Tips for safer travel with food allergies

January 22, 2019 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
food allergies

If you or someone in your family is living with food allergies, you probably have a system in place to prevent accidental exposure to the foods that cause those allergies and a plan to handle any allergic reactions that may occur. But what happens if you’re traveling? What steps can you take to lower the risk of exposure to the triggering foods and how can you get medical care in an emergency when you’re away from home?

These tips can lower your risk of a medical problem caused by your food allergies and help you be prepared to handle an allergic reaction if one occurs:

  • Start with a plan developed by your doctor: If your food allergies are severe and you’re at risk for anaphylaxis if exposed to the allergens, ask your primary care physician or allergist to create a food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan and carry multiple copies of the plan with you, either in the form of a paper document or on your smartphone. The plan should include the symptoms that indicate you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, what medications should be administered based on the severity of symptoms, how to administer the medications, and emergency contact information, including your doctor’s phone number.
  • Plan ahead: If you’re traveling by plane, it can be helpful to contact the airline well before your departure date and let them know what you’re allergic to, the severity of your allergy, and how it is treated. They may offer to remove food items that you’re allergic to from the food service carts and/or let you board early to wipe down the seat and tray to help prevent contact with food residue left behind by previous passengers. It’s also wise to carry safe foods with you in case you don’t have access to the foods you need while traveling and consider choosing accommodations with a kitchen so you can prepare food yourself as needed.
  • Keep your medications close and have a contingency plan. Always carry your allergy medications in your carry on so they’re quickly accessible if you need them and ask your doctor to provide you with a prescription so you can refill the medication if it gets lost or stolen. It can also be helpful to have the name and contact number of doctors and healthcare facilities at your destination that can treat you in case of a serious reaction. Ask your doctor or a health advisor for a recommendation.
  • Be prepared to overcome language barriers: If you’re traveling abroad, carry a card in English and the local languages that lists your food allergies. It’s best to be as specific as possible to avoid the risk of a reaction. For example, if you have a gluten allergy, the card might say you’re allergic to all wheat and wheat-containing products such as soy sauce, which is made with fermented wheat. You can find companies that sell these cards as well as apps that help you make your own cards online.