Holidays are supposed to be fun, but if you are asthmatic or prone to allergies, they can be a minefield of discomfort. It’s wise to anticipate how unfamiliar pollens, hotel dust mites, pet hair, second-hand smoke, feathers and even exotic foods will affect you when you are in an unfamiliar environment.
A little extra preparation can go a long way toward making your stay more comfortable, according to David Lang, allergist-immunologist at Cleveland Clinic. Here are his recommendations for preparing for your holiday – and what to do once you reach your destination.
Vet your hotel
- Email your accommodation ahead of time to inform them of your condition and inquire about possible triggers. Hotels that market themselves as pet friendly, for example, can be problematic for those who are allergic to animal hair or dander.
- Ask 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 may 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 at their destination may be far higher than holidaymakers are accustomed to. If you’re traveling by car, avoid driving with the windows down, especially if someone in the vehicle has asthma. Try to have the vehicle’s air-conditioning running for about 10 to 15 minutes before setting out, choosing the ‘recirculation’ setting over the ‘outdoor vent’.
- 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 as it could be lifesaving. The same applies to people who carry injectable adrenaline 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 using zip-up mite-resistant encasements for pillows and box-spring mattresses. A zippered pillow case takes up very little space in your suitcase and can help you avoid increased symptoms while you’re away. People can fold up and pack their mattress cover too, if they have the space in their luggage.
Take a phrasebook
- If you need to buy medicine, see a doctor or even visit a hospital emergency room, it’s important to be able to communicate reliably. Some people keep a list of important phrases related to their condition handy in the local language or whatever translation tool they use, which is especially vital if you are staying in self-catering accommodation such as airbnb. If staying in a hotel, the chances are that someone 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 Food Allergy Research and Education website provides printable PDFs for this purpose 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. For instance, English is widely understood in most large European cities.
David M. Lang is chair 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