Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

6 Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies March 7, 2017

pool-690034_1920 via pixabay

 

Spring break is on the horizon!  Can you smell the fresh air already?  Are you mentally packing your bags? (I am!)

 

Here are a few tips when traveling with food allergies:

locking-knob-883059_1920 via pixabay

  1.  Call your airline and inquire about their food allergy policy in advance.  Ask specifically about early boarding and in-flight announcements.
  2. Most airlines will allow passengers to board the plane early in order to wipe down surfaces (this includes seat backs, seat belts, tray tables and knobs, armrests). Be sure to bring enough baby wipes or antibacterial wipes (such as Wet Ones) to cover all the legs of your travel.  Again, ask about pre-boarding at the gate.
  3. Carry your epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines ON BOARD.  Do not pack these away in your luggage.  [*ALLERGY SHMALLERGY TIP*: Zyrtec makes dissolvable tablets which eliminate the worry over bringing liquids through security as well as anything spilling in your bags.]
  4. If you’re traveling to a warm weather destination, you’ll need to remember to keep your epinephrine auto-injectors at room temperature – even while enjoying the beach or pool.  Pack a cool pack (like this one) and an insulated bag (like this cute lunch bag).  Store the cool packs in your hotel’s mini-fridge (who needs a $15 bag of M&Ms anyway!?) or plan on ordering a to-go cup of ice to keep the medicine cool poolside.
  5. A hotel or resort’s food services manager can usually help you navigate menus.  On our last vacation, the food services manager had food allergies himself and was invaluable in hunting down ingredients and safe alternatives for our family.  Befriend this fantastic person!
  6. If you’re planning on visiting an amusement park, taking a hike or being similarly active, consider packing a backpack into your luggage (or use one as your carry-on!).  You’ll need to bring your epinephrine auto-injectors wherever you go – especially on vacation when you’re away from home cooking, familiar restaurants and local knowledge of hospitals and doctors.  Backpacks can make carrying it easier depending on the activity – simply slip the insulated bag into your backpack and go!

 

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Two more notes:

  • Airline travelers should bring their own snacks/meals on board flights to ensure their safety.
  • Refrain from using airplane blankets and pillows as allergen residue may reside there.
  • Bring a baby or antibacterial wipe to the bathroom to wipe down door  and knob handles.

 

 

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The Future of Food Allergies: Recommendations from the Experts December 8, 2016

Last week, the National Academies of Sciences put out a report outlining the gaps in global food allergy management.  Titled, “Finding a Path to Safety in Food Allergy Assessment of the Global Burden, Causes, Prevention, Management, and Public Policy,” the authors made recommendations that would lead to significant change in the quality of life of patients and families living with food allergies.

 

This was an important and informative report which helps prioritize ways in which we may see adjustments to food allergy diagnosis, information and policy in the future.  I listened to the live presentation while furiously taking notes, but you can read the report for yourself at:

nationalacademies.org/FoodAllergy

#foodallergies #peanutallergy medical doctor government law

 

In case you missed it, here are the highlights and some reflections:

 

Prevalence of Food Allergies:

The committee noted that although no formal studies have been able to corroborate the information, doctors across the country have confidently noted the increased prevalence of food allergies.  Studies of this sort are difficult to conduct and expensive, Dr. Hugh Sampson of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York noted.  However, the true prevalence of food allergies would help lawmakers and other health-related institutions prioritize food allergies as the “major health problem” it is in this country.  It is currently estimated that between 12 and 15 millions American are living with food allergies.

Recommendation: The CDC or other organization conduct a food allergy prevalence test that will help inform us of current food allergy levels and serve as a baseline for future assessments.

 

Standardized Diagnosis:

 

This is no one, standard way to diagnose food allergies.  Some doctors use skin tests (otherwise known as “scratch tests”) and some use IgE blood tests.  Still others consider the use of IgG testing to detect food intolerances.  Each test varies in conclusiveness and none can accurately predict the reaction a person will have to an allergen.  Only an oral challenge can determine the type and severity of an allergic reaction.

 

[More on this testing in a separate post.]

 

Recommendation: Doctors follow a standardized set of tests and protocols to inform them of a patient’s allergy and future medical action.

 

Prevention:

While there has been much in the news about best strategies to prevent food allergies from developing, advice on the ground from doctors and within parenting circles is lagging.

 

Recommendation: Clear, concise and solid advice about the early introduction of food and its benefits would greatly help parents and patients alike.

 

Education and Training

Misconceptions still abound.  Some dangerous.  Timely, proper management of food allergies saves lives.

 

Recommendation:  The launch of an educational campaign to align doctors, patients and general public regarding the diagnosis, prevention and management of food allergies.  This is especially important in organizations that provide emergency services as well as in medical schools and other healthcare institutions.

 

Policies and Practices

 

The list of major allergens identified in each country has not been updated since they were established in 1999.  And, labeling laws (particularly those known as Precautionary Allergen Labels, PALs – “may contain” and “made on equipment with” are two examples) aren’t currently effective at helping consumers assess risk.

 

Recommendation:  Reassess the priority list of major allergens to better identify regional allergens. Develop a new, risk-based system for labeling – specifically to address issues related to PALs – and outline guidelines for the labeling of prepackaged food such as those distributed at schools, on airlines, and in other public venues. Additionally, the committee recommended that federal agencies re-imagine and standardize food allergy and anaphylaxis response training for employees who work at public venues (schools, airlines, etc).

 


 

I was encouraged to listen to the guidance from the committee in each area.  There is certainly a long way to go in getting federal and state-level attention for the growing epidemic that is food allergies.  But by identifying current gaps and taking action to improve communication of standardized, evidence-based information and advice, I am confident we can help improve the lives of those living with food allergies in the near future.

 

No-Brainer: Support a Bill to Place Stock Epinephrine on Airlines November 6, 2015

No Nut Traveler

My food allergy colleague and the brains behind No Nut Traveler, Lianne Mandelbaum, has helped introduce a bill to place stock epinephrine on airlines and train airline personnel on the symptoms on anaphylaxis and how to administer autoinjectors.

This is a safety measure that just makes sense.

An in-flight food allergy reaction is frightening and can be deadly.  It’s a situation that our family has experienced first hand.  My father-in-law DISCOVERED he was anaphylactic to shrimp (at age 40) on a transcontinental flight midway over the Atlantic Ocean.  Amazingly, there WAS an epinephrine auto-injector on the flight but the flight attendants wouldn’t deliver the injection, stating they needed a doctor to administer it.  When he flashed his medical credentials (he’s a surgeon), the attendants told him (as he ballooned and his condition became serious) that they required ANOTHER doctor to administer the life-saving medication.  Luckily, flight attendants and passengers assembled a hefty dose of Benadryl that helped ease the reaction until the plane landed several hours later.  Imagine having your first anaphylactic reaction as an adult to a food that you’ve loved and eaten safely for years? It could happen to anyone…

Lianne has helped inform Sen. Mark Kirk (R – IL) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D – NH) who introduced bill S.1972, the Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015, to Congress.  Current co-sponsors include Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

I encourage you to read more about this bill and the efforts behind it at No Nut Traveler.  And, please reach out to your local representatives and ask them to support S.1972.  What an easy way to make air travel much safer!