When your child has a food allergy, traveling — even to visit friends and family — can be stressful, especially when even trace amounts of an allergen can cause your child to have trouble breathing.
Here are some practical tips from allergy experts to help you plan ahead for your trip and hopefully prevent an unexpected trip to the emergency room.
If you are flying:
Carry all medications, including EpiPens, antihistamines and inhalers, onto the plane rather than packing them in your luggage, says Allie Bahn, who writes the Miss Allergic Reactor blog. If the airline makes you check your carry-on luggage at the gate, be sure to take your medications out. Bring plenty of disinfecting wipes to clean off seats, seat belts and tray tables, Bahn adds. TSA allows you to bring all medications in your carry-on bag, including liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces. More specifics can be found in this TSA blog post.
Notify the airline and cabin crew in advance that you are traveling with a child who has a food allergy, says Tara Zamani, a nutritionist at ContentChecked, a mobile app that tracks your food allergies and allows you to check any packaged food and beverage for allergens by scanning the product barcode. Consider asking the flight crew to alert other passengers that someone on board has a severe food allergy.
If you are visiting friends or family:
Inform your host ahead of time about your child’s allergies and be clear about your comfort level around food preparation and exposure to foods your child is allergic to, Bahn says.
Before you arrive, ask the host for a FaceTime or Skype chat so you can quickly scan the rooms where your child will be staying to make sure there are no hidden allergens, like a bowl of peanut candies in the living room or apple juice in an unmarked bottle in the refrigerator, suggests Rosellen Reif, a licensed professional counselor at Reif Psychological Services in Cary, N.C, who works with children who have severe allergies. “Doing this ahead of time is especially helpful if your child is older and feels guilty that their allergy is a burden on others,” she says.
Make sure your host knows to thoroughly clean all utensils and kitchen surfaces that might have been exposed to an allergen. It’s also a good idea, according to Dr. Joyce Rabbat, director of the Pediatric Allergy Division at Loyola University Health System in Chicago, to set up an allergy-free area during meals to reduce the risk of accidental exposure. “Having allergen-free serving areas helps minimize the chance that serving utensils are used in both allergen-containing dishes and allergen-free dishes,” she says.
If you are staying at a hotel:
Many hotels will offer a free “medical clean” if you call ahead of time. This will thoroughly remove any leftover crumbs or spills from your room that could contain allergens.
If you’re eating out:
The best way to find restaurants that will accommodate people with food allergies is to do a Google search for the allergy your child has plus the name of the town or city you’re visiting. This search will bring up menus and reviews from guests with similar allergies, Reif say. When you make your reservation, ask if the restaurant has accommodated this type of allergy before, and what their usual practices are for diners with allergies.
“If you aren’t completely confident after hearing their answer, don’t feel shy about cancelling your reservation or leaving to find another restaurant,” she says. “Say that you appreciate the restaurant’s help keeping your child safe, and offer that they can bring ingredients out to the table for you to review the nutritional label before cooking with them if they’re unsure whether they’re OK to use.” Not only will this keep your child safe, but it will also model how your child can advocate for his or her own dietary needs.
You can also carry a chef card that outlines the foods your child must avoid. You can download a free copy from SafeFARE, a program that works with restaurants to promote safer dining experiences for people with food allergies.
“Parents need to understand that no matter how hard someone tries to keep the festivities allergen-free, there is always a possibility of exposure so come prepared with medications,” Rabbat says.