Category Archives: Travel and Allergies

Allergies and All-Inclusive Resorts

Beach toys

When thinking about all-inclusive resorts, the first thing that should come to mind is sheer serenity—things like a clear blue ocean, white sandy beaches, and flawless sunny weather.

Even though vacations to all-inclusive destinations do provide many people with a much needed breather from life’s obstacles and challenges, those with allergies actually end-up encountering a host of other potential challenges. These can transform a stress-free getaway into a stressful experience.

Therefore, for all who love to travel, I will offer-up my suggestions in the following two sections. These should help you to prepare for your next trip. I am drawing these from my own experiences.

Choosing a location:

Many all-inclusive destination resorts are located in the Caribbean; so my advice will be focused upon Caribbean destinations. Try choosing an Island where English is the native tongue or at least widely used (ie. Turks and Caicos, Barbados, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etcetera…). When I travelled to Turks and Caicos, I found this to be key in terms of communicating my allergies to the hotel staff. You should also look for Islands that have international-chain grocery stores. Turks and Caicos had an IGA steps away from the hotel, This reduced a lot of the stress when it came to eating and preparing food.  If you want to avoid the islands completely, another excellent option includes US-based destinations: Florida, California or Arizona. All of these states have great weather and high-standards when it comes to food quality and health-care. These factors should not be “be-all and end-all” determinants when it comes to looking for a destination; but keep them in mind.

Choosing your hotel:

When looking for hotels, always try to book a room with a kitchen, even if it is a bit pricier. When travelling to the Dominican Republic, a few years back, I found booking a room with a kitchen to be a big stress-reliever. There were no grocery stores around; so I just asked the chef in the hotel’s restaurant to provide me with a raw piece of veal or chicken that I would grill myself, in my room. Beware, however, that some hotels are not open to doing this. So be sure to call well in advance of your arrival. It is always good practice to call your hotel in advance to ask about the hotel’s allergy policies (if they exist), the nearest medical centre, and the room’s amenities. I can’t tell you how many times I have booked a room with a “fully equipped kitchen,” only to find a broken microwave and circa-1992 mini-bar fridge. ALWAYS call in advance. A lot of people I know “risk it” when on vacation and just eat food from the buffet. I would strongly advise against this. As alluring as the beach and buffet notion is, at all-inclusive resorts, eating at buffets puts you at an increased risk for eating cross-contaminated food. Tongs are not properly cleaned and people use their hands to pick-up food, etcetera. Always try to have as much control over your food as possible.

These are some tips from my experiences. As you travel more, you will begin to carve-out your own routines and form your own rules based upon your own experiences. The key things to keep in mind are to know your destination, know your hotel, and know yourself. You always have to feel comfortable in the situation that you are in; this will guarantee you a stress-free trip.

Saverio M. 

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Always Packing: Carrying Your Auto-Injector  

Live_Main Auto Injector

It all started with a fanny-pack. It was a bright blue, yellow zippered, Tigger-themed fanny-pack to be exact. From the time I was five, to about twelve years old, this was the most important accessory I had. Why? It was the vehicle for carrying my auto-injector (my safety net and my security blanket).  Back in the 90’s, my bright blue fanny-pack was my ‘go-to’ item; but I quickly outgrew it and needed to find some other way to carry my auto-injector. Luckily, being a girl, I would eventually grow into carrying a purse with me everywhere. But, during my high school days, I hit those awkward preteen/ teen years. I was too young to carry a purse and too old for a fanny pack. I no longer had a permanent desk to put it in or one specific teacher to hold onto it for me. My locker was too far away and I wasn’t allowed to take a book bag with me everywhere. I needed to find another option to discretely and effectively transport my auto-injector while in school. Lucky for me, I had access to many carriers and tricks to help conceal my auto injector and keep it on me at all times.

I purchased a much smaller, stylish black case that I was able to put in my pencil case. But I also made sure I had one in my book bag in my locker at all times. Getting through those high school years was tough. Most people yearn to fit in. And I was much the same. So I refrained from telling many people about my auto-injector in my pencil case. The people I made aware were my teachers and a few close friends. Now I realize the importance of telling people about the location of my auto-injector and how to use it in case of an emergency.

As I grew up, I became more comfortable with my auto-injector and with my food allergies. I was able to find new ways to carry it around discretely. Being a girl, I was lucky to have the excuse of always having a purse with me. The problem I soon arrived at involved different sized purses and singular-sized auto-injectors. From small little clutches to extremely large purses, I was either fighting to find it or struggling to put it in. Luckily I’ve found a few tricks and discovered, through my male friends, that they also had some unique and creative ways to carry around their auto-injectors.  For me, I’ve always felt it is easier to carry my auto-injector in the side pocket of my purse. It’s easy to grab if there is an emergency and it’s easy to find if I can’t tell someone. There will be no more routing around in the deep caverns of my purse. With the new advancements in auto-injectors, it’s easier to carry them in pant pockets or in those pesky little clutches and purses I mentioned earlier. Some new auto-injectors are as small as a business card with a little width. They can be easily placed in most little bags. As for my male counterparts, carrying an auto-injector can be a little trickier as far as not drawing major attention. One the best ways I’ve seen them carried is in an ankle holster (a lá James Bond) that fits neatly under most pants. Those new auto-injectors I mentioned above are smaller and able to fit in most pockets discretely. There is also many companies offering carrying cases for various activities like belts for outdoor/upbeat activities from Waist Buddy (http://www.omaxcare.com/WaistBuddy.html) or the versatile brand Allergy Pack ( http://www.allergypack.com/) that offer many different styles to carry one or multiple auto-injectors. They even make carrying cases for asthma inhalers.

It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what kind of purse you’re sporting or what pants you may be in. It is always important to have your auto-injector with you when you go out.  It can be cumbersome and it can be awkward; but nothing is worse than needing it in an emergency and not having it. So remember to keep it with you. Tell someone you have it with you and where it is located. Think of it as the best and most practical fashion accessory you have; it also just so happens to go with any outfit.

Arianne K.

 

A Food Allergy Camper’s Guide to…Camping!

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I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned camper; but I have definitely had my fair share of outdoor adventures and know how to handle my food allergy in the wild. The following is a collection of my best advice and tips for you to consider before setting out on your own big outdoor adventure.

  • Remember to pack extra auto-injectors with your first aid kit. Then, when you have your extra ones, pack another (just in case); and keep them on you at all times.
  • Train your group (if you’re travelling with one) about how to properly administer your auto-injector and make sure they feel confident with it before heading out.
  • FOOD! I would say this is the most important thing to remember to pack (not just because I love food). It is very important to pack food that you can feel safe eating when you go camping. If someone else in your group is in charge of buying the food, make sure they are well aware of the severity of your food allergy. If you are backpack camping in the wild, I would recommend accompanying that person or even volunteering to buy the food yourself. This will improve your safety and comfort when you hit the trails!
  • Wear your medical identification.
  • Pack appropriately. If you are aware that plants carrying your allergen are present in the area, it might be wise to pack long pants and shirts in case you go on a hike. This will help protect your skin from contact with your allergen.
  • Keep contact information with you or with your gear. It may also be useful to add some contact information for nearby establishments to get in contact should an emergency arise.
  • Bio-degradable soap. This is probably a step most people overlook when packing for a camping trip—especially when you have to travel light. Washing your hands with soap is the best way to rid your skin of allergens after contact. So, when the nearest hospital is nowhere close, this is an important item; and you should always wash before meals!
  • Have fun! Always keep safety in the back of your mind while camping; but remember that it is just as important to relax and have some fun!

Hopefully these tips help prepare you for your future adventures. Comment and tell me about your camping experiences. I definitely have a few great stories I’d love to share!

Dylan

 

Dining with Clients and Cayenne: Guest Post by Patricia J. Pawlak

Pat (dining with cayenne allergy)

 

I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I traveled the world and had to entertain. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting down with clients for a culinary experience, getting to know them, and knowing you may have to close a deal. In that situation, you want to stay focused and be charming. Nothing zaps the energy out of a dining experience more then having the focus of the evening on your food allergy. I dread the drama of it all and my clients enduring the waiter/ kitchen sprint because of my food allergies.

I have developed such an intolerance to all capsicum, i.e. cayenne, paprika and cumin, that my throat closes up, I start to shake and then, within 10/15 minutes, I actually projectile vomit. It comes on so quickly, violently and unexpectedly that, even during a lunch, I was rushed to the hospital projectiling (as I ruined my new red silk suit).

After several of these rushed trips to the ER, I finally went to an allergy specialist who diagnosed my malaise as the worst possible allergic reaction one can suffer and still survive.

Thanks to Emeril, and the influx of some certain cuisines, most restaurants have infused, charged, and drilled their menus with chili, cayenne, and paprika and made it impossible for me to dine in many restaurants. I have discovered that even the nicest restaurants now marinate all their meat, fish, and chicken dishes with some form of capsicum. That means even a chicken salad is off limits and watch those candied pecans; they have chili on them now.  For some reason, many restaurant salad dressings have cayenne or paprika—even a simple Caesar dressing.  Deserts, from cheesecake to tiramisu, are now spiked with cayenne.  I have even been served strawberries with a “surprise.” Thankfully, I asked what the surprise was or the restaurant would have been surprised! I have gone to restaurants and not been able to have any dish on the menu.

My strategy now is to check out a menu first before I suggest a restaurant for business.  I ignored my own advice last week; I went to a good sushi restaurant thinking that I would not have to bring up my food allergy in front of my clients. To my chagrin, I opened the menu and the first sushi listed was “Jalapeño Sushi” and, along down the line of the menu, most had heat. I had no other choice but to have the proverbial conversation to make sure what dishes I could eat.

The frustration lies not only in its increase of use but in its use in dishes that historically never had any form of heat.  Even when I order a dish that couldn’t possibly have cayenne, Fettuccini Alfredo, I have had it come with cayenne sprinkled all over.  I have asked for plain poached fish (“nothing on it, plain, please”) trying to be discreet. And the fish came covered in chili flakes. When I explained finally that I had an allergy, I was told “You don’t know what good is!” This is not about taste, this is about health and, in my opinion, our taste buds are being hijacked by all this heat!

I am meeting more and more people daily who are developing this allergy due to the proliferation of this spice.  Hopefully, chefs will begin to take notice and will begin to create more interesting dishes instead of just throwing in the heat.
Patricia

Allergies and Reasonable Expectations for Airlines

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My sister is currently employed as a flight attendant with a Canadian-based airline company. I recently made a point of sitting with her and discussing what expectations are reasonable for both airline staff and passengers when it comes to allergies in the air.

On more than one occasion, passengers with food allergies have put my sister in an awkward position. For example, a parent informs her of her child’s allergies and attempts to take the meal that is being offered. My sister reiterates that she does not know whether or not the flight meals have come into contact with allergens as they are prepared by a different service on the ground. Here are some reasonable expectations that crew and airline staff have of those travelling with allergies:

1)  Bring Your Own Food/Snacks- As much as we would like to be accommodated and included in the airline meal service, bringing your own food is always the safest bet.

2)  Carry Your Medication- Some airlines may have their own epinephrine on the flight; but you should always be responsible and carry your auto-injector with you at all times.

3)  Stock Up on Disinfectant- Wanting to wipe down the armrests, food trays and any other surfaces of the airline is totally reasonable. Despite the cleaning crews’ diligent work, germs are still present. Most airline staff are very understanding of this; however, most do not have any type of disinfectant wipes / sanitizer present. B.Y.O.S- Bring your own sanitizer.

4)  Be Understanding and Polite- Most airline staff will do what they can to help you. It is important to be understanding of their limitations too! The more patient and polite you are to them, the more likely it is that they will provide you with amazing service.

As for airlines in general, most of their duties are regulated and the policies change from company to company. However, here are some things that I think would be reasonable to expect of airline staff when travelling.

1)  Aware- I would appreciate it if staff had some form of familiarity with allergies. They don’t have to be an expert on the topic; but it would be nice if the staff were at least competent enough to assist a passenger allergies.

2)  Announcement– I think it is a pretty reasonable request for airline staff to make an announcement informing passengers to refrain from eating your allergen.  Although it is hard to expect that everyone on board will abide by the request; but it definitely helps raise awareness among the aircraft passengers and reduces the chances of you coming into contact with your allergens.

3)  Understanding- Airline staff should understand where allergic-folk are coming from. No I’m not a flight risk. And I’m really not trying to be difficult! I am just trying to ensure that I’m safe in my sparingly small space at 40,000 feet in the air! Reassuring an allergic passenger is always a plus.

4)  Offer- We know that you don’t have a restaurant on-board; but if the menu options are a ‘no-go’ for us, we do appreciate an offer for an alternative. Chances are, we have our own food packed. But it does mean a lot to hear airline staff make safe suggestions.

What have your experiences with Airlines and your allergies been like? Comment below!

Nicole

Knowing Your Nearest Hospital


Do you look up the hospital(s) nearest where you will be staying when you’re planning a trip to another city or country? I always do. When you are in a new place, a few minutes spent trying to look it up could mean a delay in getting care and potentially make your situation worse. I always print out the address and phone number and/or enter it into my phone for easy access. My worst fear would be having an anaphylactic reaction without myself or my peers being aware of the location of a nearby hospital. When in more remote locations, it is important to know how far you will be from the nearest hospital; it may, in fact, be significantly faster to have a friend or family member drive you there rather than wait for an ambulance depending upon where the nearest hospital is located. Where I grew up, it could take the ambulance up to 30 minutes to get to our house from the time we called. So my parents would always drive in an emergency situation. Consider where the nearest hospitals are if you are moving to a new area of town for school or work. I like to know where they are and wouldn’t want to live more than 30 minutes away from a hospital. For me it is important to be close to a hospital because I know that, even if you are as careful as possible, cross-contaminations, undeclared ingredients or preservatives can trigger a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. It has happened to me before. I feel much safer knowing that we have a plan if an anaphylactic reaction were to happen at home. A few years back, I had a fellowship at an Oceanographic Institution. Our team was planning field studies in a very remote area. I was unaware just how remote the area we’d be staying was until my supervisor advised me that, if there was an emergency, I would have to be airlifted by helicopter to the nearest hospital. That raised some red flags right away. My supervisor asked if I still felt comfortable going on the trip with this information in mind. I said, yes! I was not letting that get in my way. My preparation for the trip and extreme precautions throughout our stay were directly impacted by the fact that there was no hospital nearby. Upon arrival, myself and a few of my colleagues cleaned and scrubbed the kitchen until all surfaces had been cleaned (including the fridge, microwave and oven). I made all the food from scratch in our motel suite (which had a full kitchen), and I never ate out. When my colleagues went out for dinner, I joined them; but didn’t eat or drink anything as they used peanut oil to cook.  I was, ultimately, worried that even the water glasses may have some residue left on them if not cleaned properly. Knowing that the hospital was so far away, I knew I had to be on my “A-game” at all times. I equipped myself with extra epinephrine auto-injectors and a lot of antihistamines. It is all in the planning process. You plan the food you will be taking with you, restaurants you feel safe going to, and ensure you know the location of the nearest hospital. These should all be parts of your pre-trip planning. Have you ever had an experience where knowing the nearest hospital was especially helpful for you? How did knowing where the nearest hospital was help you?

Erika

Risky Business—When to Say No to Foods

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It is my personal view that having food allergies is a 24/7 responsibility. The main person responsible for your own personal safety is you.  This is in no way a negative thing; but it can pose some added challenges in different everyday situations.  When opportunities to experiment with eating foods that you are unsure of arise, and if there is ever any doubt as to the safeness of the food, I find it is best to just say no.

Now I realize ‘just saying no’ is much more easily said than done.  One of the best examples I can think of is saying no to foods that ‘may contain’ different allergens.  Personally, I have peanut, tree nut, wheat, and egg allergies. I commonly find that many different food labels will ‘may contain’ one of these allergens. And, I will admit, at times I feeling frustrated with how this can limit food choices.  It’s important to take a step back when contemplating trying these ‘may contain’ items.  One must evaluate if the risk is actually worth the severe reaction that could be brought on.  I also find it helpful to determine if there are any other safe alternatives to what food I was looking to buy or any better safe food replacements.  One way of doing this is seeking out options at health food stores which have a lot of different great food alternatives for people with dietary restrictions; however, it still is important to make sure whatever item you are looking at is still safe—many may still contain various allergens.

I personally find eating out can be another situation when it can be difficult to ‘just say no’ to different foods.  When eating out with large groups, it can be easy to find yourself in a situation where friends might want to share and sample various dishes at the table. But this can be risky if you have food allergies.  When ordering your own meal, it’s important to inform the kitchen of your allergies and the importance of avoiding cross contamination. The same precautions, however, will not be taken with any of the other meals being served to that table aside from your own. It may be tempting to try someone else’s meal. Yet I find it best to always reevaluate the risk and acknowledge how having an allergic reaction during a night out would be a lot worst than missing out on a sample of food.

I find that always comparing the risks and (for lack of a better word) inconveniences of having an allergic reaction are helpful in making the decision to say ‘no’ to risky food choices.  A specific example I have of this includes when I was travelling to Europe for the first time.  My first day was in London, England. I will admit, while I was enjoying all the sight seeing and normal joys of travelling, when it came to find a place for lunch I found myself being overly cautious picking a safe food to eat. The last thing I wanted was to have an allergic reaction on my first day of holidays in a foreign country. I also found it hard since I was travelling with friends and they were very interested in experimenting with new foods at foreign restaurants I wasn’t familiar with.  I have travelled abroad since and each time I make sure to do research ahead of time on safe food choices abroad. I also never run short of safe snacks, which I bring along, that make it easier to avoid risky foods without having to go hungry! In the end, while it may be tempting at the time to experiment with different foods, it’s also important to take a very careful look at the risks that are involved and realize it’s okay to ‘just say no’.

Caitlyn