Archive: Surviving Travel With Allergies
Every traveler looks forward to savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe. But how can you have fun and stay healthy when you're allergic to wheat, dairy, pollen, penicillin...? And communicating your requests to waiters and pharmacists in a foreign language is an extra challenge. Share your coping methods here!
Food Allergies, I have a potentially deadly allergy to peanuts in any
form. I have two questions. Is peanut oil commonly used in Europe? Besides
the perscription label do I need for my epipen? I've been question twice
at customs areas once going into Canada, once coming back into the US.
I take it out show the seal and explain its use. But both of those times
were with the old style that had a syringe. The new ones are one time
use with a short needle to go through clothing into the leg. I can't leave
it at home, I've had a mild reaction on a plane before.
As a flight attendant with allergies, I always carry a decongestant like Sudafed for congestion, and an antihistamine like Benadryl for itchy eyes or a runny nose. I only buy the generic type--1/3 the price. (Look at what the "active ingredient" in the name-brand medicine is.) Keep in mind that a decongestant will keep you awake, and an antihistamine will make you sleepy. It's a good idea to take the antihistamine before you go to bed, especially in Europe, where the down pillows will make you miserable.
Also, keep in mind that unless washed in hot water and dried in a machine, any type of pillow can make you sick. Dust mites settle in pillows because of the moisture from your body. One dirty pillow can ruin your whole trip. I always put a clean towel over my pillow, and wash it every 3 days or so (to get the dust mites out of the towel). And try to sleep with your head elevated.
If you're from somewhere hot and dry, and you're visiting someplace that's damp, like Great Britain, the leaf mold could be your problem.
I often come across well-meaning parents who put earplugs in their children's
ears on the airplane. Don't do this! This keeps the pressure in their
ears from equalizing when the aircraft is pressurized. Keep them swallowing.
Sipping a glass or bottle of water can do the trick. Their eustachian
tubes are smaller than an adult's, so if your child is complaining of
ear pain, they're probably not whining, and could very well be coming
down with a cold.
Seattle, WA USA 08/15/00
While in Rome, I had a reaction to something. My skin broke out in this
small rash. Fortunately, a friend of mine who had lived in Europe mentioned
that pharmacists in Europe have much broader prescribing powers than pharmacists
in the US. For many common items (including allergy medications) pharmacists
in Europe can give it to you without a doctor's prescription. The pharmacist
(who spoke great English) at the late-night pharmacy on the Piazza Republica
gave me a cream called Fargan (no idea what it was!) which cleared it
up. Other than the rash, I didn't have any other allergy reactions in
May in Paris/Italy/Germany...while I'm sitting here right now at my computer
in Texas sneezing.
Irving, TX USA 08/14/00
On a spring trip to Europe, the minute I arrived in Amsterdam (March tulip
time), my nose ran non-stop and I was unable to find anything at the pharmacy
for relief. Literally as soon as the train moved out of Holland the symptoms
disappeared! Although I don't suffer much in the States, allergy meds
will be on my list for the next trip across the pond!
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/06/00
This was our second trip to Europe and each time I had allergy problems. On our first trip I developed a new food allergy to kiwi (maybe I just hadn't had enough before); unfortunately I didn't bring any antihistamines except for the Excedrin PM capsules to help me sleep. Fortunately there was enough antihistamine in them to help me out.
This second time I knew better and brought Benadryl. I didn't have any food allergies but the pollen was horrendous. Since my seasonal allergies at home are rather calm I didn't bring any Claritin, etc. but the Benadryl came to the rescue.
My eczema also acted up due to the unusual hot weather in Germany in mid-May. It was actually kind of fun going to the Apotheke and having the pharmacist fix me up with some cortisone cream.
The biggest problem I had was once I came home. I've never had a problem
wearing my contacts in Europe and I even wore them on the flight home.
The combination of the long flight and the allergies now have given me
allergic conjuctivitus. If you have seasonal allergies don't wear your
contacts on the plane.
Sunnyvale, CA USA 05/31/00
I have many environmental allergies (pollen, ragweed, trees, etc.) and
have found them to be especially problematic when traveling in Europe.
Europe has so many plants that don't grow in the states, so I've had no
chance to develop a tolerance to them. The good news is that they will
stop bothering you in about a week. Just pack a box of kleenex and some
antihistamines - don't let a runny nose keep you from enjoying your trip!
Duluth, Minnesota USA 04/27/00
As a severe allergy suffer I would recommend a couple of items: a buckwheat
husk pillow, especially if you also have back or neck problems; and enough
allergy medicine to last the entire trip. Take your worst day/week and
multiply it. Better safe than sorry.
Birmingham, AL USA 04/10/00
I am allergic to everthing. On my first trip to Europe, I forgot about
down. Went to Germany and they use down pillows and comforters. Took them
off the bed and slept with my clothes on and just a sheet during my stay.
[Editor's note: Hotels and bed & breakfasts often have a supply of
foam pillows and non-down comforters--just ask.]
S. C. Tai
Just came back from 3 weeks in Morocco: for those with allergies, take
a dust mask or some sort of filter. Diesel and smoke in the cities are
prevalent. Also, if traveling in Land Rovers along the dusty roads, any
dust filter will help. We also brought Purell (small bottle of disinfectant
gell for the hands) and acidophilus tablets which were a savior for queasy
ca USA 03/12/00
I didn't have to take my normal medications for allergies while I was
in Europe. I was astonished. (Side note: I couldn't wear my contacts,
they weren't comfortable. Don't know why.)
Flower Mound, TX USA 03/11/00
One allergy that I didn't think much about beforehand was my reaction
to mosquito bites. If you tend to have a bad reaction to bugs, drop into
a pharmacy as soon as you arrive and purchase an insect repellent with
a high percentage of DEET. It may smell pretty bad, but it will help significantly.
(Don't buy it before the trip, as it may leak into your luggage on the
Cambridge, MA USA 01/10/00
We were in Italy in June and July and my allergies were pretty bad. Fortunately I had brought enough prescription medication to take me through the trip and I also brought my son's along (even though he didn't react to whatever was making me miserable), and Benadryl which I did need for a bee sting my younger son suffered. It pays to travel prepared!
I also brought pillow protectors just in case we hit a musty or allergy-inducing
feather pillow at any of the rentals we had. We ended up not needing them;
but they weighed next to nothing and were easy to pack.
NH USA 09/15/99
My husband and I visited Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France in late
May, early June. The entire two weeks from the day I arrived my allergies
went haywire. I was miserable. In Versailles, a nice pharmacist sold me
some pills that dried me up but were too strong and really knocked me
out. Well, I suffered that whole trip but what's funny is as soon as I
left Europe, the allergy problem completely went away so I knew I was
allergic to something that was blowing around there. I've decided maybe
it was the chestnut trees since we don't have them here in the states.
Anyway, now I take Benadryl when I travel, but luckily it's never been
as bad as that trip. It certainly didn't keep us from traveling, but it
was a real aggravation.
The idea of the 3x5 card with your food allergies is a great idea. I
also have a recommendation for those who need allergen-free or orthopedic
pillows: get a small buckwheat-husk pillow. I tried foam, pillow covers,
etc., but this is the only one that worked. It is small and lightweight
(they come in many sizes), and conforms to any shape. It is wonderful
getting a full night's sleep the first night in a strange city. I don't
leave home without mine.
Birmingham, AL USA 04/28/99
Feathers are everywhere in Europe...at least in Germany, Austria and Switzerland!
They seem to love goose down for pillows and comforters. But we're allergic
so we always ask for bedclothes and pillows with "keine federn" (no feathers).
Also, we brought with us two small foam pillows, which worked well with
our knapsacks under them. Give it a try.
Arlington Heights, IL USA 03/05/99
I have a lengthy list of foods that can cause me to have serious allergic
reactions. Before a trip to France, I consulted an English/French dictionary
and prepared a typewritten list on a 3x5 card, headed by the phrase, "Je
suis allergique au..." I kept this card handy and, while it may or may
not have been perfect French, it got my point across. When ordering a
meal or picking up prepared food for a picnic, I would hand the card to
the waiter or clerk, who was then able to tell me which dishes I had to
avoid. It was easier than trying to ask specific questions about each
dish in my less-than-perfect French and I was able to avoid misunderstandings
and potential health disasters.
New York, NY USA 03/04/99