There are lots of ways to travel – by car, plane, train or other means. In addition to understanding the type and frequency of seizures, people with seizures or their loved ones will need to also consider other factors such as:
- The ability to respond to seizures safely
- The availability of medical help during travel
- Accommodations for special needs (such as diet, mobility, places to recover after a seizure)
- Travel environment and flexibility of travel plans
- The ability to drive and the availability of accessible transportation.
Traveling by car is usually an easy and cheap way to travel (of course depending on the cost of gas!) Yet for people who are still having seizures, being the driver may not be a realistic way to travel. Regulations about driving for people with seizures vary in different countries and states; however, people with epilepsy must generally be seizure free for a specific period of time in order to drive. Sometimes, driving may be restricted to specific times of day or in special circumstances, again depending on where you live and individual circumstances. You should discuss this with your physician.
So, if you have epilepsy and you want to travel by car, first look at your seizure control and make sure you can legally and safely drive. If you can’t drive, can you travel with a friend or family member who does drive? When driving, remember the following:
- Take frequent breaks and don’t drive when you are overtired, if you have missed any medicine, or are at a higher risk of seizures for other reasons.
- If you are sensitive to flashing lights, also called photosensitive, don’t drive at night if possible, especially on highways (headlights coming from the opposite direction can produce a flashing effect).
While most people with seizures can travel safely by airplanes, guidelines of the Aerospace Medical Association do recommend that people with uncontrolled seizures not travel by commercial airliner. An airline may ask for a letter from your doctor that you are okay to fly. While people are not routinely prevented from flying, concerns may arise due to the lack of medical help available during a flight and safety of other passengers if a person is confused or experiencing behavior changes during or after a seizure in a confined space. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends that people who are still having seizures travel with a companion.
- When considering air travel, talk to your doctor first and consider the impact of changing time zones, sleep deprivation, and long delays or travel times on your seizures and whether air travel is recommended.
- Travel with a companion – this is especially important for people with frequent seizures or seizures with a change in your awareness or behavior, or for those who are traveling long distances.
- Bring a letter from your doctor describing your ability to travel by airplane and carry a completed Seizure Plan outlining what to do should a seizure occur.
- Talk to the airline in advance – ask for special seating arrangements so you are closer to the front where you can get help if needed. If possible, ask for an empty seat next to you so you can lie down if a seizure occurs.
- Carry a supply of medicines with you (in properly labeled bottles) so it is available if you need it during the flight.
- If you (or your child) have clusters of seizures and use ‘as needed’ medicine, talk to the doctor in advance about how to manage these...
- For general information on medical issues and flying, take a look at Medical Guidelines for Airline Passengers at the following link. http:/www.asma.org/publications/ and useful tips for travelers. http:/www.asma.org/pdf/publications/tips_for_travelers.pdf
By Train or Bus
Traveling by train or bus may be a good option for people who don’t drive or when airline travel is not possible. It’s also a lot of fun! Keep in mind that seizures will still need to be carefully considered and whether it’s wise to travel alone or not. Having a plan on how to respond to seizures and when to seek emergency help is still critical, but train or bus travel does allow more flexibility to get help if needed. Travel plans are generally more flexible too and you could get off the train early if help is needed before you get to your destination.
- People who wander during a seizure or who are at risk for falls need to be careful on train platforms. Have someone accompany you on and off trains and while waiting on platforms so you don’t wander or fall onto train tracks during a seizure.
- Make sure that train or bus personnel know about your seizures too and know what to do should you have one while traveling.
Traveling safely with seizures is not a problem for many people, but for some, extra care and planning will be needed. Think carefully about how to get to your destination when planning vacation or work trips. This may help you recognize potential problem areas and come up with creative solutions ahead of time! Planning ahead may also lessen the stresses of traveling and make it more enjoyable for everyone.
Continue to Preparing for the Possibility of Seizures
Topic Editor: Steven C. Schachter, MD and Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN.