequate hydration include dizziness, dry lips, dry mouth, nausea, dark yellow color urine and feeling faint.
  • Take breaks throughout the day in places with air conditioning and avoid cramming too much activity into one day.
  • Many resorts have a dedicated physician/provider you can reach out to if you need help with medications or guidance on where to go for evaluation.
  • Always take your child’s medications in your carry-on. Do not check medications to prevent missed doses due to a lost bag.
  • Remember that your child’s health information is in MYchart including all surgical and medical information. Have your login information readily available in case specific details are needed. Showing a new provider the most recent cardiology office note in MYchart will be helpful.


Air Travel and Altitude Tips

  • If your child has pulmonary hypertension, it can worsen at altitude so oxygen may be necessary for air travel – check with your cardiologist.
  • While airplanes are pressurized, they are typically only pressurized to an equivalent of 8,000 feet above sea level. The oxygen level at that altitude is roughly 17 percent, less than the 21 percent we experience at sea level. Because of this, some children benefit from extra oxygen while flying. When oxygen is required for air travel, a letter from your cardiologist may be necessary to provide to the airline. The process may take two weeks or more, so please contact your cardiologist well in advance of anticipated travel.
  • If your child requires oxygen at baseline, more oxygen will generally be necessary for air travel (twice the baseline flow is a good general rule). Additionally, you may need to find a source of oxygen at your destination.
  • Some airlines prefer to use their own oxygen supply, while others request that you bring a portable concentrator. Check with your airline well in advance of travel to arrange oxygen for your flight.
  • For some patients with softer indications for oxygen, shorter (regional) flights may not necessitate oxygen administration while longer (trans- or inter-continental) flights may require it.
  • Sternal wires will not be picked up by airport metal detectors as the wires are composed of stainless steel and are non-ferrous.


Tips for Visiting an Amusement Park

  • If your child has no restrictions from the cardiologist, roller coasters are likely safe. However, if you’re unsure, contact your cardiologist.
  • If a child is restricted from contact sports, avoid roller coasters with high G forces (i.e. more aggressive roller coasters, things with loops, freefall, etc.). Entertainment-based rides are generally safe for children restricted from contact sports (i.e., star tours, Millennium Falcon, Toy Story, etc.).
  • Some patients will experience arrhythmia triggered by sudden positional changes or startling, which can happen on roller coasters. If your child has significant rhythm problems, consider avoiding rides with sudden drops/falls, which can trigger SVT.
  • Pacemakers that are well healed (more than two months since implantation) should be safe for restraints or backpack straps. Be aware that pacemaker sites may be tender if the restraints land on the device.
  • Staying well hydrated and taking breaks is important. If your child is prone to swelling (or lightheadedness) consider wearing compression stockings and avoid dehydration.

If you have specific questions or concerns about your child, please reach out to your pediatric cardiologist.

Contributing Cardiologists:

  • Glen Iannucci, MD
  • Usama Kanaan, MD
  • Saidie Rodriguez, MD
  • Timotheus Watson, MD
  • Robert Whitehill, MD

For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.

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