Avoiding Allergic Reactions on Vacation

The family and I are traveling throughout the Oregon coast for a quick weekend getaway. As we all piled in and out of the rented minivan at various stops along the coast, it was finally time for dinner. Having carefully scouted out restaurants near the beach before we left, I felt prepared. I had found several places where I could get something to eat without being exposed to seafood. Like many people with asthma, I also have a food allergy and environmental allergies. And seafood is a big problem for me.

How food-borne allergens become air-borne

In fact, people who are allergic to seafood can have a reaction because the allergen can become airborne when it is cooked. Allergic Living says:

“According to Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, foods with proteins that are stable to cooking can get into the air during heating – and if they then get into the airways of someone who has a severe enough allergy to that food, they can lead to allergic symptoms (though not necessarily anaphylaxis)."1 For instance, allergic persons who are exquisitely sensitive to fish or shellfish can react to tiny aerosolized proteins that float in the air when seafood is being fried, steamed or boiled.”

In the past, it’s been hard for me to find a place near the sea that doesn’t serve seafood and doesn’t smell “fishy”. A family member we were visiting recommended a restaurant nearby. He said he had eaten there before and it seemed okay. My family was craving fish and chips, but the restaurant also had other food, so I was hoping I would be okay.

My family said, “Why don’t you give it the ‘sniff test’?” So, I entered the restaurant and carefully took a breath. It didn’t smell fishy at all, so I decided to give it a try. Some places smell so strong of seafood that you can smell it coming out the door, but this place didn’t smell too strong.

They gave us a booth, and we started looking at the menu. We had been there less than 5 minutes before my cheek started to tingle and feel hot, and then it started to swell. I touched my cheek because it started to feel weird. My family noticed and asked me if I was okay. I realized I wasn’t and told them that I needed to leave-- right now! I told the rest of the family to stay because I didn’t want to spoil their cravings for fish and chips.

Advocating for yourself when you go out

The only other places in the tiny tourist town that didn’t serve seafood were two Italian restaurants.  I asked the wait staff if they served seafood, and I let them know that I just left another restaurant because I was starting to have an allergic reaction. The staff said they serve shrimp, but hadn’t served any all day. They said they would make sure my food was safe.

As my daughter was looking at the menu, she said, “Uh mom – it says they use anchovies in their Caesar dressing.” I usually avoid Caesar salads for that reason - sometimes they use real anchovies in the dressing, sometimes they don’t. So, they brought the house dressing for me.

I sent a text to the rest of the family to let them know where we were, and that I was feeling better since I left the first restaurant. They showed up a few minutes later because they wanted to make sure I was okay. They must have eaten their fish and chips quickly!

Vacationing doesn't mean asthma and food allergies go away

If you have asthma and food allergies, you have to always be on guard – just in case.  Even on vacation. I had carefully checked out restaurants before we left but still ran into trouble. The places that I had checked out before (and thought would be safe for me), were only open for lunch! I missed that on the website.

It's important to let the wait staff know you have food allergies, and make sure you have your epinephrine auto-injectors. And since allergic reactions can also affect asthma, make sure you have your inhaler too!

Vacations can be fun, but be careful if you have food allergies and asthma.

Anyone else have a tough time traveling with allergies and asthma?

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