Vacations are supposed to be about fun and relaxation. This can be very difficult, if not impossible, for people who suffer from severe food allergies. The mere possibility of accidental exposure to trigger foods may be enough to put severe allergy sufferers off the idea of vacation entirely. This is especially true for families with children who have food allergies. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has found that families often avoid travel outside the country, as well as specific types of transportation (such as flights and cruises), because of their concerns about accessible medical care.

There are practical vacation-planning steps you can take to help you avoid allergy triggers and also be prepared for the possibility of an accidental reaction.

Planning Your Transportation and Accommodation

It is important to plan ahead and do your homework about every portion of the trip if you or someone travelling with you suffers from severe food allergies. The first thing you should do is speak to a travel agent about your needs and concerns. Before you book your flight, you can confirm with the airline whether or not the foods of concern are served onboard. You can also request a special meal in advance. Most airlines that offer meal service on their flights are able to provide food that accommodates food allergies. To ensure that the information doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, it’s advisable to double-check with the airline about allergy-friendly meal service before your departure date, and again at check-in.

More and more airlines are now offering “buffer zones” for those who suffer from severe peanut and food allergies. Even if your airline doesn’t service the food that you are allergic to, they cannot prevent a passenger from bringing their own snacks on board. This is a concern because other passengers’ snacks may contain your trigger food. If necessary, confirm whether your airline offers buffer zones, and make the arrangements to have one set up in advance. More airlines are adopting allergy buffer zones following the Canadian Transportation Agency’s order to Air Canada to provide a buffer zone to passengers with severe nut allergies. Based on your request and assigned seat, passengers in the buffer zone will be briefed in advance by the flight crew, and will be asked not to consume the trigger food in question during the flight.

When it comes to booking a resort or cruise, your travel agent can work with you to find an option that works best with your needs. You can also request menus from the resort or cruise beforehand in order to help you plan your meals. Additionally, it is also a good idea to inform your holiday representative once you reach your destination so that the resort staff are aware of your concerns. The staff may be able to help make your stay a safer and more enjoyable one. When eating at restaurants, the Mayo Clinic recommends speaking to the chef and servers about your food allergy. This will help ensure that your meals do not contain your allergen and that your food is not prepared on surfaces that have come in contact with the food you are allergic to.

It may also be helpful to contact your resort or cruise line in advance for information about the medical services offered at your destination. Taking this measure can help put your mind at ease about traveling with severe food allergies. Resorts and cruises usually offer on-site, 24-hour access to medical service for dealing with emergencies.

Being Prepared

Though there is a lot that a travel agent can help you with, there are important things that you need to do to be prepared for your vacation so you can avoid severe food allergies and handle an emergency:

  • Bring at least two emergency epinephrine autoinjectors with you on vacation.
  • Always pack medications in your carry-on bag in case of emergency onboard a flight, or in the event that your luggage gets lost.
  • Bring a letter to present to airport security that states your need to have the epinephrine autoinjector with you at all times.
  • Have your doctor fill out an Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan form to keep with you at all times.
  • If traveling to a foreign country, have this Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan form translated into the appropriate language.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet that indicates your allergy, possible symptoms, and the emergency treatment that is needed.
  • Educate those traveling with you about your allergies and what to do in case of a severe allergic reaction.

A little time spent preparing will go a long way in helping you enjoy your vacation.

Read Video Transcript »

Break It Down: Anaphylaxis (Video Transcript)

Anaphylaxis, which is sometimes called anaphylactic shock, is a severe allergic reaction. The reaction can be to certain foods like nuts, insect stings, medications, or anything to which a person is severely allergic. Allergic reactions present with a variety of symptoms, such as hives, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and rapid swelling of the tongue and lips.

If not treated immediately, anaphylaxis can be deadly.


What happens is that your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance, such as peanuts, for a dangerous foreign invader and mounts a full-scale immunologic response, which creates a host of complications. For instance, fluid can accumulate in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Blood vessels open wider, causing a drop in blood pressure. If this progresses, a person can go into shock.

Who is at Risk?

Most people with a severe allergy are diagnosed as children, usually after exposure to a food allergen. You should know that it’s possible to be severely allergic to something and not realize it until you suffer a reaction.

Signs and Symptoms

It’s critical to understand the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, so you can react quickly in the event of an emergency. The most common signs of a severe anaphylactic reaction include: trouble breathing, coughing wheezing, facial swelling, swelling in the mouth and throat, tchy skin, including hives, red skin rash, nausea, weakness or dizziness, low blood pressure, rapid or irregular heart rate, abdominal pain, anxiety, confusion and slurred speech

Treatment and Prevention

We are all exposed to foods, medications, plants, animals, cosmetics, and chemicals every day about which we are unaware, so allergic reactions will continue to happen and we need to be ready to treat them. The single most powerful therapy we have for treating anaphylactic shock is epinephrine. When it’s administered in a therapeutic dose, it usually quickly alleviates the most severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is available in easy-to-use emergency auto-injectors.

If you or a loved one has been prescribed an epinephrine injector, there are a number of things you should be aware of:

  1. Instruct your family, close friends, your child’s teacher, and other people who might need to use the device on how to operate the emergency epinephrine injector.
  2. Emergency epinephrine is not a replacement for a doctor or an emergency department. If someone is suffering an anaphylactic reaction, they should immediately be given the shot of epinephrine and then be brought to the emergency department as quickly as possible for a full evaluation.
  3. Be prepared to need to administer a second injection. Even though the first injection may be effective in stopping the allergic response, it also may have only a limited period of effectiveness. Therefore, you many need to administer a second injection.
  4. Always check the expiration date on each epinephrine injector. Be certain that you’re carrying up-to-date medications.