Allergies to certain foods or environmental elements have become increasingly common, and severe reactions to allergy triggers are on the rise as well. A 2014 study reports that close to 2% of the United States population is living with severe anaphylactic allergies. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening physical reaction to an allergen – often something very common, like milk or penicillin – that triggers the immune system to produce an uncommonly severe physical reaction. The most common triggers for anaphylaxis include foods like nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs and some fruits; medicines – including some antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin; and insect bites – particularly wasp and bee stings. In fact, MedicAlert and the idea of wearable medical identification was initially created in response to a young girl’s almost-fatal anaphylactic reaction to tetanus antitoxin, aspirin and sulfa.
While allergies in general occur when an individual’s immune system deploys against a harmless substance, like pollen or a certain kind of food, anaphylactic reactions are “supersized”, triggering the immune system to release a tsunami of chemicals that can cause a sudden, rapid drop in blood pressure and narrowing of airways, which can lead to shock and even death. Signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include a rapid, weak pulse, skin rash, nausea, and vomiting.
With their very lives on the line if exposed to an anaphylactic allergen, people managing such severe allergies can sometimes view the world around them as threatening and unsafe. And if that applies to familiar surroundings, imagine how anxiety-provoking the thought of traveling might be. How do you navigate travel, with its inherent uncertainties, while managing an anaphylactic allergy?
Traveling for any reason, whether it’s for business, vacation, or visiting, requires planning and preparation, like arranging lodging, scheduling transportation, and packing for the trip. For people with severe, life-threatening allergies the thought of traveling may seem overwhelming, but with a little extra preparation it can be done with minimal risk and maximum enjoyment.
Different types of transportation and accommodations may require taking different precautions – for instance, if you have a serious food allergy and are staying with friends or relatives, you might ask to help plan meals beforehand to avoid any potentially dangerous mistakes.
Anyone managing a severe allergy can take the following pre-travel steps to help make their next trip memorable for all the right reasons:
- Refill all medications prior to your trip.
- Check to make sure your insurance policies are updated and confirm that they are applicable and accessible in the location(s) you are traveling to.
- Schedule time to speak with your doctors to determine what risks may be associated with your travel, or in the location(s) you’re traveling to.
- If traveling by any type of public transportation, such as airplane, train, ship, or bus, call the operating company’s customer support or do your own research to find out their protocols for travelers with severe allergies. Make sure you fully understand their policies and accommodations regarding food allergies (Is it a peanut-free flight? Could you pre-order an allergen-free, in-flight meal?), environmental allergies (how often and thoroughly are train cars cleaned?), or any other type of allergy.
In addition to basic items like clean clothes and a toothbrush, everyone has their own personal list of essential items to pack for a trip. Some people wouldn’t think of traveling without their favorite pillow or getting on an airplane without their lucky…fill in the blank. If you have severe allergies, you won’t need to rely on “lucky charms” to have a safe trip, but you should add these safety essentials to your packing checklist:
- All medications, and extra backup medications. Always carry medications with you to avoid them being lost in transit. Pack and organize medications that need to be refrigerated in a portable cooler bag.
- Updated medical and health insurance ID
- A list of doctors and family or friends for emergency notification. Some MedicAlert Protection Plans store this information in a printable format for you.
- If your allergy is food-triggered, pack snacks and foods that are safe to eat if food is not readily available
- At least one epinephrine device, like an EpiPen and ideally extras, which can be lifesaving if a severe allergic reaction does occur while traveling. These are permitted on commercial airline flights.
- Wipes to disinfect areas where you’ll be sitting if you’re traveling on public transportation, like a bus, train, ship, or airplane, and have environmental allergies.
- Asthma equipment, if needed, such as nebulizers and inhalers. As with medications, it’s advisable to bring extras.
- Language translator device or app: if you’re traveling in a foreign country, this will help you ask questions about food ingredients or accommodations that could trigger your allergy.
An anaphylactic reaction can happen whether you’re staying at home, driving across town, or traveling internationally, so it’s important to always be as prepared as possible.
An emergency care plan can help by providing instructions on emergency medical treatment in case of an allergic reaction. It should be developed prior to any kind of travel and provide information on your allergy triggers and symptoms, as well as easy-to-follow treatment instructions. It’s best to keep it either with you or easily accessible with critical treatment items like your EpiPen or inhaler, and it should be shared with any travel companions.
If possible, you should also give a clear, printed copy to any tour guides, lodging managers, or airline representatives if these are part of your travel plans.
Anaphylaxis often begins and worsens rapidly, so creating and sharing an emergency care plan prior to traveling could mean the difference between fast, lifesaving treatment and potential tragedy.
But is there an easier, more effective way to communicate critical information about your severe allergies? A MedicAlert ID and protection plan does exactly that, conveniently making your critical medical information immediately available in any emergency.
The easiest way to order a MedicAlert ID for yourself or a loved one who has one or more severe allergies is to go to the MedicAlert website and select your ID using the “Shop All Medical IDs” link:
With the variety of ID types available, including bracelets, necklaces, cards, shoe tags, and more, you will easily find something that fits your style and personality. And if you or your loved one happens to be allergic to the nickel or another metal that are used to make many medical IDs, MedicAlert also has silicone IDs and other, non-allergenic options.
Each item can be engraved with your personal medical information that someone might need to know in the event of an emergency. You can fill out all of your information securely online, submit your order, and have your MedicAlert ID engraved and delivered in just days. Live life to the fullest no matter where your travels take you when you get your MedicAlert ID product and the protection of our 24/7 support.
MedicAlert offers free custom engraving on all our medical ID products. The engraving should include any critical medical information that can protect and save your life if you are in an accident or have a medical emergency, including:
- Type and severity of allergies (anaphylaxis)
- Current medications
- Use of an epinephrine delivery device (EpiPen), nebulizer, inhaler, etc.
- Other health conditions
Sources: “Traveling” FARE, “Allergies and Travel.” AAFA, “Allergies and Travel” CDC, “12 Things We Pack When Traveling with Food Allerges.” New York Times, “Traveling With Food Allergies.” FAACT, “Traveling With Food Allergies.“, (PDF) FAACT