If you're parenting one of the nearly 10,000 children in the U.S. who rely on kidney dialysis, you may be wondering if your family can safely travel. Whether your child uses hemodialysis, which requires a visit to a dialysis center, or peritoneal dialysis, which is done at home, it's possible to plan a trip while still keeping up with your child's dialysis schedule.
"We know our patients want to do things and travel and see the world, and nothing should limit them – not even their dialysis," says Laken Haynie, BSN, RN, CPN, Nephrology Patient Educator at Children's Health℠.
Haynie and her team help make this possible for their own dialysis patients, as well as children and teens traveling to North Texas seeking dialysis at Children's Medical Center Dallas. She shares advice to make travel possible while keeping your child healthy and safe.
Communicate with your dialysis care team
The most important step in traveling while on dialysis is to keep your child's physician and dialysis care team informed about your travel plans.
For hemodialysis patients, plan to alert your child's dialysis center a few weeks – or even a month – before your travel dates. This will allow time for your dialysis social worker to help locate and schedule an available appointment at a dialysis center in your travel area. Make sure your care team knows where you plan to go and how long you will be there.
Your home dialysis center can help facilitate the transfer of any necessary medical records to your travel dialysis location – including your child's dialysis prescription, recent lab results and treatment reports.
What should you pack when traveling with children on dialysis?
All dialysis patients – whether they're using hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis – should carry a kit with essential supplies when they travel.
Travel supplies for hemodialysis patients
- Extra tape to reinforce the catheter dressing
- Alcohol wipes and gauze in case of catheter dislodgement or a hole in the catheter
- Clamps (in case a hole develops in the catheter)
- Thermometer (to check for a fever if your child is not feeling well)
- Any prescribed medications and formulas
Travel supplies for peritoneal dialysis patients
- Cycler machine
- Dialysis cassette
- Drain bags
- Mini caps
- Supplies for exit-site care, including antiseptic skin cleanser (Hibiclens), gauze and sterile water
- Any prescribed medications and formulas
Rather than packing multiple dialysate bags, which can be bulky, many peritoneal dialysis patients find it easier to have their dialysis supply company deliver them directly to their travel destination, Haynie says.
Are there any travel restrictions for dialysis patients?
For the most part, children who are on dialysis can travel anywhere – with just a few activity restrictions to keep in mind. Your dialysis care team can help provide a list of travel precautions depending on your child's treatment.
For example, hemodialysis patients with a catheter should avoid going to the beach – or, more specifically, getting into the ocean – due to the risk of developing an infection at their catheter site from bacteria in the water.
"They can physically walk on the beach, but we don't recommend they get into the water," Haynie explains. For the same reason, hemodialysis patients with catheters should also avoid swimming in pools.
But, if your child has a fistula rather than a catheter for hemodialysis, they "can go anywhere, including to the beach and swimming," Haynie says.
Peritoneal dialysis patients can swim in the ocean and well-maintained chlorinated pools. They should cover their exit site with a waterproof dressing and clean it after swimming.
Children on either type of dialysis should avoid water parks, where water is not always chlorinated well enough to kill all bacteria. All dialysis patients should also pass on swimming, canoeing, whitewater rafting or kayaking in freshwater lakes and rivers, due to the threat of exposure to bacteria if they swim or fall in the water while boating, Haynie says.
Traveling during COVID-19
Children with chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease, can be at greater risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. If you plan on traveling during the pandemic, it's important to take steps to reduce risk of COVID-19, such as getting vaccinated if eligible, wearing masks, physical distancing and properly washing hands.
Haynie suggests bringing plenty of sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to clean and disinfect your child's travel space – particularly if you'll be using planes or other public means of transportation.
What should I do if my child gets sick while traveling?
In addition to helping schedule dialysis appointments at your travel destination, your home dialysis center can also provide you with a list of area treatment options in case your child becomes sick or has a medical emergency.
"When our patients travel, we provide them with a list of the nearest emergency rooms, as well as the closest dialysis facilities in their destination," Haynie says.
Above all, trust your instinct as a parent. "If you feel your child might need to go to the emergency room while you're traveling, then go ahead and go," Haynie advises. "You know your child better than anyone, and if you think something may be going on then you're probably right."
Learn more about our dialysis center and services
If you're traveling to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and need dialysis for your child, you can request care at Children's Health. Start by talking with your dialysis care team and they can help you coordinate services.
Nationally recognized and the largest pediatric nephrology program in North Texas, Children's Health is dedicated to providing comprehensive kidney care that addresses all aspects of your child's well-being. Learn more about our nephrology program and services.
You are now subscribed to the Kidney Chronicles newsletter.