For anybody living with a severe allergy, avoiding triggers is a crucial day-to-day priority – and this doesn’t change when you go on holiday
– is a medical emergency, particularly as it can cause rapid swelling of the face, mouth and throat, so airways can quickly become blocked. Planning your holiday carefully can help reduce the worry of having a reaction while you’re away from home, so you can enjoy that well-earned break with minimal anxiety. Allergy UK nurse advisor Holly Shaw shares some top tips for travelling with a severe allergy…
Communication is key when it comes to managing a serious allergy, so if you’re travelling to a country where different languages are used, plan ahead for this. Allergy UK produces ‘translation cards’, available in 36 different languages and for more than 70 different allergens (£15 for set of three; via the charity’s helpline on 01322 619 898 or www.allergyuk.org). “Translation cards are a great way of alleviating anxiety around travelling abroad with a food allergy. The information is translated onto the cards, which can be used as a written aid when eating out to inform food outlets of a food allergy, and to request help for yourself or child if you, or they, are suffering from an anaphylactic reaction,” says Shaw.
Using public transport can be a particular worry for people with a history of anaphylaxis, especially airplanes, where airborne allergens can move around via the air-con system. “It’s a good idea to contact your airline/ship to ask about their policies on food allergy,” says Shaw. “The key message here is good communication. You are the expert in your allergy, what foods are safe and what you need to avoid, so communicating this at all points of the journey is important.”
Managing a severe allergy is all about avoiding exposure to allergens – and this may sometimes mean avoiding certain situations and places. There may be some countries where particular food allergens exist in such high levels, you’d feel more comfortable and relaxed steering clear. “It’s advisable to plan ahead before booking your holiday. Your particular allergy may guide where you choose to visit,” says Shaw. “For example, some Asian countries may serve nuts in their cuisine and as a snack, so if you are allergic to nuts, you may wish to take this into consideration.” It’s a good idea to discuss concerns with restaurant and hotel staff too – dishes may appear to be nut-free on a menu, for example, but have they been prepared in a kitchen that also handles nuts? And are all the waiting staff aware? “Never be afraid to ask,” stresses Shaw. “You may also wish to tell people sat around you that you have a food allergy.”
A few simple steps can help reduce any chance of cross-contamination or accidental exposure to allergens. Shaw suggests taking antibacterial wipes to swiftly and easily clean tables/arm rests etc, “to remove potential traces of food particles that may have been spilled or dropped onto them”. You may want to pack your own supply of snacks, especially if you have multiple allergies and might struggle to find safe foodstuffs when out and about – particularly if you’re travelling somewhere that’s mostly markets, where things won’t be labelled.
Shaw recommends allowing plenty of time to see your GP and ensure all your prescriptions are processed early enough. “Getting a GP letter to explain what medicines you need to carry with you and why is advisable, especially if carrying an adrenaline auto injector,” she adds. Check expiry dates on any medications you might need, and remember to stock up – carrying at least two of everything is advised – in case you lose any, run out, or struggle to get extras when you’re away. You’ll also need to consider how you’ll carry and store medication. “Adrenaline auto injectors need to be kept out of direct sunlight and excessive heat or cold, and should not be refrigerated,” notes Shaw. Keeping medication in hand-luggage during journeys – and on you at all times when you’re out and about - is also vital, so it’s available whenever you might need it.
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