Going on holiday with a nut allergy

My family’s “free from story” has recently been featured on the Holland & Barrett website. In the post, I talk how we were thrown into the nut free world when my son had anaphylaxis at 20 months old and the massive learning curve in those first few months after diagnosis, when we were trying to figure out how to keep a nut allergic toddler safe and well.

In this post “Going on holiday with a nut allergy”, I share my tips on holidaying with a nut allergic child. This was originally published as a guest blog for Holland & Barrett.

PLANNING AND GETTING ORGANISED

As any parent knows, holidaying with small children requires a lot of organisation. Holidaying with a food allergic child requires organisation and then some! Prior to taking a child with a severe nut allergy on holiday in the UK, you would be wise to look up your nearest supermarket, chemist and hospital and research safe local restaurants in advance. Holidaying abroad requires even more preparation.

TRAVELLING ABROAD – FLYING ‘NUT SAFE’

At one of our first allergy appointments, we were told that flying might be a risk for our son. For example, if an airline hands out bags of peanuts and each passenger opens their bags at roughly the same time, we were advised that the peanut dust thrown into the air might be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

The prospect of your child suffering anaphylaxis during a flight doesn’t bear thinking about. Yes, you could administer the EpiPen, but the shot of adrenaline can be only a temporary fix. Getting your child to a hospital for emergency treatment would be a challenge if you were 35,000ft, mid Atlantic.

CONTACT THE AIRLINE IN ADVANCE – WHAT TO CHECK

You need to make arrangements with the airline, to keep the flight as nut safe as possible. A 2013 US study identified various safeguarding measures a nut allergic passenger could take, which would reduce the risk of a reaction mid-flight. Measures included not using the plane’s pillows or blankets and asking for a nut-free buffer zone (where passengers within a certain number of rows do not eat nut products during the flight).

When we travelled to Portugal last year, my approach was to confirm with the airline by email that:

  • We could bring our own safe food on board (rather than trusting an airline meal to be nut-free).
  • A note had been added to our booking, alerting check-in staff, security and cabin crew of the allergy (and of our need to carry EpiPens).
  • They would restrict the sale of nuts on the flight and make an announcement asking passengers not to eat nuts or nut products.
  • We could pre-board, so that I could wipe the tray tables, arm rests and area around my son’s seat with travel disinfectant wipes.

Even taking these precautions, there is no guarantee the flight will be 100% nut-free. However, they helped me have peace of mind that I had controlled the risk as much as I could.

TRAVEL INSURANCE – CHECK IF YOU ARE COVERED OR HAVE TO PAY EXTRA

Yes, check whether a travel insurance policy covers anaphylaxis. Some either don’t, particularly where a child has been hospitalised for an allergic reaction in the previous 12 months, or charge a huge premium for anaphylaxis cover – around £100 is not unusual.

CARRY A EUROPEAN HEALTH INSURANCE CARD (EHIC) WITH YOU

It’s also worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), so you are entitled to free, or reduced cost, healthcare in Europe. The card does NOT replace travel insurance – you need both. But if you’re holidaying in Europe and you’ve got an EHIC, you’ll be entitled (in most European countries) to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to – extremely useful in emergencies. It’s completely free and valid for up to five years.

EMERGENCY MEDICATION

It’s a good idea to have a spare set of EpiPens, in case the first set is used (or lost) during the holiday. If you are going somewhere hot or very cold, have you got an insulated EpiPen case to carry them in? You may also need a doctor’s note, explaining the need for EpiPens, to show security staff at the airport.

READING FOREIGN LABEL TERMS FOR ALLERGY SUFFERERS

Although you may now be a pro at deciphering food labels in the UK, you need to learn how to do the same in a foreign country. If you travel within the EU, the top 14 allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list in the same way as in the UK. If you are travelling somewhere that is popular with British tourists (or ex pats), you may find labelling in English. If not, you need to swot up on the translations for your allergens. I found it useful to know the translation for the phrases “contains” and “may contain” too.

DON’T GET ‘LOST IN TRANSLATION’ – CARRY TRANSLATION CARDS

If you are travelling to a non-English speaking country, could you explain your child’s allergy to a restaurant manager? If your child suffered anaphylaxis, do you know the emergency number to ring and enough of the local language to summon an ambulance? This is where translation cards are invaluable. You can order translation cards from a professional provider (such as Allergy UK). They describe your child’s allergy in the local language and detail how to describe an anaphylaxis emergency. Make sure the whole family has a few copies just in case and also, practice saying the phrase/condition in the local language. Keep a set in your hotel room too – next to the phone in case of an emergency.

‘I HAVE A NUT ALLERGY’ WRIST BANDS AND NECKLACES

On that note, particularly if your child might be attending a kids club, it’s worth considering getting your child a waterproof wrist band or necklace medallion with ‘nut allergy’ on (these can be ordered online in advance and often in various foreign languages).

PACK SAFE FOOD SUPPLIES

It’s a good idea to pack some safe food in both your hand luggage (for the journey, with sufficient supplies if you are delayed) and your suitcase (just in case the range of safe food at the local supermarkets is limited).

EATING OUT

It pays to research the potential restaurant options in your resort online, in advance. I emailed our hotel prior to departure. We set our expectations at eating in for the entire holiday, so were very pleasantly surprised when the hotel manager talked us through the safe food options on arrival.

WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO IN AN EMERGENCY

As well as knowing how to call an ambulance, it’s reassuring to know the location of the nearest hospital, chemist or doctor. You can research this in advance and could keep a map handy with each location marked.

IN SUMMARY…

Going on holiday with a nut allergy can be daunting. When we holidayed abroad, I felt thrown completely out of our comfort zone. We went from feeling confident (in so much as you ever can be) in managing our son’s allergy, to going back to that sense of trepidation you have in the first few weeks post diagnosis, where everything is new. We will definitely holiday abroad again. It would be a shame to let the food allergy shrink our family’s horizons. Travelling abroad safely can be done, with extra energy and additional organisation.

One comment

  1. Hi Louise
    First thank you for the site VERY GOOD source and support.
    I am a mum of a nut and sesame alergic girl.Hope my comment will help.

    As for holidays we often go to Italy,Spain, Croatia preferably campings and appartments with self-catering.
    It works well, we go by car. In restaurants we use cards.
    We eat at Mcdonalds on hols. I cook simple dishes, lots of veg, salads and fruit.
    Also pringles (hurra ?), oreo, Bounty bars, some magnum and haagen icecream.
    I buy plain white rolls and bread where I can see sesame.
    At home I learned to bake wholegrain bread with lineseed or sunflower. We make cakes and oreo /figue /whatever fruit icecreams and semifreddos ?

    Sometimes it just makes me wonder how far our civilisation has come to create such cruel immune reactions.
    The worst is living in fear. My daughter is twelve. She is a very bright and sporty girl.She becomes to be aware of her life being much harder than others -Winter skiing school camp in Italy in the hotel that was doubtful -not for us. On camps I go with her with the epipen -in my country teacher /nurse cannot administer it.I also check food.
    Of course for some I am an overreacting mad mother, what a source of embarassment.

    I hope she and all of your kids Ladies, will meet good people in life and be able to maybe even create a family. Maybe even have nonallergic kids. ☺
    My GREAT hugs to you, most of people do not know how much does it cost sometimes to survive.

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