Healthy Traveling With Allergies
Your vacation has finally arrived! Vacations provide an opportunity to “get away from it all.” Unfortunately, though, you can’t take a vacation from your allergies. And, a vacation can actually trigger an allergy attack because it often brings a change in climate, foliage, and accommodations. While you cannot allergy-proof your vacation, you can take steps to minimize the effects allergies might have on your vacation.
Before You Leave
Some research regarding where and when you take your vacation is important for selecting a time and place that will not exacerbate your allergies. For example:
- Plan to take your vacation during the time that your allergies flare up the worst at home.
- If your allergies are due to pollen, investigate the pollen counts of where you want to travel and try to pick a place that is more pollen-free. Or, select a time of year where pollen counts are the lowest. The Weather Channel has pollen count forecasts and air quality forecasts for the US. Data for Europe and other regions are more difficult to find.
- Obtain the name of an allergist practicing at your destination. Your doctor might be able to give you some suggestions, or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has a Physician Referral and Information line at 800-822-2762.
- Ask your doctor for any travel tips that might help you handle your allergies while on vacation.
Traveling by Car
If you are taking a road trip in your car, following these simple steps can make your car allergy-friendly.
- Turn your car’s air conditioner on 10 minutes before you get in the car, preferably with the windows open. This will help remove dust mites and molds from the AC system.
- Keep the windows of your car closed when you are driving to prevent pollen and other irritants from entering the car. Use your air conditioner instead.
- If your trip is short (less than 1-2 hours) consider setting the air conditioner to recirculated air. While some cars may mix enough fresh air with stale recirculated air, don’t assume that it is healthy to breath recirculated air for long periods of time. Periodically open the vents or windows for a few moments to replenish oxygen.
- Begin your travel early in the morning or later in the evening. This will keep you off the roads during times of heavy traffic and when the air quality is poorest.
- If you are renting a car for your trip, ask for one that hasn't had people who smoke in it. Some cars also come with high efficiency particulate filters as part of their air conditioning systems. If you do careful pre-trip research, you might better be able to choose the best brand of car to rent.
Traveling by Plane
Planes are notorious for their recycled air. According to Frommer's Fly Safe, Fly Smart, airlines mix up to 50% fresh air with 50% filtered, recycled cabin air to save on fuel costs. This very dry cabin air can aggravate allergies. Use the following tips when you travel by plane.
- Pack your allergy medication in your carry-on luggage and not in the luggage you are checking—just in case your luggage doesn’t make it to your destination or you need it while on the plane.
- Make sure to bring more than enough of your allergy medication.
- Bring a saline nasal spray with you. Using the spray once an hour will help keep your nasal membranes moist. Be sure that your spray is saline (salt water) only; medicated nasal sprays containing decongestants, such as neosynephrine or oxymetazoline, should be used only as directed.
- Although all flights within the US are non-smoking, some international flights may allow smoking. Many American and European carriers maintain non-smoking policies even on international flights. If your travel requires that you fly with smokers, be sure to request a seat as far from the smoking section of the plane as possible.
- If you are traveling to different time zones, be sure to account for the time change when calculating medication dosages.
At the Hotel
Dust mites and molds can live in the carpet, bedding, and upholstered furniture in a hotel room. However, there are some things you can do to decrease your chances of having these irritants in your room.
- When making your reservation, ask if the hotel offers allergy-proof rooms.
- Request a room away from the indoor pool. Rooms close to indoor pools may have higher mold counts.
- Ask about the hotel’s pet policy. If pets are allowed at the hotel, ask for a pet-free room if you are allergic to animals.
- Ask for a non-smoking room.
- If the air conditioner filter has not been changed recently, you might ask if the hotel can change the filter prior to your arrival.
- Call in advance to make sure the hotel offers synthetic pillows. If they do not, bring your own.
- If you find them helpful, you could bring your own allergy-proof covers for pillows. You may want also to bring an allergy-proof cover for the mattress as well, though recent studies have cast strong doubt on the effectiveness of pillow and mattress covers for preventing nasal allergies.
- Shut the hotel windows and use the air conditioner.
- Avoid using the hotel closet or drawers if you are allergic to mold spores. These dark and sometimes damp areas can be great breeding grounds for mold spores.
At Your Destination
Once you have arrived and checked in to your hotel, it is still important to be vigilant about controlling your allergies. Try to have a flexible schedule—one that can accommodate your allergies. If you have Internet access, you might want to check the local pollen count. Work with your doctor to come up with an allergy plan for high pollen count days. Your plan might involve changes in medication, or even restricting outdoor activities. Instead, consider an indoor activity for the day, like touring an art museum or visiting a historical building. Ask the hotel’s concierge for some fun tourist attractions that are in areas that are pollen-free and allergy friendly. And remember to have fun—you are on vacation!
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Traveler's Health
The Weather Channel
Travel Medicine Program, Public Health Agency of Canada
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) website. Available at: http://www.aaaai.org/.
Segan, Sascha. Frommer's Fly Safe, Fly Smart: The Insider's Guide to a Hassle-Free Flight. Wiley Publishers; 2002.
Terreehorst I. Evaluation of impermeable covers for bedding in patients with allergic rhinitis. NEJM. 2003:349:237-246.
Last reviewed April 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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