Health Nation Travel — 21 May 2012

Brigette Polmar and her two children

Food allergies and asthma kill over 3,000 children, and result in more than one million emergency room visits each year, according to the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

With the summer travel season fast-approaching, these facts create stress and fear for parents of children with allergies or asthma.

Brigette Polmar calls herself an “Allergy Mom.” She and her husband have two children. Her son has five different food and environmental allergies, some of which are severe.

Polmar and her family travel each summer, and she says, “As an ‘Allergy Mom’, I never fully relax on vacation.”

Polmar advises other moms and dads who are getting ready to vacation with an allergic or asthmatic child to, “Look ahead. Call ahead. Ask other moms. Get online and check resources. Do your accommodations have a refrigerator, a microwave, and a big chain drug store nearby with a large pharmacy? Do you have copies of prescriptions; have all medications, and an EpiPen?”

Dr. Jiun Yoon, a board certified Allergist and Immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Care Centers in Virginia and Maryland says, “A family vacation can be dangerous. If you have an asthma attack, it could be life threatening. If a child has a peanut allergy and is exposed to certain nuts, they can go into anaphylactic shock.”

Dr. Jiun Yoon

Anaphylaxis is a severe and sometimes fatal allergic reaction.

Traveling Abroad with a Child with Food Allergies or Asthma

Dr. Yoon, who completed his fellowship training in Allergy and Immunology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, warns parents to take particular precautions when traveling to foreign countries.

According to Dr. Yoon, foreign countries may pose greater risks because of different allergy and asthma triggers, such as pollens, sand in the air, cold or humid air, and air pollution. Many developing countries are more likely to have one or more of these triggers.

Children with food allergies may also be at greater risk when traveling to foreign countries, particularly in Southeast Asia where oils from nuts are commonly used for cooking.

Dr. Yoon also notes that the primary issue concerning children with asthma or allergies is that they are outside their normal environment, and away from their medical professionals. This makes having an action plan and a child’s medications on-hand imperative when traveling.

“Forgetting medications is the biggest and most common reason for someone ending up in the hospital,” Dr. Yoon stated. “Keep your medication with you,” he stressed.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology suggests this simple tip: “Do not put medications in checked luggage.” Luggage can and does get lost.

2012 Travel Season Is Particularly Concerning

Allergy season has arrived and it’s early. Scientists say that this year’s pollen will be greater than last year’s because of heavy rains around the world. According to a study published this month on Nature.com, plants are flowering 8.5 times sooner than usual.

It’s not just pollen that has traveling parents concerned: It’s the alarming statistics on food allergies and asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says allergies are on the rise. The CDC reports that over 9,500 children end up in the hospital each year because of food allergies, and 26 million Americans are living with asthma. The government agency also notes that the incidence of food allergies for children is increasing, and that hospitalizations of children have “significantly increased since 1998.”

Consult an Allergist before Traveling

“Allergy Mom” Polmar says, “As a care giver of a child with allergies, I never feel completely sure-footed because the sand is always shifting.”

Planning ahead is critical to ensuring a safe trip.

Dr. Yoon and Polmer agree: It is important to consult your child’s allergist before heading on vacation. An allergist can advise you on what to watch for and may prescribe additional medication for the trip. An allergist may also help you prepare an emergency plan.

Other Travel Resources

There are many resourceful Food Allergy Apps for smartphones and tablets. They provide information from allergy-friendly restaurants to current pollen conditions around the country. AllergyEats won an About.com 2012 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Food Allergy App. For a list of useful Apps, go to the Allergy & Asthma Care Centers Blog.

Another helpful resource is a travel agent.

Jessica McCabe of McCabe World Travel says, “My clients often tell me, ‘I have a shellfish allergy or nut allergy or require gluten free.’ We notify the cruise line or hotel in advance so they are aware of the situation. The more we know the more we can communicate and make it a safe trip for everyone.”

After speaking to a travel agent, Polmar vacationed more comfortably after learning that Disney World in Orlando, Floridahad an entire Allergy Team, and it lists foods that are free of allergens. Even with comforts like this, she carries a small extra piece of luggage just for her son’s medicines, droppers, and supplies. She stressed, “Bring everything when you travel.”

Tips for Traveling with Children Who Have Allergies or Asthma Include:

  • Plan early and completely
  • Visit your child’s allergist well in advance of your trip
  • Create an emergency medical plan with your allergist
  • Bring all medications, and keep them with you (in your carry-on luggage or as close to you as possible)
  • Know the symptoms of an allergic reaction or asthma attack
  • Know the country or places you are travelling to, and the location of emergency medical care

Or, as Polmar, the self-proclaimed “Allergy Mom” puts it, “be prepared for anything.”

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