The ideal vacation spots for children (and adults) with asthma and other respiratory allergies are the North and South Poles, ships anchored in mid-ocean, and atop the higher peaks of the Himalayas – destinations hardly realistic for families. These are the only places where air is still relatively free of industrial pollutants, mites, molds, trees, grasses and other substances that make kids cough, sneeze and wheeze.
But no need to stay home, either. Tons of information is readily available to help your family travel comfortably virtually everywhere, even if the allergies accompany you.
1. Plan trips to minimize exposure to allergens. Consider climate, weather, altitude, air pollution, animal exposure and vegetation, for example. Lots of maps and charts containing relevant information are available (see below). If vegetation is a concern, seashores, cruises and desert areas are generally better destinations than rural national parks or lush tropical islands. Air-conditioned accommodations are preferable to camping. Damp climates often increase exposure to mites and airborne molds. Most cities in developing countries have poor air quality. Asthmatics generally do well at higher altitudes even though the air contains less oxygen. For asthmatics, medication may need adjusting for strenuous activities and scuba diving is often contraindicated.
2. See an allergist if your child has troublesome symptoms. Allergists can usually identify the allergen(s) triggering the symptoms, suggest preventive measures, outline treatment, and possibly provide names of colleagues at your destination.
3. Review your child’s medications. Are any outdated? Do you have sufficient amounts? Will they be at hand at all times? Are you familiar with rules about carrying liquids, medications, nebulizers, and syringes/needles through airport security? Do you know how and where to store items? (Some substances lose potency when left in parked cars in extreme temperatures.) Is your nebulizer operative in cars, in flight, with overseas electricity? Do you know the names of your medications and related paraphernalia in other languages?
4. Are there medical facilities at your destination? Facilities tend to be reasonably good on cruise ships, problematic in developing countries, nonexistent on some smaller Caribbean islands, and hours away in some of the larger National Parks. Make sure to carry the telephone numbers of your children’s health care providers back home. Call them first should a problem arise. Check that your phone is operable where you are going.
5. Rid cars of allergens. Before entering the car, let the air conditioner or heater run for at least ten minutes with the windows open. This helps remove mites, molds, and other allergens found in carpeting, upholstery and ventilation systems. Pollution and pollen can also be minimized by driving early in the day or in late evening, and keeping windows closed and air conditioning on. New car odors can worsen symptoms for some allergy sufferers.
6. Have medications available during air travel. Chances are you won’t need them. Pollen, mites and mold counts are usually lower in aircraft cabins than in most homes and schools. However, increasingly, passengers have service dogs aboard. Also, some passengers bring pet dander on their clothing or wear strong perfumes, for example. Planes are generally cleaned at night; the air may be cleaner on early morning flights. Asthmatics are no more likely to have problems in flight than at other times. (Occasionally, older children hyperventilate, i.e., have rapid and deep breathing, usually due to anxiety. This is often misdiagnosed as asthma.)
7. At hotels, ask for “allergy-free” rooms. Such rooms prohibit pets and guests who smoke. The rooms are cleaned with substances that leave no irritating fumes and minimize allergens in carpets, drapes and beds. (Upscale hotels are most likely to do sophisticated cleaning.) There tend to be fewer molds in sunny, dry accommodations away from swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), beaches and wooded areas. Don’t place clothes of children allergic to molds in closets and drawers. Run air conditioners and keep windows closed. Consider bringing your own bed linens to reduce exposure to mites.
8. Visiting family and friends. Pet-related allergens remain in rooms for weeks after the pet is removed. Routine cleaning is insufficient for removing allergens. Visits during the holiday season can be problematic. Sources of allergens include mites and molds on holiday decorations and from wood-burning fireplaces and wet leaves. Ask hosts if they have an air purifier or bring one with you.
9. Choose summer camps equipped to treat allergies. Does the camp have a nurse or doctor on the premises? Are backup medical facilities easily reachable? For sleep-away camps, are cabins located amidst vegetation? Are the cabins cleaned thoroughly and aired-out before children arrive?
10. Additional resources:
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: http://www.aafa.org/page/traveling-with-asthma-allergies.aspx
National Allergy Map: https://www.pollen.com/
Weather.com Allergy Tracker: (Enter the zip code for the desired destination.)
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/allergies,-asthma-and-winter-holidays
Allergy and Asthma Network: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-06-27/how-to-travel-with-asthma-and-allergies