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Allergies and Travel

Healthy Traveling For Allergy Sufferers

A Personal Account

Allergies and travelling are both very relevant in my life. I have a passion for travelling, and I have had allergies for as long as I can remember. Ironically, my first major allergy attack was on a family beach vacation in Florida. I was almost two years old and all too happy to eat a mound of fresh shrimp. After going to bed, the next thing I remember I was on an emergency room table at Fish Memorial Hospital (no kidding) in New Smyrna Beach. I was suffering from anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction to an allergic irritant, in this case, the shrimp. Had it not been for the astute observation of my big sister, "Mommy, Katie's breathing funny," my wheezing may have had more severe consequences.

Click here for some helpful tips about travelling when you or a loved one has food allergies.

nl47q1Some years later, after exhibiting allergic symptoms to some other environmental factors, my parents took me to an allergist where I received an allergy skin test. Many of you may be familiar with this procedure where tiny amounts of various allergens are scratched into the surface of the back so the allergist can identify a reaction. From this test we discovered in addition to a shellfish allergy, I was also allergic to a host of other "bad guys" including mold, pollen, grasses, dander, dust mites and milk products. My doctor prescribed allergy shots, or immunotherapy, to help build resistance to these triggers. I think I echo the sentiment of most children in saying that I did NOT enjoy getting those multiple pricks in my arm each week.

Fortunately, my dad had begun searching for non-drug solutions to help me feel better. He discovered that controlling my exposure to allergens also reduced my allergic symptoms. Soon, with the limited products available at the time, Dad turned my bedroom from an allergy haven to an allergy-free zone. When we saw that it really worked, he started National Allergy Supply.

Click here to read more about converting your bedroom from an allergy-haven to an allergy-free zone!

I'm proud to be walking proof that environmental controls work! And my reliance on such products as encasings and air cleaners is most evident when I'm travelling. When I am away from my allergen-controlled environment, the sniffles and itchy eyes can return. Here are some of my personal recommendations, as well as information I've gathered from other trusted sources, to help you travel with fewer allergy, asthma and sinus symptoms.

On The Road

nl47g1Despite high gas prices, many of us will be travelling to visit loved ones and tourist destinations by car or bus this summer. Here are some irritants to watch out for: dust mites, indoor mold, pollens and even smog. I spend a fair amount of time in my car, and I'm guilty of occasionally leaving wet towels and gym clothes in my backseat, unfortunately that musty smell that develops is mold. I've started using the Wein Automate in my car. It plugs into the DC adapter (cigarette lighter) and helps control allergens that are lurking in my car. It even defends against the unhealthy smog of our infamous Atlanta freeways. For maximum protection against pollen and outdoor mold, I keep my windows closed during the spring and summer months and use my air conditioner's re-circulate setting. For those who spend lots of time in their cars, I also recommend theVapor-Eze Clean Air 5000, a small, efficient air purifier that can plug into the car's DC adapter. It also comes standard with an AC adapter for use in a small room or office when you're inside.

Taking Flight

If you're like me, you've probably experienced sinus problems as a result of the dirty, dry air and cabin pressure on air planes. Typically, cabin air is very dry due to the altitude and contaminants are recirculated throughout the flight. On my last plane trip, I used Xlear Nasal Wash every few hours to keep my nose and sinuses moist.

Some others on our staff wear the Wein Air Supply and use a saline irrigator like the Nasaline or Nasopure after they de-plane to wash out any irritants they may have breathed in.

On our last family trip to Michigan, I was suffering from a lot of head congestion, sinus and inner-ear pressure, making my flying experience a painful one. Here are a few ideas for relieving ear and sinus pressure that I've read about or that have helped get me through a flight.

  • Take a nasal decongestant before takeoff.
  • Sip liquids, swallow often, yawn and chew gum to open up those nasal and ear passages.
  • You can also relieve pressure by gently blowing against a closed mouth and pinched nostrils.
  • Some of our staff have had success using EarPlanes for travel discomfort.

Away From Home

thisAs I said earlier, my dependence upon environmental allergen controls becomes most evident when I'm away from my allergy safe zone environment at home and work. Dirt and stains can be seen in some hotel rooms, but an even bigger problem for allergy sufferers are the dust mites and mold that hide unseen in many more. I recommend bringing a allergy pillow cover on every trip because hotel pillows can be full of allergens (queen size is probably your safest bet). You might also consider a travel size pillow encasing for the airplane pillow if it's a long flight (they also fit infant pillows). If you will be in a single location, be it a hotel or grandma's house, for longer than a few nights, consider bringing a mattress encasing along as well. I like our lightweight, packable SofTEK2 fabric for this purpose. These mattress encasings are very reasonably priced, so if you are going to visit friends or family, you can leave it with them as a gift and on your next visit you'll have a dust-mite free bed to sleep on! Another packable solution is the lightweight Vent Filtration Kit. Just cut to size and attach with the included Velcro to most any incoming air vent. I like to take a small bottle of Good Morning Purifying Spray with me as well. This grapefruit seed extract can be sprayed directly on the vent filter material and it inhibits any mold that might be trying to pass through.

Here are a few other tips on booking hotels with your allergies in mind:

  • Ask if they have allergy-free rooms available. These rooms offer options like a special air filter, chemical free cleaners, carpet-free floors, and foam pillows rather than feather pillows.
  • Request a room away from the indoor pool, as they are more mold-prone.
  • Be sure your room has been pet-free and smoke-free before your visit.

The Great Outdoors

nl47g2If you are pollen sensitive like me, you should check the pollen count at your intended destination. The National Allergy Bureau is a great site for local pollen reports and forecasts. You can also sign up to receive their Allergy Alert e-mail - a free service especially designed for allergy sufferers that makes it easy to learn the allergy conditions in your neighborhood. If possible, alter your travel dates to avoid the worst times. Once you have arrived at your destination and outdoor allergens feel unbearable, try arranging for some activities indoors, like museums or historical sites. I love outdoor activities like camping and hiking, but if I'm concerned about outdoor airborne allergens, I usually pack a dust/pollen mask in case I am feeling particularly irritated.

For those of you beach-goers, sunscreen is a must. Many National Allergy customers, including several friends of mine, have children with eczema. This is an allergy-related skin condition that can be aggravated by increased exposure to water and sun. Applying high SPF sunscreen will protect eczema-affected skin and liberally using moisturizers will guard against excess drying and cracking.

Traveling With Asthma


  • Certain nebulizers can also be used with a 12-volt DC (cigarette lighter) power adapter. This is important for many asthma sufferers, so don't forget your adapter on those car trips! National Allergy has several portable nebulizers like the PARI Trek-S and the Comp Air Elite that have optional DC adapters.
  • Asthmatics should always bring a peak flow meter to monitor their breathing zones.
  • Carry all medications, including emergency meds like antihistamines and epinephrine, in an on-board bag or purse in case your luggage should get lost. Also bring prescription refill information just in case. When traveling abroad, leave medications in their original containers so customs officials can identify them.
  • As an asthma sufferer, you should be aware of your treatment schedule and calculate time changes into your medication routine if applicable. You may also want to invest in a battery-operated compressor for treatments on the go. The MicroAir is an incredibly portable unit that weighs only 6-ozs. including the 2 "AA" batteries it runs on so it will fit in almost any purse or tote bag. The MicroAir is also a great option for foreign travel if you don't have a 220V adapter or electrical outlets are scarce.
  • Air can get thin at 35,000 feet and this can irritate some respiratory conditions. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, no traveler can be refused supplemental oxygen, but you need to arrange for such a provision in advance with the airline.
  • Camping, mountain biking and other physical activities are okay for most asthma sufferers; however, they should be done with the careful monitoring of your breathing zones (peak flow measures). Also be cautious when participating in activities like hiking and skiing that are in higher, cooler elevations. Thinner air means less oxygen is available and cold air can sometimes trigger an asthma attack.
  • Scuba diving is potentially hazardous for asthmatics so definitely check with your doctor first, but you can still enjoy marine wildlife by snorkeling in surface waters.

Traveling With Food Allergies

Delegates at the March 2004 meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology were presented with data showing that food allergies are now believed to affect 1 in 25 (or 11 million) Americans. The study, co-sponsored by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, also showed that those with seafood allergies more than double those with an allergy to peanuts. One might think it would be the other way around since we hear about peanut allergy so often, but that is probably due to the fact that peanuts are used so often as an ingredient in foods.

With sufferers in the millions, food allergies are a growing concern. Any traveler with food allergies should know exactly what their triggers are and be vigilant about finding out about ingredients, additives and preparation methods. There are too many documented instances of a food allergy sufferer assuming a restaurant or airplane meal is free of their allergen trigger and the next thing they know they are having an anaphylactic reaction. Airlines and restaurants are more responsive than ever to food allergy sensitivities, but you should still take all possible precautions.

  • If prescribed, carry your epinephrine (EpiPen) at all times and be sure you and others how to use it if needed.
  • Make airlines aware of your allergic sensitivities when booking your flight. Some airlines will serve entirely different snacks on flights where a peanut allergic person is present.
  • Bring your own food. This goes for airline flights and road-trips alike. It never hurts to have food with you that you know is safe to eat.
  • Be aware that airplane food is purchased from vendors who may or may not disclose ingredients, so flight personnel probably do not know if these meals contain your allergy trigger.
  • If you are a peanut or tree nut allergic person (or the parent of one) take extra cleaning precautions on planes, buses and trains to ensure that no nut residue is leftover on seats, arm rests and tray tables. By the way, we've found a delicious substitute for peanut butter called Sun Butter you might want to consider.
  • When traveling overseas, learn the local words and/or phrases to communicate your allergy, or have a native-speaking friend write it down for you to show restaurant and hotel personnel.
  • Consider spending some time at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network site as there is a wealth of excellent information for food allergy sufferers.

General Tips

  • Always keep your medications handy in a purse or carry-on.
  • Don't forget your emergency epinephrine injection if your doctor has prescribed it! When I was younger, I traveled with an EpiPen, which is basically a shot of adrenaline should your body have an anaphylactic reaction to some allergen. Anything from strange foods to bee stings to latex can trigger dangerous reactions in allergy sufferers, so these portable injections are a wise precaution.* Important Note on travelling with an EpiPen:
    "According to the TSA [Travel Security Administration] list, passengers are permitted to bring syringes containing medication provided that the syringe features a professionally printed label identifying the medication or the manufacturer's name. FAAN [Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network] still recommends, however, that you carry additional documentation (such as a doctor's note... and the prescription label from the pharmacy) until airport/airline personnel become fully aware of the updated TSA list."
  • Be sure to know the location and phone number of a local allergist and/or hospital.
  • Call ahead to friends and relatives and ask if they will help make your stay more healthy and enjoyable by keeping the pet away. Since it can take many months before the allergic dander of an indoor pet no longer causes reactions, you might suggest your host treat their carpet and upholstery with an anti-allergen product like AllerSafe Dustroy Spray before you arrive. They might also be willing to treat the pet and close off the bedroom where you will be sleeping.
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