Allercy and Asthma Health
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Summer 2007

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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Traveling with Asthma and Allergies

Help patients prepare for vacation by offering these tips.

It is time to head out on vacation. The car is loaded with suitcases; you are heading down the driveway and the kids are already asking, “are we there yet?” But the question that must be answered first is, “will this trip be safe for my family members who have allergies and a history of asthma?” This preparatory step may allay the concern that certain places may have unknown respiratory dangers.

If you’re flying to your destination, it may be advisable to determine what you or your traveling companions are allergic to; for example, if the allergies are to animal dander or peanuts, it may be smart to ask the airline about its rules when it comes to these two common triggers. One of the first things you must do is discuss potential health risks with your physician.

The next step is to determine the policies of the airline you will be using. In my investigation of this subject, it appears that the majority of airlines in the United States allow pets in the cabin, with specific guidelines mostly centered on the size of the pet and the type of carrier that is to be used. The carrier must be able to be placed under the seat in front, or if too large, it can be stored in the cargo hold. It is also important to remember that service animals are allowed on board. These are dogs that aid the person with a disability (such as blindness). There is generally no limit as to how many of these dogs can be admitted onto the plane. You can inquire with the airlines if there will be any animals on board, and if so, find out if it would be possible to be moved to an area away from them.

Even without pets on board you can still be exposed to dander from the clothes of your fellow passengers. In an enclosed space it will be impossible to excuse yourself and exit the aircraft. Because of the recirculation of air within the aircraft even moving to another section may not entirely remove the threat of allergic reaction. Another option is to inquire with the airline when booking the flight as to the status of animals on board and ask about other available flights that you can take if animals are to be present.

Peanut allergies are another concern on the aircraft. Again, much aggravation can be prevented with preparation and inquiry of the airline on which you are flying. First and foremost learn their policy on peanuts. Some airlines have taken the initiative to eliminate them while others have not. Some considerations in this case would be to:

  • Find out if you can carry any rescue medications (including epinephrine) on the plane. They should be appropriately labeled by the pharmacy.
  • Carry peanut-free food with you, and do not consume airline food, as it may still contain peanut products.
  • Find out if there is a peanut-free zone in the aircraft when booking the tickets.
  • Wipe down the table tray with a disinfectant-laden cloth.
  • Travel on the first flight of the day (which is usually after the aircraft has had a thorough cleaning).

Despite these precautions it is important that an action plan is prepared and carried with you as you travel. If a respiratory emergency occurs while in the air, immediately notify the attendants. They will be able to assist in treating the reaction, getting in contact with medical professionals on the ground, or alerting fellow passengers of the problem in hopes of identifying a clinician.

I would also suggest that all potential travelers go to the FAA web site and read their statements and standards about air travel for patients who are sensitive to allergens.

Hotels are also another concern, and one that you may have some control over. Inquire with the hotel concerning their accommodations for the allergic patient. Find out if they allow pets in the hotel; you would be surprised to see how many actually do. Some hotel chains now offer hypoallergenic rooms. If they do, find out what they mean by hypoallergenic. I recently was at a hotel in Washington, DC which boasted this claim. I was unable to determine what they actually did to live up to the claim and while in the lobby listened to a lady complain that she was stuffed up all-night and miserable. If you are dust mite-sensitive, bring your own pillow or semi-impermeable pillowcase cover as you travel.

Other travel tips points to consider:

  • Determine the allergen count for the areas that you are traveling to, and once there, pay attention to the weather news in the paper and television, which will also provide a forecast.
  • Bring enough medication and a prescription that can be used should you run out.
  • Stay away from eating establishments that allow smoking.

About the Author
Thomas J. Kallstrom, BS, RRT, AE-C, FAARC, is associate executive director and chief operating officer of the AARC. He is also a member of the NAEPP Coordinating Committee and is a certified asthma educator.

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