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Interstitial Cystitis when Travelling

Mother and child on water slide.

Whether travelling by road, or jetting off to a luxurious resort, there are precautions you can take to ensure a fun filled summer holiday with family or friends.

How do Cystitis and Interstitial Cystitis differ?

Cystitis is the medical term for inflammation of the bladder; it denotes the onset of a bladder or urinary tract infection, whereas Interstitial Cystitis refers to chronic or recurring episodes of inflammation of the bladder, which may or may not be caused by infection.

Interstitial Cystitis, also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome affects both men and women. Often the lining of bladders have sore patches susceptible to irritation from food, causing severe burning pains similar to those of a urinary tract infection. These patches, called Hunner's Ulcers or Hunner's Lesions, are present in 5-10% of patients.

Foods most likely to cause pain are coffee, tea, soda (including all diet drinks), most alcoholic beverages, citrus fruits and juices, cranberry juice, tomato products, hot peppers, and spicy foods. Lemon will not cause problems for most people.

Contact the Airlines

Airline Regulations

Travelling by air, especially on international flights, can often involve lengthy delays in queues, as well as on-board the aircraft while waiting for departure or to disembark the aircraft. Contact the airline(s) you are travelling with, at least 48 hours before your departure time and inform them of your circumstances and any special needs you may require, such as a seat in close proximity to the rest rooms.

If departing from the EU, or travelling on a European Airline, you are legally entitled to special assistance. Please visit the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK for more detailed information.

If travelling to or from the USA, or on a U.S. Airline, you are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act. Please visit the U.S. Department of Transportation for more detailed information.

Consider or enquire about:

  • The requirement to remain seated, in particular, when, and for how long.
  • When booking your airline tickets, inform your travel agent of your need for "special assistance", or if booking online, there will usually be an option for "special assistance" either prior to booking, or once booked, within your booking management account.
  • The same applies for and special dietary requirements you may have, either inform your travel agent, or select the option within your account.
  • At the airport check-in there are airline employees and ushers, passing through immigration and customs there are officers, and on the aircraft itself there is the in-flight crew. Talk to as many as you feel you need to, to put yourself at ease, knowing officials are aware of your situation. Most employees in the travel and hospitality industries are usually very compassionate by nature and will to provide assistance and preferential treatment to those in need, you just need to make them aware.
  • Translate all relevant documents into the official language of the countries you're visiting.

Travelling by road? Keep an eye out for Restrooms

Venturing out by road presents similar challenges to air travel for patients with IC. Journey times are typically longer; however, the frequency of rest stops is within your control if travelling in a private vehicle.

Consider the following:

  • If travelling by bus, request a seat in close proximity to the rest rooms and inform the bus driver or usher of your condition. Being familiar with the route, they'll be able to inform you of the locations of rest rooms, as well the facilities available at each.
  • Inform the bus agency of any special dietary requirements you may have, at least 48 hours before departure time.
  • If crossing land borders, there may be queues and delays at immigration. Not all border crossings make rest rooms readily available, or they may be available only on one side of the border. Having a Doctor's certificate stating your condition may help persuade an immigration officer to grant you access to staff rest rooms. Call the relevant embassies to see if they can provide you with this information.
  • Be aware of public holidays, long weekends, and peak periods when crossing borders, as foot traffic often increases substantially. Crossing a land border in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week is often quieter than at the beginning of a long weekend.
  • If you know you're hours away from your next stop, or your destination, refrain from consuming take out which may have been contaminated.

General tips for managing Interstitial Cystitis while on holiday

Three young women, arm in arm, walking on beach.

Holiday makers often over-indulge in alcohol, spend a lot of time under the sun causing dehydration, eat exotic foods, partake in outdoor sporting activities, and increase sexual activity. All of these are known triggers for Interstitial Cystitis. While you're on holiday to enjoy yourself, be careful not to over indulge.

  • Ensure you have taken adequate medication to last the duration of your trip, and check with embassies to ensure you're not breeching quantitative limits.
  • Before going outdoors, increase your fluid intake to help prevent dehydration and flush the urinary system.
  • Prophylactic doses of D'Mannose, before and after sexual activity may provide added protection.
  • Wear comfortable, rather than tight fitting clothing and underwear which can aggravate the urethra.
  • Limit, or eliminate alcohol, red meat, coffee, and strong spices. Try substituting acidifying food and drinks with more natural products that have an alkalising effect on the urine.
  • See a Pharmacist rather than a Doctor if you're in a foreign country; it'll be a lot cheaper.

Travel throws many unexpected surprises at us. Planning ahead is paramount, especially for patients with interstitial cystitis. Carefully chart your journey into a barrel-rolling, fun filled get-away. Bon voyage, Buon viaggio, Boa viagem, Buen viaje. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!

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Anna Sawkins, Sweet Cures Founder

Anna’s Story

Sweet Cures’ Anna talks about her years long battle with cystitis and how she finally overcame it.

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