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How to Cope with Food Allergies While Traveling

Posted in Food Allergy,Our Blog on April 5, 2024

If you’ve been diagnosed with a food allergy, coping with food allergies while traveling is probably at the top of your preparation plans.

For those who’ve had food allergies for a long time, these activities can become second nature. However, for the newly diagnosed, and new parents of food allergic children, traveling can be a huge obstacle to overcome.

When in your own home and in control of the entire meal plan, food allergies can be less stressful. When traveling, however, you must put a lot of trust into the hands of others. Bad decisions can be disastrous, or even fatal depending on the severity of the allergy.

Do You or Someone You Are Traveling with Have a Food Allergy?

Do you or someone you are traveling with have a food allergy? You are not alone.

Food Allergy Statistics

More than 100 million people in the United States experience various types of allergies each year, making it the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the country. It is also the most common health issue affecting children in America.

Around 20 million people have food allergies in the U.S.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as of 2021 around 20 million people have food allergies in the U.S. About 16 million are adults and 4 million are children. These cases continue to arise over the last 20 years, with the “greatest increase in black children.”

Many food allergies result in a life-threatening complication known as anaphylaxis. This condition results in around 90,000 emergency room visits each year.

What Causes a Food Allergy?

Food allergies have many different sources. Some are genetic. Some come about by over exposure. Others still have no known reason. In fact, some food allergies in children go away when they get older.

The cause of a food allergy reaction remains fairly consistent though. A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system interprets a substance as harmful. Not only does it react to this normally benign substance – it overreacts to it.

We call the interpreted “foreign substance” and allergen.

Allergens are not limited to something you eat.

While most food allergies are associated with consuming a particular food, it is not limited to something you eat. Your immune system can react to something you touch, inhale into your lungs, or is injected into the body.

Common Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms vary from person to person in severity and what triggers the reaction. However, certain symptoms are commonly associated with allergic reactions.

Food allergy symptoms may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Hives
  • Coughing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Low blood pressure (symptom of anaphylaxis)
  • Trouble breathing (symptom of anaphylaxis)
  • Asthma attacks (symptom of anaphylaxis)

Is There a Cure for Food Allergies?

Currently there is no cure for food allergies. However, there are certain treatments that some people may respond to that can reduce the incidence of food allergy reactions. People relied on avoidance tactics and oral immunotherapy prior to FDA approval of Xolair, a drug that has shown positive results in accidental exposure to food allergies.

Common Food Allergies

Common food allergies are present in most international cuisine.

The nine most common trigger foods include milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, and shellfish.

In children, milk is the most common allergen, followed by egg and peanut.

In adults, shellfish is the most common allergen, followed by peanut and tree nut.

Certain foods allergens have become more prevalent in recent years. For example, sesame was declared a major allergen in the United States in 2021, impacting an estimated 1 million people in the country.

Accidentally consuming a food allergen while traveling can be stressful and put a strain on what may be a very expensive trip. Keeping a few coping tactics for food allergies while traveling can help keep safety in the forefront and make for a more enjoyable experience.

Coping Tactics for Food Allergies While Traveling

Studies have shown that food allergies, particular when it comes to having a food allergic child, impact that number of vacations a family takes. Oftentimes, families with food allergic children opt to travel domestically due to the potential hurdles of traveling outside of the country. Others indicate they avoid certain modes of transportation – boats and planes, for example.

Unfamiliar foods, uncontrolled atmosphere, and access to medical care are common fears that lead to the decision to stay close to home.

While not a foolproof plan, keeping in mind these simple steps can help you plan a vacation with food allergies.

Keep Medication in Carry-on Luggage If Traveling by Airplane

Always keep medication on hand when traveling by airplane. Checked luggage could be lost or delayed. Also, it does no good if you have an allergic reaction while in-flight if you do not have it on you. This is particularly important for rescue medications such as auto injectable epinephrine (usually called an epi pen).

Ask Questions

Traveling with food allergens can require a person to be a little aggressive. Contacting the airline you are flying on to ask if they serve peanuts as a snack or notifying them of the allergy so that an alternative snack may be provided instead can keep you safe. It is definitely worth the phone call!

If you are staying with someone, does the host know about your (or your child’s) food allergy? Most people do not mind accommodating these requests. Despite this information, however, it is still important to be vigilant when you arrive. Not everyone without food allergies understands the nuances of food allergies.

Know Who to Call in Case of Emergency

If traveling outside of your home base, know who to call in case of an emergency. Know the area emergency rooms and keep your allergist’s contact information on hand. It is also important to keep emergency contact information on-hand as well.

Carry a Translated Card with Allergy Information

If traveling internationally where you are not fluent in the language, consider carrying a translated card with your allergy information. Include the foods you cannot eat and the extent of your food allergy. For example, if cross-contamination is a serious threat, include that all items that have been in contact with your food allergen may cause a reaction.

Show the card to your server and be sure that the chef either gets the information or that the chef can actually see the translated card. Removing the language barrier can be the difference between a memorable meal and a memorable emergency room visit.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like How to Cope with Food Allergies While Traveling, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)