Preparing for Travel with Epilepsy
People who are at risk for seizures should think carefully about how likely they are to have a seizure while traveling and what they can do to lessen this risk, and ideally prevent seizures from occurring. Here are a few practical tips to consider.
Know when you are likely to have seizures. If you don’t know if there is any pattern or triggers, visit the Toolbox and print off a seizure calendar. Or use our online My Seizure Diary. Try tracking seizures before you travel. You may notice if seizures occur at a specific time of day or night or in response to any possible triggers. Once you have this information, you can talk to your health care team about how to manage these triggers.
Seizures During Sleep
If you usually have seizures during sleep, try to travel during the day. Traveling at night can disrupt your sleep and increase the chance you will have a seizure. Talk to your doctor about when to take your seizure medicines. He or she may recommend using an "as needed" or rescue medicine before you go to sleep. If you lose control of urine during seizures, take protective underwear and a change of clothing while traveling.
Lack of sleep can be a problem for many people. Plan ahead to prevent sleep deprivation or having your sleep interrupted. If you are traveling across time zones, allow extra time to get adjusted to the time changes. If you must travel at night, don’t nap before traveling and don’t drink caffeinated beverages. Then if you are a passenger, try to sleep while traveling. Make sure you have time to rest and catch up on sleep once you arrive at your destination. During your vacation, try to keep to regular sleep times and allow time for rest days.
When you cross time zones, it’s easy to miss medicines or get mixed up on when to take your medicines. It’s hardest when you travel east and are "losing" time. Make sure to talk to your health care team about when to take your medicines and prevent missed doses. (see Managing Medicines While Traveling)
Changes in Diet and Fluids
Most people don’t eat normally when traveling and on vacation. For example, some people notice that seizures may increase if they skip meals or are eating more irregularly – low blood sugar or too much caffeine may aggravate seizures, as can specific foods for some people.
- Avoid alcohol while traveling, especially if other triggers are present. If you do use alcohol, follow your doctor’s recommendations about how this may affect your seizures and medicines. Drinking alcohol in "moderation" and drinking slowly may be okay for some people.
- Keep to regular meal times. Take plenty of healthy snacks while traveling to avoid long periods without food.
- Limit caffeine. This will help with your sleep too!
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. This is especially important during the summer months if you (or your child) are taking topiramate or zonisamide. Watch carefully as sometimes people on these medications don’t sweat normally when they are overheated, but can still get dehydrated and very sick.
- If you are taking medicines that may lower sodium (or salt) levels in your body, talk to you doctor about the amount of fluids you should drink each day and when to check your sodium levels. Too much free water can lower sodium levels. Drinking fruit juices or some sports drinks may be recommended, but look at the ingredients in some of the newer sports or energy drinks. Avoid fluids that have extra caffeine or other stimulants in them, or be sure to talk to your doctor about them first.
Stress of Traveling
Traveling can be stressful, physically and mentally. Plan for this and take some time before traveling to rest. Try to put aside other issues that are bothering you, or have a plan on how to manage them before they build up and become problematic. Use help from others and then you can help them in return. If you travel with children, try to have another adult help so you can get a break too.
Sensitivity to Lights or Other Stimuli
If you are photosensitive or are bothered by excessive stimuli or noises, be aware of this and what you need to do when you travel, especially if you are visiting amusement parks. For example wear polarized sunglasses and don’t look at the bothersome stimuli for long periods. You may also want to avoid rides or activities that may have flashing lights or patterns, loud noises, or other bothersome effects.
Other Illnesses and Medicines
Be aware that you, or your child, will be more likely to have seizures if you get sick with another illness, or are put on a medicine that may affect your seizures or seizure medicines. Talk to your neurologist or nurse about what to do if you get sick and treat illnesses early. If you have problems with vomiting that interferes with your ability to take your medicines, get help immediately so you can keep taking your seizure medicines on schedule.
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