With another summer travel season upon us, many people across the country are getting ready to depart on long-anticipated, well-earned vacations—some to far-flung destinations, others closer to home. If you or someone in your family suffers with allergies and asthma, keep in mind that you may need to do some additional planning and preparation before departure.
If you want to keep those unpleasant—or even life-threatening—allergy symptoms at bay when you travel this summer, you’ll need to:
Research the allergens at your destination
The old real-estate adage that the most important issue is “location, location, location” applies just as well to people with allergies and asthma. Depending on where you live or where you’re heading, you’ll be exposed to particular allergens at different times of year. That’s why local residents who head for sunny Florida in winter sometimes encounter allergy problems that they hadn’t anticipated. While the Ohio landscape may still be frozen and dormant at that time of year, they’re traveling to a warmer locale where the air may be loaded with pollen and molds, and their bodies may not be prepared for the sudden, overwhelming exposure.
Well in advance of your vacation, it’s important to contact your allergist to find out which allergens you’re likely to encounter at your destination and what you can do to minimize their impact. He or she may recommend starting you on allergy medications prior to your departure so you can stay one step ahead of symptoms.
Know which bugs will be there, too!
Just as people with pollen and/or mold allergies need to find out which allergens might be floating in the air at their destination, it’s critical for people with known insect allergies to discuss with their allergist whether any stinging insects—such as bees, wasps, hornets, or fire ants—are likely to be present and active in the area and what to do in the event of being stung.
Remember that you’ll be leaving your allergy comfort zone
People with allergies and asthma typically do a pretty good job of creating a home environment that minimizes their exposure to allergy triggers. For example, dust mite allergy sufferers commonly cover their mattress and pillow with hypoallergenic linens, and those with dog or cat dander allergies typically exclude those pets from their home or limit them to certain rooms in the house. However, allergy sufferers have no control over these circumstances when they travel and have to stay in a hotel or motel or in a friend’s or relative’s house.
Again, discussing with your allergist where you’ll be staying and what allergy triggers you might encounter (such as Aunt Myrtle’s beloved cat) will give him or her important insights on how to protect you from allergy symptoms on your trip.
Take precautions against food allergies
If you have food allergies, the best way to ensure that what you eat is safe is to take your own foods with you on vacation. Of course, this isn’t always a practical solution—for example, if you have to reach your destination by airplane. In this circumstance, people with food allergies should:
- Verify ahead of time that safe foods are available at their destination. Most family-friendly tourist destinations are more than willing to make accommodations for guests with food allergies if given advance notification.
- Be sure to wipe off the fold-down tray table, armrests, and other surfaces around their seat when flying—you never know what the person who sat there on the previous flight was eating.
- Seek a flight designated nut-free if allergic to nuts.
- Be wary of food labels when traveling outside the US. Not all countries demand the same strict labeling that our FDA does.
- Err on the side of caution and avoid foods if they have any doubts about their ingredients.
Make sure your medications are handy
Prior to your vacation, make sure you’ve packed all your allergy/asthma medications—including self-injectable epinephrine and/or asthma inhalers if appropriate—and that they are conveniently accessible. If you’ll be flying to your destination, make sure all your medications are packed in your carry-on and taken on board the plane with you. Don’t put them in your checked baggage. Also, to avoid any unnecessary delays or unpleasantness in the airport security screening line, be sure to declare your medications to the TSA security officials.
Locate the nearest healthcare facility
In addition to keeping medications handy at all times, if you have asthma or known food allergies, it’s vital to locate the nearest urgent-care facility at their travel destination. If you’re planning a camping vacation or other form of wilderness travel, verify that there is a hospital within ten miles of your campsite/wilderness location.
Also, be sure to take your allergist’s and primary care physician’s contact information with you in case you develop problems with your allergies or lose your medications. He or she may be able to phone in a prescription to a pharmacy at your destination so you can get relief.
Most importantly, if you experience an allergic reaction or asthma attack that may be life-threatening, call 911 immediately.
Get well ahead of time
Summer vacation is supposed to be a time to relax and get closer to your family. Why let allergies and asthma stand in the way? Discuss with your allergist ahead of time steps you can take to nip vacation allergy symptoms in the bud—such as starting medications before you travel—and, if you have severe allergies, how to protect yourself from developing life-threatening symptoms. With a little preparation, common sense, and input from your allergist, you can control your allergies on vacation instead of letting them control you.❦