Traveling with diabetes is fun. I’m sure all of you reading this can share in my excitement of traveling with T1D. Not only do you have to worry if you packed all of your supplies but you also have to worry if the supplies will all fit in your carry-on, or if you decide to put some in your checked luggage, you have to make sure you don’t go over the weight limit. And don’t forget about making sure your insulin pump is adjusted for the right time zone when you get to your destination or how the lack of sleep or different foods will affect your blood sugar. Another fun perk to traveling with T1D is having to be aware of how airport security machines affect your supplies.
I actually didn’t even think too much of it when I was younger traveling. I’m pretty sure I went through a machine or two that I shouldn’t have with my pump without realizing they could be bad for my insulin pump. Maybe I was being naive, but I didn’t even think about it. My husband, however, was more worried than I was and started to research the safety of pumps through airport security. At the time, we could not find good information anywhere on the Internet. Granted this was about five years ago or so but we didn’t find any clear information from Medtronic or from TSA. So, we leaned on the side of caution and I started to avoid the body scanners, choosing instead to be violated, I mean frisked.
Then, I got my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). My trainer told me that the CGM couldn’t go through the body scanners either but she couldn’t tell me if all of the body scanners were bad or just the “backscatters”, or the body scanning machines with the x-rays. Last year, when I decided to start writing my blog, I thought this would be an excellent topic to research for an article. I was going to contact Medtronic directly and see if they could explain to me what machines would be OK for my pump to go through.
Before I started to write this article and before my latest trip, two things happened. First, Medtronic’s blog, the Loop, came out with a great article on TSA Screenings Update for People with Diabetes (granted this was written in 2011, but I didn’t discover it until recently), and TSA announced they may be phasing out the “backscatters”.
Medtronic’s article was very helpful to me in explaining what was OK for the insulin pumps and CGMs. The article not only explained to me important information about going through security with my pump and CGM, but also pointed out a few other important things. According to Medtronic’s article, insulin should never be in a checked bag “because it may be exposed to extreme (often freezing) temperatures, which can change its effectiveness.” I usually carry insulin in my carry-on bag but on long trips, I might also carry some additional vials in my checked bag. So, I will have to make sure next trip, to carry all of my insulin with me. It also said not to send your devices through the x-ray machine. While I did know not to go through x-ray body scanners/security while wearing my pump, I never thought about what I might be packing in my checked luggage that also gets x-rayed. I like to carry an extra (old) insulin pump with me when I travel, which I usually keep in my checked luggage since I never usually need it and I never gave it a second thought that it was going through x-rays in the checked luggage. I’m hoping since I have only done this a few times, my old insulin pump is still OK, but I will have to be cautious if I ever have to use it since it has been through several x-rays. I also send my sensors through the x-ray. I am very careful and make sure to always wear my transmitter so I don’t send that through the x-ray but I never realized that the sensors were also bad to send through the x-ray. I admit I am guilty of doing this when I put sensors in my carry on bag and I put extra in my checked luggage. I haven’t noticed any major flaws with the sensors that have gone through the x-rays but I am definitely going to start paying attention more to stop that bad habit.
One thing that the Medtronic website didn’t full explain was the different types of body scanners when going through airport security. They state “Medtronic has conducted official testing on the effects of the new full body scanners at airports with Medtronic medical devices and have found that some scanners may include x-ray.” Now, I mentioned above that TSA may be phasing out the “backscatter” body scanning machines. These were the “bad” ones as they use x-ray. The newer full-body scanners use millimeter wave technology, which Medtronic never mentions. Since these use microwave radiation, similar to the kind your cellphone emits, they shouldn’t cause any harm. However, Medtronic did not specifically say the millimeter wave machines were okay the pump and CGMS either, so I’m going to stick to only going through metal detectors and/or getting frisked.