Travelling with a catheter can be uncomfortable and intimidating, but it is far from unachievable: although there are some small risks associated with long plane journeys. Although different airlines have their own guidelines regarding what assistance is available, in most cases, there are no problems in this respect, and you should simply follow some basic advice.
If you are planning your holiday, and you are going to travel with a catheter you must take into account some aspects that affect, first of all, its maintenance and cleaning (these are general hygiene measures that you should manage especially during your flight or transport) and, secondly, regarding your personal well-being on the trip to avoid uncomfortable situations or infections.
Travelling with a catheter: tips for preparing your luggage and during the trip
Urinary catheters are made up of a tube of flexible material that is inserted into the bladder to relieve or eliminate urine retention either temporarily or permanently. Since many people with reduced mobility use them, they often worry about travelling with a catheter on modes of transport such as aeroplanes.
Flying with a catheter is possible and does not generally cause any complications. In fact, the flexibility offered by bladder catheters and the existence of urine collection bags that are tied to the leg allow those who use them to perform their daily activities, without any problems and without other people noticing that they are wearing one.
In all cases, especially on very long trips, the use of a permanent catheter is recommended so that the bag does not have to be emptied every two or three hours, especially when travelling on trains or aeroplanes as the toilets are generally small and difficult to access for wheelchair users. The general advice is to use a urine collecting bag, which can easily be hidden. Moreover, if necessary, even your travel companion can empty the bag into the bathroom for you without any problems.
Many bag users worry that the pressure associated with aeroplane travel may cause the bag to rupture and leak. However, there should be no problems of this type, since pressure has no effect on liquids.
What you should consider before travelling
Additionally, before travelling with a catheter on public transport, we recommend the following:
- Check the terms and conditions of the travel company or airline.
- When you pack your suitcase, always include extra provisions.
- For long trips and destinations with poor water quality, use disposable hydrophilic catheters.
- Make sure to include several cleaning and disinfectant products to your hand luggage or cabin bag.
- If you are travelling with a urinary catheter, wet wipes can also be helpful in an emergency.
- In addition to the catheter and the material to clean it, we recommend that you carry in your hand luggage a certificate from your doctor, as well as a document from your catheter provider explaining why you need to carry this material in your luggage.
What to consider during your trip
During a plane or train journey, the main recommendations for travelling with a catheter in the most comfortable way possible are:
- Avoid raising the bag above waist height; in this position, the exit of the urine will be obstructed, which may result in the appearance of infections.
- Avoid pulling on both the catheter and the bag. To fix the catheter in place, we recommend using hypo-allergenic tape in the pubic area. The diuresis bag, meanwhile, should be placed at calf height. Please note: It is very important that the belt should never be used as a support for the bag.
- Try to ensure that neither the catheter nor the bag are bent or squashed in any way.
- Drink sufficient water (between two and three litres a day, unless directed otherwise by a doctor) to facilitate diuresis and prevent urine from concentrating, which makes it difficult to escape and increases the risk of infections.
- Consult with your doctor regarding whether to use a plug or not for the bag. If so, you should keep the catheter closed and empty the bag every time you feel like urinating. Before replacing the cap, you should always wash it with soap and water.
- If you feel the need to tell the airport, security or crew personnel about your situation, do so objectively and always at your discretion, so that both you and the rest of the travellers are more comfortable.
- During your stay, remember to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling the catheter or bag, and always remove the catheter on the date indicated (if it is a permanent one).
When should you see a doctor?
Finally, when you travel with a catheter, we recommend that you go to the doctor upon arrival at your destination, if you experience any of the following:
- You have any symptoms related to a urinary infection (fever, chills, burning in the bladder or urine with a strong and unpleasant smell).
- You are aware that the catheter is blocked.
- You suffer an involuntary pull on the catheter, and the urine stops coming out.
- You notice blood in the catheter.
- The amount of urine is much more or less than usual.