Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Traveling with Food Allergies

Today's post has been generously written by Rebecca Hirt of Peanut Butter, Passports and Epinephrine. Not only does Rebecca provide some excellent tips on how to travel with food allergies, but she also demonstrates the extent a mother has to go to protect her children from an allergic reaction while still trying to lead a normal life. Whether you have allergies in your family or not, I hope you will take the time to read this article.

I’m honored to be able to share some of my travel tips here on Food Farm Health. Travel has always been a huge part of my life, and when I had kids I wasn’t going to let that slow me down. I traveled frequently when my son, Connor, was a baby and never had any problems. When my daughter, Eva, was born she suffered from horrible eczema and stomach distress. I flew with her a couple times until, at 14 months old, she had a severe allergic reaction to peanuts while visiting a friend. Then all my traveling stopped.

I was devastated by her diagnosis, not because I wanted to travel but because I wanted her to see the world. I’ve always felt very strongly that experiencing other cultures is key to self-discovery. I wanted her to have the same opportunities that I did when I was younger. It took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that we’d never again be able to book the cheapest flight two days in advance, pack all we’d need for the trip in a tiny carry-on, and eat at any old restaurant along the way. Things that were second nature to me had to be relearned and reprogrammed. The traveling spirit never left, however, and I knew I had to find a way for my little girl to see the world.

After I found out about Eva’s allergy, I made an appointment for my son to be tested. It turns out that he is allergic to shellfish and melon, and he tested positive to corn even though he’s never reacted to it (Genetically modified corn and its overuse is a post for another day). I am allergic to latex, which sometimes manifests itself in food. So between the three of us, we have to avoid quite a lot of things. Eva’s peanut allergy is by far the most severe, so I tend to focus on that; however, know that with food  allergies, the reactions tend to get progressively more severe, so even if your child only had a mild reaction to something don’t dismiss it. The next reaction could be very serious.

Traveling with a child who has severe food allergies is always scary, and it’s never easy. I won’t lie – I’m always terrified before we leave. I don’t sleep. My mind won’t turn off. Did I pack all the food? What did I forget to cook? Did I count our days correctly? Do I have enough emergency safe snacks? I’m constantly checking and rechecking, adding to and crossing off my numerous lists. It will always be hard, but there are a few things that you can do to make it a little easier on yourself and safer for your little ones.
  • Always call the airline before you book your flight, talk to a real person, and make sure they can make it a “peanut free” flight. If they offer to create a “buffer zone” DON’T fly with them. I cannot stress this enough! A buffer zone does nothing to prevent air-borne exposure. Also, ask if you will be allowed to board the airplane early in order to clean your child’s seat area. FAAN has a list of cleaners that effectively remove the peanut allergen from surfaces.
  • I recently flew with Delta (a “buffer zone” airline) and there literally were peanuts everywhere – in the seat, on the floor, in the seatback pocket. I was astonished at how little cleaning was done prior to boarding. Thank goodness Eva wasn’t with me on that flight. Once you feel comfortable with an airline, book the flight.
  • Make sure your child wears a medic alert bracelet, and label her luggage and EpiPens with allergy information cards. Peanut Free Plane has a great example.
  • Bake and cook enough snacks for the entire trip, not just on your flights. It sounds strange, but I typically fill a third of my suitcase with food. That seems like a lot, but as we eat it there is more room to bring home souvenirs. I also always have some safe chocolate on hand. It’s a bummer not being able to eat what everyone else is eating, and a little chocolate treat helps Eva feel better. Here are some of my favorite travel food recipes.
  • Make sure you remind the airline of your child’s allergy when you check in. Depending on the airline, they may have flagged you child’s ticket, and they may print out a medical voucher which informs airport security, the pilot, and the flight attendants of your child’s situation. Your going to feel like a broken record as you tell people the same thing over and over, but I truly believe that the more people that know, the safer your child will be on the trip.
  • Keep your EpiPens in their original box and make sure your child’s current prescription is attached. Take them out of your bag at security and run them through the x-ray machine separately.
  • Give you child a dose a Benadryl before boarding the plane - speak to your child’s allergist first about the correct dose as it sometimes varies from what is printed on the box. I find that this offers some protection against air-borne allergens.
  • Familiarize yourself with any foreign languages you may be using. Learn how to say “My daughter/son is allergic to peanuts.” Write a list of all the words for “peanut” in that language so that you can quickly decipher food labels and communicate with shop owners and waiters.  There are a lot of resources on the web to help you do this. Tour guides can be especially helpful with translating. Every time you eat at a restaurant ask for a peanut allergy menu - and I mean EVERY time. I don’t have to tell you that peanuts like to hide in everything from chili and pizza sauce to egg rolls and enchiladas.
If you are staying with friends or relatives there are a few more things to look out for. Beware of open jam and fruit preserve jars in the refrigerator. I was once staying with a friend when I got out the jam to spread on Eva’s tartine for breakfast. As I was spooning it out I noticed a small brown smudge mixed in with the jam in the jar. Someone had made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and had used the peanut butter knife in the jelly.

Additionally, most people don’t realize that a large number of popular dog treats and food contain peanuts as a main ingredient. If you’re staying with a person who has a dog, ask to read the labels of their dog’s food and treats. I know it sounds silly, but if the dog eats these and then licks your child, he could develop hives.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’m still learning myself. If you have any other tips or tricks please feel free to share them in a comment. I believe that as the number of children with food allergies continues to rise, the world will become more aware, and traveling will become easier. Until then, plan ahead, be prepared, and go show you child this amazing, diverse, and beautiful world!

Linked to Real Food Wednesday, WFMW, Health2Day, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Freaky Friday, Sunday School, Monday Mania, Barn Hop.


Shay said...

Thanks for sharing! I have never traveled with my son because he is allergic to so many things. Shay :) http://raisingdieter.blogspot.com/

Sheena Cucina said...

What a great post! This information will no doubt be helpful for many people. I haven't travelled since developing my new allergies, the idea is pretty terrifying. Hopefully there are wheat-free flights some day :)

Margie said...

I am also allergic to crabs and shrimps. What I do is I always bring anti-histamine tablets with me every time I travel. Drinking lots of water also helps a lot in preventing allergic reactions from food.

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