By Blogger and Mum Louise Jones - Founder of nutmums.comDisclaimer: Please note this contributor’s account is a personal experience and should not be considered medically approved dietary advice.
Do you or your child have a nut allergy?Nut allergy awareness blogger and mum of two Louise Jones knows all about holidaying with a loved one with a nut allergy. Louise’s son was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy as a toddler and the experience inspired the Cheshire mum to set up her own blog, www.nutmums.com
Louise has been providing information and support for parents of nut-allergic children since 2013. Here, she shares her thoughts and tips on holidaying with a nut allergy sufferer.
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? – Fly '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
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!
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.
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.
Get to know foreign label terms for allergies
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.
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 or 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).
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.
Going on holiday with a nut allergy can be daunting, but travelling abroad safely can be done, with extra energy and additional organisation.
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 a food allergy shrink our family's horizons.