As people jet away for the summer break, planning a holiday is supposed to be fun. If you’re asthmatic or prone to allergies, however, problems such as unfamiliar pollens, hotel dust mites, pet hair, second-hand smoke, and exotic foods, are all things to consider when packing your bags. Even those who rarely have trouble at home can find hay fever spoiling their fun in a different environment.
David Lang, M.D., an allergist-immunologist at Cleveland Clinic in the United States, says a little extra preparation can go a long way towards making your stay more comfortable. Here, he shares some handy hints for holidaymakers.
Vet your hotel
- Email your accommodation ahead of travel to inform them of your condition and inquire about possible triggers. Hotels that market themselves as ‘pet friendly’ can be problematic if you’re allergic to animal hair or dander.
- Inquire specifically whether the hotel is entirely smoke-free. Properties that permit smoking but have non-smoking rooms may not strictly enforce the rules, and previous guests have smoked in the room. A smoke-free room that’s right above a smoking floor could also expose you to the smoke from below.
Research your destination
- People who have inhalant allergies, such as asthma or allergic rhinitis, find that avoiding allergens completely is impossible, but you can reduce your risk of experiencing discomfort, or worse. Check the pollen count at your destination online, for the season in which you plan to travel, especially if you plan to visit multiple sites. There are many local variations in the allergens that may affect you. In most of Europe, the major allergen is grass, but in Northern Europe it can be birch tree. In the United States, there’s a ragweed season in some places, while in San Diego, the major allergen is Bermuda grass, and in Texas, the mountain cedar tree season can be very intense.
- Air quality varies greatly from place to place, and pollution may be far higher than holidaymakers are accustomed to. If you’re traveling by car, avoid driving with the windows down, especially if you have asthma. Try to use the vehicle’s air-conditioning for about 10 to 15 minutes before you set out – and choose the ‘recirculation’ setting, not the ‘outdoor vent’ one.
- Pack all the medicine you need in a carry-on bag or purse and bring a copy of any prescriptions, including any tablets, inhalers, steroid sprays, and injectables such as EpiPens. If you have a food allergy, bring snacks with you so you don’t have to take a chance on airline meals. And bring a day’s worth of spare supplies in case of delays.
- Even non-prescription medicines in your country of residence may be controlled substances elsewhere. Check the government travel advice for your destination to ensure these medicines will be allowed. I give asthmatic patients letters stipulating that they must bring their inhaler onto the plane and keep it with them at all times – it could be lifesaving. The same applies to people who carry injectable adrenalin or epinephrine pens.
- Many people are allergic to dust mites, which feast on dead skin cells and thrive within household textiles such as carpets, upholstery, and bedding. We recommend avoidance measures such as zippered mite-resistant encasements for pillows and box-spring mattresses. A zippered pillow case will take very little space in your suitcase and can help you avoid increased symptoms while you’re away. People could fold up and pack their mattress cover too, but that would take up more room!
Take a phrasebook
- Language barriers can be an extra hurdle should a traveler need to buy medicine, see a doctor or even visit a hospital emergency room, so it’s important to be able to communicate reliably. Some people keep a list of important phrases related to their condition, and the internet is full of translation tools and other language-learning resources that can help you get by. The chances are that someone at your hotel will speak English, which could be crucial in an emergency situation.
- For people with food allergies, I recommend carrying a ‘chef card’ that lists the food you must avoid – it’s a great way to communicate with chefs and serving staff. The website of the organization Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), at foodallergy.org, provides printable PDFs in several Asian and European languages.
- If your condition is severe, you might feel safer sticking to places where you speak a language that is commonly understood, either your native language or a fluent second one. For instance, English is widely understood in most large European cities.
A leading allergist-immunologist, David M. Lang, M.D. of Cleveland Clinic, shares his travel advice for allergy sufferers
David M. Lang, M.D. serves as Chairman of the Department of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Co-Director of the Asthma Center, and Director of the Allergy/Immunology Fellowship Training Program in the Respiratory Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He also teaches Evidence-Based Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine