How to Safely Travel with Food Allergies, Asthma, Eczema or Allergies

Be Safe Traveling with Allergies:  A COMPLETE travel guide for allergies, asthma, eczema and food allergies.

traveling with allergies
Here is your COMPLETE guide to safely traveling with allergies

Before Thanksgiving I published a post about traveling with pet allergies and I got quite a few emails from people before and after the holiday saying how much the post helped them. We’re coming up on another travel week so I thought I’d add to the prior post and make a complete travel guide for safely traveling with allergies.

I’ve tried to organize this so you can read through the entire post or, if you prefer, jump to the section you want through these links:

  1. Traveling with Seasonal Allergies
  2. Traveling with Pet Allergies or Dust Mite Allergies
  3. Traveling with Irritant Rhinitis
  4. Traveling with Asthma
  5. Traveling with Eczema
  6. Traveling with Food Allergy

Note:  If you would like to stay caught up on tips like these, simply like my Facebook Page and you’ll get these high quality articles (and mediocre humor):

 

Traveling with Seasonal Allergies

If you have seasonal allergies, you may not appreciate how different pollen counts are in different areas of the country. For example, if you have springtime allergies in Colorado (due to mountain juniper) might have wintertime seasonal allergies if you travel to south Texas (due to mountain cedar). Or if you live in a climate that has snow in the winter (calming your seasonal allergies) and travel to a warmer climate like Florida, you might have reactions to their pollen (or their alligators… or their zombies).

Your goal is to know of the pollen in the area you are traveling and prepare for it.

Preparing before travel – for seasonal allergies

traveling with seasonal allergies
Check pollen at your destination BEFORE you travel

Your best plan is to get ahead of any pollen in the area you’re traveling and treat BEFORE you travel. The immune system is a cascading system so it exponentially increases once it gets activated (this is called “the priming effect”). What this means to you is that it is easier to PREVENT allergies than it is to treat them after they begin.

I recommend preparing for travel with these 3 steps:

  1. Check pollen counts where you are traveling to see if there are any pollen alerts at your destination
  2. If the pollen counts are moderate-high, consider starting a nasal steroid 1-2 weeks BEFORE you travel
    • Nasal steroids take about 4 weeks to reach full strength, but you’ll get benefits within 1-2 weeks.
    • The sooner you can start a nasal steroid, the better.
  3. Add an antihistamine 3-5 days BEFORE you travel
    • Antihistamines work within 30 minutes-1 hour
    • But it takes 3-5 days to max out their benefit, which is why you should start them early.

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for seasonal allergies

The more you can do to get ahead of any seasonal allergies, the better. But if you arrive at your destination and you notice seasonal allergy problems, then you need to start a more reactive plan.

I recommend treating any allergy symptoms with these four steps:

  1. Start an antihistamine (see the link above) at the first sign of allergy symptom
    • The antihistamines should work within the first 30-60 minutes
    • I recommend either cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra) because they last a true 24 hours.  Loratidine (Claritin) only lasts 6-8 hours
  2. Continue to take the antihistamines daily during your entire trip
    • As I mentioned above, it takes 3-5 days to max out the benefit of these medications so I would continue to take them
    • Plus, it’s not like the pollen is likely to stop during your trip
  3. Start a sinus rinse.
  4. If you need an extra “boost” then you can add Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
    • You can add diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to any of the antihistamines if you need an extra “boost”
    • Drowsiness and dry mouth are the most common side effects.  Otherwise you should be good to add these

Summary – traveling with seasonal allergies

The overall goal is not to be surprised with seasonal allergies. By checking the pollen counts ahead of time and preventing your symptoms you should be able to enjoy your travel to the fullest. But if you get surprised, there are options you can use to help reduce your symptoms and make the most of your time away from home.

Traveling with Pet Allergies or Dust Mite Allergies

If you have year-round (perennial) allergies such as pet allergies or dust mite allergies then there are a few options that you need to do. The initial steps are similar to the ones I describe for seasonal allergies although there are a few specific steps you should take. When I add it all together, I would recommend you follow these plans:

Preparing before travel – for pet allergies or dust mite allergies

pet allergy and traveling
Follow the easy steps for you and your friend/family to stop pets from affecting you
  1. Start a nasal steroid 1-2 weeks BEFORE you travel
    • Nasal steroids take about 4 weeks to reach full strength, but you’ll get benefits within 1-2 weeks.
    • The sooner you can start a nasal steroid, the better.
  2. Add an antihistamine 3-5 days BEFORE you travel
    • Antihistamines work within 30 minutes-1 hour
    • But it takes 3-5 days to max out their benefit, which is why you should start them early.
  3. For pet allergies, I recommend you also read this entire post dedicated to preventing pet allergies during travel
  4. For dust mite allergies, I recommend you consider buying or bringing dust mite covers
    • I haven’t written the full dust mite cover blog post yet, but dust mite covers are NOT the same as plastic pee sheets (I get asked this daily)
    • Dust mite covers are specially woven sheets with the threads point in one direction (inside the bed) so it prevents dust mites from causing allergy symptoms
    • I recommend getting a set of dust mite covers from a place such as Mission Allergy (no affiliation, they have good products)

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for pet allergies or dust mite allergies

Just like with seasonal allergies, the more you can get AHEAD of your pet or dust mite allergies, the better off you will be. But there are always surprises. So if you experience symptoms after your arrival I will recommend a plan that is much the same as travelling with seasonal allergies:

  1. Start an antihistamine (see the link above) at the first sign of allergy symptom
    • The antihistamines should work within the first 30-60 minutes
    • I recommend either cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra) because they last a true 24 hours.  Loratidine (Claritin) only lasts 6-8 hours
  2. Continue to take the antihistamines daily during your entire trip
    • As I mentioned above, it takes 3-5 days to max out the benefit of these medications so I would continue to take them
    • Plus, it’s not like the pollen is likely to stop during your trip
  3. Start a sinus rinse.
  4. If you need an extra “boost” then you can add Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
    • You can still add diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to any of the antihistamines if you need an extra “boost”
    • Drowsiness and dry mouth are the main side effects from this “boost”

Summary – traveling with pet allergies or dust mite allergies

Your primary goal should be to PREVENT as much as possible and to do this on two fronts: increasing your medications to control what you can and have your destination prepare for your arrival (if you have pet allergies). This pet allergy post is one that details what your friends/family need to do ahead of time to help you feel your best when you arrive. Share the post with them on Facebook so they can know what to do before you arrive.

Traveling with Irritant Rhinitis

If you suffer from irritant rhinitis (check here if you are unsure) then travelling shouldn’t be any different than what you already deal with: you never know when you will be next to someone with strong perfume/smells, when the temperature change or wind will set off your nose, or when blowing dust will cause an irritation. You are at a higher risk if you are travelling by airplane since you are so close to other people without a survivable escape route.

I recommend you increase medications a little more than usual to best prevent any irritant rhinitis

Preparing before travel – for irritant rhinitis

Beware destination scents, smells, or perfume
Scents, smells, odors, perfumes are common irritants

You might already know your triggers, but now is a good time to review them if you don’t. I have also written a typical plan to increase your medications but if you have questions please just email me and I’ll be happy to help.

  1. Identify your triggers so you know what to avoid
  2. Increase your “controller” medications
    • If you take a nasal steroid 1 spray once a day –> increase to 1 spray twice a day (if you are over 18)
    • If you take a nasal steroid 2 sprays once a day OR 1 spray twice a day –> consider adding nasal antihistamine (prescription such as astelin/azelastine)
  3. Start or increase your sinus rinse.
    • If you weren’t doing a sinus rinse, add that 2-3x/week
    • If you were already doing sinus rinse, increase it to every 1-2 days

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for irritant rhinitis

There is not a lot you can do if you have irritant rhinitis symptoms once you arrive.  The best plan is to remove yourself from the irritant source and wait for the symptoms to pass. But if it lasts longer, than you can consider these steps:

  1. Remove yourself from the irritant source as soon as possible
  2. Consider doing a sinus rinse (if you are able)
  3. You can add a diphenhydramine (Benadryl) tablet.
    • Note that the antihistamine properties will not help for irritant rhinitis
    • But the side effects of dryness can often help irritant rhinitis in a short term
  4. If you have it available, you can add nasal atrovent (which is a prescription) as a fast-acting relief medication (I wrote about this in more detail here on How to Fix Your Constantly Drippy/Runny Nose)

Summary – Traveling with irritant rhinitis

Overall, if you have irritant rhinitis the goal is to identify and stay away from as many triggers as possible. For those you can’t avoid, pre-treatment helps more than after-exposure treatment.  And if you have questions, please let me know.

Traveling with Asthma

If you have asthma, then you know the true anxiety of travelling: the possibility of having an asthma attack while away from your home/medications is a scary prospect.  There are quite a few tricks we can do to help prevent asthma attacks from happening and treat them if they happen. Everyone has different triggers from asthma. I will write this section as a general plan but also link to a few prior posts to help with your individual asthma needs. But if you have questions, please just email me and I will happy answer them as fast as I can.

Preparing before travel – for asthma

There are a few tips and tricks we will review to prepare BEFORE travel, but the single most important aspect of preventing any asthma attack is to make sure you have well controlled asthma right now (before you leave). I have a few quizzes below to check this, but please make sure you have good baseline asthma control.

The single most important factor for every asthmatic preparing for travel is to have good baseline asthma control.

  1. Ensure you have good baseline control!
  2. Get ahead of any triggers
    • If colds/respiratory infections trigger your asthma, then use frequent hand washing and if you’re worried wear a respiratory mask while travelling
    • If allergies (seasonal, pet or dust mite) trigger your asthma, then read and implement the sections listed above
    • If cold weather triggers your asthma and you’re travelling to a cold destination, bring a scarf/wrap to wear over your face when you are outside
    • If exercise triggers your asthma and you plan to exercise over break:
      • First, good for you for exercising during the holiday
      • Second, shame on you for making the rest of us feel extra bad for not exercising
      • Finally, either exercise indoors or wear a mask if you’re outside in the cold and use your inhaler 15-20 minutes before exercise
  3. Have a good asthma action plan
    • Most asthma action plans are generic (which is still better than none… which is what most people have)
    • If you don’t have an asthma action plan or yours is generic, read my post on targeted asthma action plans.
  4. Make sure you pack any controller medications and rescue medications
    • I get about 2-3 calls every holiday of people who left their inhalers at home.  It’s an easy fix to call in a new one, but can get expensive and is inconvenient
    • Also, make sure you don’t need a refill or will run out during your travels.  This also happens more often than you might think

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for asthma

travel with asthma
Make sure you have a good asthma action plan before you travel

The biggest benefit to preventing asthma attacks is to aggressively prevent them before your travels and stop any irritants you can. But asthma attacks happen. If you feel you are having an asthma attack, you need to consult your asthma action plan for what to do. If you don’t have one, I’ll link to the post again below but you can also email me and I will provide any help I can.

  1. If you have an asthma attack, consult your asthma action plan for when to increase your medications. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, read this post on asthma action plans and it will get you close.
  2. Increase your rescue medication (albuterol or levalbuterol) to 1-2 puffs every 4-6 hours as needed. This is the traditional first step.
  3. Brush up on the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack:
    • Here is a post I wrote on How to Recognize your Child’s Asthma Attacks
    • I have not finished the post on adult asthma attack symptoms, but if you read the post above, it should give you a good overview.
    • You could also read this post from WebMD.  Just know you don’t have cancer when it says you do.
  4. If you are having signs or symptoms of an asthma attack OR if the rescue medication seems to work for shorter duration, then I would seek an urgent care and get treated. This is NOT the time to “wait and see.” It might interrupt your travel plans but waiting could be a lot worse.

Summary – traveling with asthma

Again, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is optimize your baseline asthma.  (I know, I know… I’m sound like a broken record.  But it’s #1 for a reason).  After that, try hard to optimize allergies (particularly pet and dust mite allergies).  These are the top steps you can take and the most efficient ones to improve your asthma.  Everything else is important but not more important than these first two steps.

Traveling with Eczema

If you or your child has eczema, then you have likely been the most affected by travel.  This is because you optimized your eczema for your home where you have tight control over all environmental factors.

But you are exposed to new bedding (with new detergents), new soaps/shampoos, new environment (with different levels of dust, dust mites, or pollen), pets and uncertain food ingredients during travel.

Because of this, I think eczema is the worst for travel-related flares.

What’s lucky is that you can do a lot to help reduce the risk of eczema flares!

Preparing before travel – for eczema

traveling with eczema
Be cautious with new soaps, shampoos and irritants at your destination

As I outlined in this post, eczema is a skin problem that needs skin treatment.  For some people, external factors such as environmental triggers (pet dander, dust mites, cockroach) or internal factors (common foods such as wheat, egg, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy) make the eczema worse.  Focus your preventative treatment at both the skin and trigger avoidance.

  1. If you want to review an overview, I wrote this post on Preventing your Baby’s Eczema in 5 Easy Steps which is a good overview for anyone with eczema.
  2. Optimize your skin BEFORE you travel
    • Increase moisturizer to twice a day (if you’re not already using it twice a day)
    • Add topical steroid cream, if you have it, to any mild or early eczema patches.
    • Remember, these patches are easier to treat early than to wait until they get worse.
  3. Consider bringing your own soaps and shampoos
    • Why chance it?  Just remember that if it is over 3.4 oz to put it in your carry-on or you’ll risk being called a plane bomber.
    • And shouting “yeah, bombing you with soft, eczema-free skin” is NOT the best reply.
  4. If you are travelling to a place with pets, read the section above on pet allergies (pet dander is one of the most common triggers of eczema)
  5. If you are travelling to a place with dust mites, read the section above on dust mite allergies (dust mites are another one of the most common eczema triggers)
  6. If your eczema is triggered by foods, use caution with the foods you eat.
  7. Consider increasing antihistamine to prevent itching
  8. If you’ve traveled to a dry environment, consider getting a humidifier and putting it near the head of the bed at night.  If you’re traveling from a dry environment into a humid one this is less important.

Eczema is always a tricky one to manage so if you have questions, email me and I will do my best to answer them for you.

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for eczema

If you have done everything, you can to prevent eczema, it is still possible that eczema can flare.  In that case, here is what you can do to help:

  1. Increase moisturizer (if you were at once a day, increase to twice.  If you’re at twice a day, increase to three times a day).
  2. Add topical steroid and increase to twice a day (if you don’t normally use topical steroids, it is OK to add an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream)
  3. If you are having itchiness, start an antihistamine once a day.  If you are already on a daily antihistamine, then it’s OK to add diphenhydramine (Benadryl) besides the antihistamines.

Summary – traveling with eczema

The goal with eczema is to maximize baseline control before you travel and prevent any known triggers including new soaps/detergents, pet dander, dust mites, cockroach and food triggers (if applicable).  Eczema is a difficult diagnosis with a lot of moving parts, but the benefit of this is that no one area needs to be perfect.  If you can reduce a lot of these areas, then you don’t have to eliminate them all and can still get good eczema control during your travels.

Traveling with Food Allergies

I placed this section last… not because it is the least important.  Quite the opposite.  But most of the people I see know of their food allergies and are very strict about it during travel.  I see far more problems with food allergies when kids first start school, when they go off to summer camps, or when they first go off to college.  Accidental ingestion is less common during travel compared to these other periods.  Still, there is a lot you can do to help prevent food allergies.

Preparing before travel – for food allergies

traveling with food allergy
Remember: your friends/family may not be as skilled at label reading.

The best thing you can do is raise awareness.  And travel with your epinephrine.

  1. Let your family and friends know about your food allergies
    • Then be skeptical of them.  Remember, they are not as practiced at label reading as you.
    • Oh, and it’s not that you distrust them.  You “trust but verify.”  It sounds nicer.
  2. If you are unsure, then don’t eat the food
  3. Bring your injectable epinephrine with you

Remember that you have the practice and experience label reading.  Your friends and family do not.  So don’t get mad if they aren’t perfect.

Treating symptoms once you arrive – for food allergy

Again, you most likely have a great plan in case of accidental ingestion.  You are my most prepared traveler of the group.  But just in case:

  1. If you have a mild accidental ingestion (skin only)
    • If your provider told you diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is treatment for this step then use diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to treat your allergic reaction
    • If your provider didn’t SPECIFICALLY tell you it is ok to use diphenhydramine (Benadryl) then use injectable epinephrine
  2. If you are having a more severe reaction (involving 2 or more systems) then use injectable epinephrine
  3. If you are unsure, use injectable epinephrine

I have a blog series coming soon on when to use what treatment for food allergy.  If you want to stay current on my posts, consider liking my page on Facebook and you’ll get the posts real time.

Summary – traveling with food allergy

Of everyone reading this post, I think you are the most prepared.  You have likely developed a “trust but verify” policy for foods and restaurants.  Your goal is to remain vigilant and cautious during the trip.  And bring your injectable epinephrine just in case.

 

Summary for Safely Traveling with Allergies

I hope that you got a lot from this article and you have created a good plan on how to safely travel with allergies, asthma, eczema or food allergy.

My goal is to have this be a “living document” where I continue to update and build it.  So if you have any questions, comments or other thoughts please leave a comment below or on my Facebook page.

And if you want to continue to receive high quality posts like this, either like my Facebook page or subscribe to my email list.  I promise I will keep you mildly entertained and very well educated.

Did you enjoy that article? Here are some more I think you'd enjoy

How to Safely Travel with Food Allergies, Asthma, Eczema or Allergies Traveling is hard. Traveling with allergies is harder. This post helps you be as safe as possible when traveling with allergies, asthma, food allerg...
U.S. Epipen Recall: What you NEED to Know It seems EpiPen can't get out of the news lately. This time it's because Epipens in the U.S. are being recalled due to a malfunction causing them NOT...
Are You Absolutely Sure You Have a Penicillin ALLERGY? Only 1% of people have penicillin allergies. 90% of "penicillin allergic patients" were misdiagnosed OR outgrew their allergies! This post (and help...
Be a Sinus Rinse Expert with these Secrets Get the BEST, insider answers to your sinus rinse questions. I'll share my years of allergy experience to help you feel the best with your sinus rins...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *