For many of us, the best time of year to take a vacation is also the best time to catch a big whiff of pollen and get sidelined with a super-sized sneezing fit.
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If you’re getting your travel plans ready for when it’s safe to travel again after the COVID-19 pandemic, if you or a family member has allergies — whether seasonal, animal, dust or food-related — it’s a good idea to work them into your trip preparations so you’re not caught unaware.
Weeds, grass, tree pollen: Crank up the AC
For seasonal allergies, allergist-immunologist David Lang, MD, says it’s a good idea to research your destination in advance to determine what allergens are prevalent during the time of year you’re traveling. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Airnow allows you to compare the best months for air quality in states and counties throughout the country.
For instance, Ragweed is the dominant outdoor allergen in the Midwest and on the East Coast from mid-August to the frost, while in California, the major allergen is Bermuda grass.
If you’re driving to your destination, run the air conditioner in the car for 10 minutes before you leave and check to make sure vents are working properly. It’s best to leave in the early morning or late evening, when you’ll likely encounter less traffic and air pollution.
Once you’ve arrived at your hotel, use the air conditioning there also. With the air conditioning on and the windows closed, you can reduce indoor pollen exposure by more than 90%.
Dr. Lang says he’s not encouraging people to hibernate indoors, but “the more you use the air conditioning when you are in buildings and cars, the more likely you will be to reduce your level of exposure.”
Shower and change clothes if you’ve been outdoors to get rid of some of the pollen you’ve been carrying around.
Pets: Plan ahead for avoidance
If you know you’ll be visiting friends or family who have pets (after the pandemic, of course), you may want to stay in a nearby motel to get an overnight break from all that dander. Just be sure you stay in a hotel that doesn’t allow pets (or where they won’t affect you).
He remembered the need for advance planning when he checked into a hotel, only to find his next-door neighbor strolling down the hall with a dog.
“If you’re allergic to pets, you might want to call ahead,” Dr. Lang says.
When it comes to pets, you may have an increase in exposure and not necessarily be able to avoid it. “You may get exposed to cats and dogs, or people who are pet owners are walking around with the allergens on their clothing,” Dr. Lang says.
He recommends doing all you can to avoid exposure and to take your allergy medication.
Dust mites: Bring your own pillow
Dust mites are a common problem when you stay in motels. You can, at least partially, combat them by bringing your own pillow and hypoallergenic cover.
“That would be helpful,” he says, although, “an increase in the level of exposure associated with staying in certain hotels is probably unavoidable.”
Food allergies: Carry an EpiPen
At home, people with food allergies have control over ingredients. However, if you’re on the road or in restaurants, you don’t have that same level of control.
So ask questions. “Be vigilant for exposures that can increase your level of symptoms,” he says. “Inquire about the contents of particular food items so you are certain you’re not exposed.”
Also, consider lodging that includes a kitchen or kitchenette. Wash dishes before you use them. Always carry an EpiPen with you in case of a severe reaction. Better yet, pack two EpiPens.
Having injectable epinephrine on hand is highly recommended if your allergies are severe, he says.
Insect stings: Another reason to carry an EpiPen
People who have experienced allergic reactions from insect stings such as from a yellow jacket, hornet, honeybee or wasp need to carry adrenaline or epinephrine with them — and also see a board-certified allergist for venom immunotherapy, Dr. Lang says.
Aside from that, he counsels common-sense avoidance measures: “You should avoid picnic areas, and you don’t want to walk barefoot through a park,” he says. “I tell patients that, other than making honey, a bee’s job is to pollinate flowers, so the more you look and smell like a flower, the more attracted bees are to you.”
If you’re traveling by plane
Dr. Lang offers these tips for people traveling by plane, including advice for international travel:
- Be sure to bring all your medications with you in a carry-on bag in their original containers with doctors’ instructions and pharmacy phone numbers.
- When you make your itinerary, map out the hospital nearest your hotel so you know how to get there in case of a severe allergic reaction.
- On a plane, pressurized cabin air is very dry. Keep seasonal allergies in check with a saline spray or mist.
- If you’re dealing with severe allergies, you might want to choose international destinations where you speak the language so you can quickly and accurately communicate the nature of the allergy in an emergency.
- With food allergies, if you don’t speak the language, write down harmful ingredients in the language where you’re traveling so you can show them when ordering food.