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!

 

amusement-park-237200_1920

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

 

Play Ball! April 1, 2014

The Washington Nationals have announced their peanut-free days this year and so have many of the MLB and minor-league teams!  Mark your calendars, grab your tickets and bring your glove.  You never know if you’ll catch a fly ball, but you can rest assured knowing that you’ll enjoy the game without worry!

 

Here’s the Nats schedule:

 
PEANUT FREE SEATS
Date Opponent Time
Sat, Apr 26
Nationals vs San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres

1:05 pm
Sun, May 18
Nationals vs New York Mets

New York Mets

1:35 pm
Sat, Jun 21
Nationals vs Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

7:15 pm
Sat, Jul 19
Nationals vs Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

7:05 pm
Sun, Aug 17
Nationals vs Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

5:05 pm
 
 

Check your local team’s website for more information.

 

Hosting Guests with Food Allergies for the Holidays? No Problem! December 11, 2013

As if there isn’t enough to do to get ready for the holidays, preparing your house for visitors can be stressful.  And, treading into the unfamiliar territory of food allergies can completely overwhelm hosts.

 

Well, never fear!  Allergy Shmallergy is here to help and get you started to safely hosting a guest with food allergies.

 

1.  Speak with the food allergic guest or parent (if a child has food allergies) and understand the scope of his/her food allergies.

 

2.  Ask for a list of a few foods that would be helpful for the guest to have on hand.  For example, my parents always make sure there is soy milk in the fridge and safe cereal for my dairy and nut-allergic son.

 

3.  You may wish to consider keeping a basket or clearing out a small drawer to keep safe snacks and food for your guest.  This is especially helpful if your food allergic guest is a child. By knowing where to find safe food, this may reduce the chances that he/she will accidentally reach for something that could cause a reaction.

 

4.  As for the kitchen, if you regularly cook with your guest’s allergen, you’ll want to thoroughly wash the cutlery, cutting boards, counters, pots and pans that you plan on using to prepare food.  A run through the dishwasher should sanitize them, but a good scrub in the sink will work as well.

 

5.  Discuss your menu with your food allergic guest.  In a perfect world, everything would be safe for him/her, but try to ensure that he/she can make a meal out of what is on the table .  Check here for easy substitutions:

Baking Substitutions from the Pros

And, there are many options for dairy-free margarine and butter in the average supermarket.  Look for Smart Balance Organic and Earth’s Balance brands to name a few.

prod-spread-original

 

6.  Finally, be sure to learn how to use your guest’s emergency medications.  You probably won’t need to use them, but you’ll feel much more confident just knowing how.

  

For more tips on hosting a guest with food allergies, read here:

 

A Host’s Guide to Allergies

The Host’s Guide: Part II

The Host’s Guide: Part III

 

As You Head Out For the Beach… July 30, 2013

…or the pool, park or zoo…Don’t forget to bring your epinephrine.

 

But, it’s important to note that epinephrine needs to be stored at room temperature (at around 77 degrees F).  Therefore, consider toting your EpiPens or Auvi-Q around in an insulated lunchbox.  In order to keep the epinephrine from getting too cold I sandwich a couple of juice boxes or a bottle of water in between my EpiPens and a freezer pack.

 

You can use any old insulated lunch bag or tote or you could buy one that’s designed specifically as epinephrine storage.  Look at this adorable insulated, customizable EpiPen pouch that I found on Etsy!   Want one!

Insulated Epipen Case NEW FABRIC SWATCHES
 

**And, try to remember not to leave EpiPens in a hot car!

 

Hope everyone’s having a great summer!

 

 

Vacationing and Staycationing with Food Allergies March 13, 2013

It’s that time of year and not a moment too soon:  Spring Break is upon us!

 

Whether you’re traveling near or far, there are a few things you should do to make sure your spring break is exciting and safe.

 

 

Staying close to home doesn’t mean you can’t shake up your routine.  Explore that neighborhood you’ve been meaning to check out, visit a museum, wander an outdoor market…  But before you go, you may want to do a little prep work:

1.  Sometimes it’s the museum closest to you that’s the hardest to visit.  If you’re heading to a museum, theme park, theater or zoo, you may wish to do some prep work.  These venues often have limited nutritional options, waitstaff often cannot track down ingredients in their high-paced and sometimes chaotic environment and the safety of their menu cannot be guaranteed.  Compound that with a picky eater and you could have a fun-ruining meltdown on your hands.  So, before you go, stick one or two of your child’s favorite dry snack in your bag along with those EpiPens – just in case.

 

2.  Ditto for outdoor markets.  Unless you’re going to a farmers market or pick-your-own farm, it’s often impossible to rely on the cart or truck vendors to know a full ingredient list and/or guarantee that their food is safely prepared without cross contamination.  So, again, plan on eating just before your visit to that flea market and, again, bring treats for the kids.

 

3.  If you’re taking your kids to a new section of town, you’ll want to scope out an eatery nearby that is likely to be safe.  Regardless of whether or not you intend to have a meal while out, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for more fun (or random bouts of hunger).  Check out the options online (including menus) and make a phone call or two to ensure that something can be safely prepared just in case a meltdown occurs.

 

4.  Some of the fun of staycationing is mixing up your routine!   So, try having some dairy-free sorbet for breakfast (see a list of local places right here at Allergy Shmallergy).  Have a gluten-free picnic in the park.  Eat that nut-free dinner under a tent in the family room.  Fun and safety can go together very simply and easily!

 

If you’re going out of town:

1.  Be sure to pack your emergency on-the-go pack in your carry-on.  EpiPens are perfectly acceptable going through security.  And, be sure to include baby wipes to wipe down tray tables and arm rests on airplanes that serve nuts, if you are allergic.

 

2.  Again, pack snacks.  You can buy a drink at the airport but safe meals are more difficult to come by.  Not only is it sometimes a challenge to find FA safe meals at the airport, but getting information to ensure that they don’t contain allergens and are, in fact, safely prepared can be next to impossible.  Snacks will tide you over until you reach your destination.

 

3.  Airline meals and snacks may not be safe. Call the airline and ask them about their allergen policy.   For FA kids, it might be easier to feed them at the airport or bring a bagel or sandwich in addition to snacks onboard for long flights.

 

4.  If you’re traveling abroad, do a little research about how food is typically prepared.  In parts of Asia, soy sauce (which contains not only soy but also wheat) is commonly added to dishes.  In the Middle East, sesame seeds are quite popular.

 

5.   Talk to the hotel concierge to find any specialty items you may need.  For us, we contacted our hotel to find out where we could purchase soy milk for my young son while in the Caribbean.  While on the phone with the hotel, ask them to clear the minibar fridge so you can keep any specialty items fresh.

 

6.  Again, if you’re vacationing somewhere where the don’t speak your native language, you’ll want to feel confident that the waitstaff understands your food restrictions.  Try ordering some food allergy translation cards.  These cards, made by a number of wonderful companies, help you communicate your family’s food allergy (and other dietary) restrictions in a foreign language.  Encourage waitstaff to take the cards back into the kitchen so that chefs themselves can understand the parameters and make appropriate adjustments.

 

7.  Finally, arrive prepared.  When going abroad, our research indicated it might be tough to easily find a whole allergy-free breakfast for my FA son.  While we could order fruit, everything else offered at the resort seemed to conflict with his allergies.  So, we packed a bag filled with convenient breakfast food like small cereal boxes, raisins, and oatmeal.  He could have a head start to breakfast in our room while we got ready and snack on fruit, etc at the restaurant table.  Plus, we could use the empty bag to haul our souvenirs home.  A win-win!

 

The key to a successful spring break is relaxation.  So no matter what form that takes, use the above steps to ensure that a food allergic reaction doesn’t hamper your fun.