How to Avoid Severe Allergic Reactions While Traveling
Vacations are supposed to be a fun time for everyone. But if you have allergies—seasonal, animal, dust, or food— an upcoming vacation may be a source of worry. You may be concerned about potentially severe allergic reactions that could hamper your plans and make the vacation less than enjoyable. Having allergies doesn’t mean you have to cancel your trip or stay inside the entire time. You can avoid a severe allergic reaction by preparing for your trip in advance of your departure date and taking precautions once you arrive at your destination.
Organizing Your Supplies and Information
Determine what allergens are present at your destination.Knowledge is often the best way to prevent an unpleasant situation like a severe allergic reaction. Checking your destination to see what allergens may be present in the environment, foods, or other elements can help you avoid them and a potential reaction. It can also help you know what types of medications and other precautions to take.
- Look at the environmental conditions if you have seasonal allergies. Organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and local county extensions can provide information on factors such as dominant outdoor allergens and air quality in the United States.
- Consider things such as cuisine, accommodations, and side trips to determine what types of allergens are present in your destination. For example, if you are traveling in Southeast Asia and are allergic to peanuts, you may want to learn the word for peanuts so you can avoid it in dishes.
See your doctor.No matter what your allergy is, talk to your doctor about your travel plans. The doctor can advise you ways to avoid a severe allergic reaction at your destination. They can also provide you with prescriptions for extra medication or emergency doses of epinephrine.
- Let your doctor know where you are traveling. If you have figured out specific allergens present at your destination, make sure you inform your doctor of these, too.
- Ask your doctor any questions you may have about preventing a severe reaction. See if you should update your allergy action program to accommodate your travel plans. Your doctor may want to fill out an Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan form or write a letter verifying your allergies, medications and any special precautions you may need to take, which can assist with travel accommodations..
- Say, for example, “Hi Dr. del Toro, I’m getting ready to head to Peru on vacation. I’ll be in the desert, mountains, and a little bit of rain forest. Do you have any suggestions about keeping my allergies at bay while I’m traveling? Do you think it makes sense to double up on medication or carry an epinephrine pen?”
Carry extra medication supplies.Your doctor will let you know if you need to take a different dose of your allergy medications during your trip. Check your prescriptions to make sure you have enough and a little bit extra in case of an emergency or losing your meds.
- Make sure you have 1-2 Epipens, oral steroids, and a rescue inhaler if you suffer from allergic asthma or are at risk of anaphylaxis. Be sure to keep them in the original pharmacy container labeled with your name. Keep only the prescribed medication in each container to avoid confusion while traveling.
- Consider packing over the counter topical and/or steroids and antihistamines as a back up to your prescription medications.
- Pack your medication supplies in your carry-on luggage in case your luggage gets lost.
Call your insurance company.If you have insurance, contact your representative or agent to see if your policy covers medical care at your destination. In some cases, your policy may pay for doctor's visits or emergency care. Consider purchasing an extra travel policy to cover any severe allergic reaction you may have.
- Let your insurer know about your allergies and the potential for a severe reaction. Your agent can give you information and tips about navigating medical care with your policy on vacation. Ask if your insurance company offers policies for persons traveling overseas if you are only covered in your home country.
- Say, for example, “Hello, this is April Harris and I have an insurance policy with you. I’m about to travel to Turks and Caicos and have allergies that have the potential for severe reactions. Will my policy cover medical care when outside of the country? If not, am I able to purchase a travel policy that will cover any potential emergencies?”
Contact transportation services.If you are traveling by plane, train, or bus, let the companies with which you’re traveling know in advance about your allergies. In some cases, travel agencies and transportation companies can—or have to—make special accommodation for you and your allergies.
- Ask for allergy-free meals and snacks if possible. You can also avoid airline food altogether by packing your own snacks and light meals.
- Request a buffer zone from other passengers if you have food, animal, or other allergies.
Check in with accommodations.If you are staying in a hotel, hostel, rental apartment, or even with friends and family, let them know about your allergies. They may have special services, rooms, or other accommodations to help you avoid a severe allergic reaction during your stay.
- Ask if your accommodations have special rooms friendly to individuals with allergies. See if air conditioning is available, which may also reduce the number of environmental allergens in your room.
- Request rooms that are non-smoking, mold-free, or pet free. You can also request that snacks and/or beverages not be put in your room.
Taking Precautions at Your Destination
Plan your daily route.For someone with allergies, the potential for a reaction can lie almost anywhere. This may be from walking around places like markets, in nature, or even a popular restaurant. Having a daily plan can help you avoid allergens and minimize the risk of a severe reaction.
- Write a detailed daily plan before each morning. This can ensure that you can enjoy yourself without exposing yourself to allergens. For example, break down each day: “Sunday, January 5: Hike from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. Lunch at restaurant on the Kleine Scheidegg. Train available if grass or pollen causing severe allergies. Wipes to clean off table at restaurant. Train or hike to Grindelwald.”
- Allow room for flexibility depending on how you feel. For example, you may find your allergies aren’t really bothering you and can try something you thought you might not be able to do such as a trip to a farm or special restaurant.
Talk to your host.If you have environmental, smoke, or pet allergies and you notice them where you’re staying, talk to your hosts or staff. They may be able to move your room or provide allergy-free bedding to help minimize the risk of a severe reaction.
- Remind staff when you check in that you arranged for a special room because of your allergies.For example, “Hello there, I’m Sam Corinthos. I called and made an advance reservation for an allergen-free room because of my severe allergies. I just want to make sure that this is the type of room I have and that there are no pets in rooms near mine.”
- Bring your own pillow(s) if you are allergic to dust mites or other environmental allergens. This may reduce your exposure and minimize the risk of a severe reaction.
Turn up the AC.If you are traveling in warmer climates, turn on the air conditioning in your room. Closing the window will also help.Consider traveling in vehicles with air conditioning to reduce the amount of allergens to which you’re exposed.
- Use a nasal spray or gel to reduce allergens in your nose if you don’t have access to air-conditioning.
- Wear an allergy mask or head to the beach, which can also reduce the number of allergens to which you’re exposed.
Select foods carefully.Some people have food allergies that can lead to severe reactions including anaphylaxis. If you have this, it’s important to make sensible food choices. Ask questions about ingredients if you’re unsure of something. This can minimize the risk of exposure to allergens as well as a severe reaction.
- Keep a list of foods to which you’re allergic. Ask restaurant staff or your hosts if the food has any of these ingredients or has touched a surface with them. If you’re traveling abroad keep a list of foods in the local language so you can let people know what you need to avoid.
- Consider packing some extra food and snacks in case you can’t get a meal.
- Avoid any foods of which you’re unsure. It’s better to be safe than sorry. For example, if you’re allergic to peanuts, you might want to choose grilled fish and vegetables instead of a coconut curry.
- Carry an Epipen with you at all times to handle potential severe reactions to food.
Pack cleansing wipes.No matter what your allergy is, any surface you contact may expose you to an allergen that causes a severe reaction. Wiping down these surfaces may limit your exposure and help you avoid an allergic reaction.
- Wipe down surfaces such as tray tables, dining tables, and seats with a cleansing wipe. If these are not available or you forget them, simply wiping a surface off may limit your exposure to allergens that cause severe reactions.
Plan for unexpected reactions.You can control a lot of situations that may expose to you allergens that cause severe reactions. But you can’t always control everything, especially when you’re traveling. Planning for the unexpected can help you avoid or promptly deal with a severe allergic reaction. Carrying injectable epinephrine, such as an Epipen, can add a measure of security should you have a severe reaction.
Keep emergency information with you.Even if you prepared for the unexpected, carry a list of emergency information with you at all times. You should include your medications, allergies, and the phone numbers or locations of local doctors. This can ensure that other travelers or a doctor provide you proper and prompt care if you have a severe allergic reaction.
- Keep a list of your medications and any medical allergies you may have.
- Research which medicines may be available at your destination and where you can purchase them if necessary. Equivalent medications may be available without a prescription, but under a different name.
- Have a list of phone numbers for your doctor, local medical staff, your insurance and emergency contacts such as family members.If you are traveling abroad, include the information of the embassy or local consulate in your destination.
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