Just yesterday I was traveling back from Seattle from the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.Quite a coincidence I, the "allergist," was seated next to a young woman who was recently hospitalized and admitted to the ICU for severe anaphylaxis to peanuts.

It was very relevant and timely, as the snack service provided by the airline included the serving of peanuts and peanut crackers to passengers.My physician assistant and I immediately got involved and requested a "peanut-free zone" be extended around the food allergic passenger's seat.The flight attendants worked smoothly and professionally to make this happen and to avert a potentially serious health issue for the passenger who has a life threatening food allergy to peanut and nuts.

Take home message: Don't be afraid to speak up when traveling on a plane! Many airlines will likely try and accommodate you if they are aware of this type of condition. It's not a bad idea to alert the airline when you are making your reservation so the "on plane" staff is also aware of your allergies and can easily help assist you if peanut products are served aboard the aircraft. Some airlines have already moved to peanut free snack foods. Check with your airline to learn if they are peanut/nut free! For travelers with the severest allergies, it is best to bring food from home just to ensure freedom from allergy-causing ingredients.

Let's review food allergy avoidance and management while away from home.

  • First, if your provider has given you an epinephrine auto-injector (i.e. Twinject, Epi-Pen) make sure you have this medication with you at all times when traveling in case of anaphylaxis (food allergy and anaphylaxis plan should be in place).
  • Also remember to have a note from your provider indicating the need for you to carry the "auto-injector" on the plane.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is a great resource for food allergy safety tips while traveling if you or a family member has a food allergy.One strategy mentioned is to choose the first flight available in the morning. Airplanes are sometimes cleaned at the end of each day and flying early in the morning may decrease the chance that the seats will contain food crumbs or residue.

Go to http://www.foodallergy.org/Advocacy/airlines.html

for more information. It's important to remember that more than 3 million Americans have food allergies to peanuts and nuts.

Dr. Clifford W. Bassett is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital and on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine.He is the current vice chair for public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.