10 Tips for Traveling with a Food-Allergic Kid

by  Paul Eisenberg | May 8, 2012
Baby on plane
Baby on plane / tatyana_tomsickova/istock

Food allergies cause an emergency room visit every three minutes, according to a study in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a statistic that provokes many thoughts, especially this one: Nobody is going to take care of your family better than you, especially when you're traveling with children who have food allergies.

Even if you’re one of those parents who is pathologically prepared for food-allergy related emergencies, you still may wish to scan the following tips or pass them on to another parent who is not always prepared (I fall into this latter group, despite having two kids out of three with food allergies). Whether your next trip brings you across the country or across town, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Equip your food-allergic child with a medical ID bracelet.

In a previous post I noted that a medical ID bracelet that looks too much like jewelry and not enough like a piece of medical identification will likely diminish the effectiveness of having the bracelet, which is why I recommended bracelets along the lines of the Child's Rubber Watch Medical ID Bracelet from Hope Paige Designs. These bracelets are decorative but still prominently display the universal red medical alert ID symbol. While EMTs are trained to look for the bracelets you’ll obviously want to give them the advantage of being able to spot it easily. And, notes Shelly Fisher, CEO of Medical ID Marketplace (which operates the Hope Paige website), “the only way a bracelet can save your child’s life in an emergency is if they are actually wearing them.”

2. Brief all your child’s other caretakers about the allergies.

A vanity medical bracelet is not the end of your campaign to tell the outside world about your child’s allergies. Fisher urges your having one-on-one chats with any friends, teachers, field trip chaperones, or other caretakers about your child’s allergies, and I’d suggest these chats should naturally extend to hotel babysitters, kids club chaperones, and anyone else whose going to have direct responsibility for keeping an eye on your kids.

As part of your chat, Fisher says you should not only clue caretakers in about the types of allergies but also school them about “how to recognize an allergic reaction and what to do in case of emergency,” and to ensure those individuals know how to properly administer any needed medication “so there is no fumbling around in emergencies.”

3. Remember to actually pack your child’s allergy medicine.

If your child’s doctor has prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen), an inhaler, or any other type of medicine for your food-allergic child, you need to have it with you at all times both at home and on vacation. Seems head-slappingly obvious, but does “We’re only going out for five minutes, we don’t need the kit” have an eerie ring of familiarity to it? I will admit if you won’t that I’ve used this logic in the past, and I’ve resolved to be more diligent.

4. Pack a spare allergy kit.

TravelingMom.com blogger Renee Yarborough not only routinely does a sweep of her luggage to make sure she has the EpiPen she needs for her son, but she also brings a spare and, as she writes in her blog, she’s careful to “carry the back-up Epi-Pen in a different location at all times.”

5.  Also pack the prescriptions for your child’s allergy meds.

When Yarborough travels she says she will always “have a written prescription for an EpiPen with me at all times in the event that both get ruined,” or lost or stolen.

6. Consider packing the medicine on your kid.

One way to let the outside world know about your child’s food allergy and remember to pack the medicine is to oufit your child in a hoodie or jacket from Olli Lolli. These garments have a built-in pocket for holding an EpiPen, inhaler, or other medication and the pocket is also clearly labeled on the outside. The labeling will not only assist in alerting outsiders to the allergy and the presence of the medicine, but the flashy pocket can also act as an easy reminder to parents and other caretakers to pat the pocket down before going anywhere to make sure the medicine is actually in there.

7. Pack snacks.

Having a child who recently developed a peanut allergy, I’m more aware than ever of how frustratingly difficult it is to find portable snacks that are not somehow made with or manufactured near peanuts. Pack natural snacks, or if you still give your kids candy “safe alternatives like Oreos and Skittles that are all peanut free,” Fisher says.

8. Remember the oil.

If you have kids with both peanut and shellfish allergies and are traveling to restaurants with French-fry laden kids menus (aka most restaurants in America), you need your server to tell you with certainty that the kitchen does not use peanut oil in their friers or use the same oil they use for fries to also prepare shrimp or other shellfish. Best solution, which my non-food allergy child has come to accept, may be to not let anyone at the table order French fries, just to be safe, and fair to everyone.

9. See how restaurants you’re visiting are rated for allergy awareness.

At AllergyEats.com, founded by a father of three kids with food allergies, Yarborough explains that you “simply check off your allergies, type in the town you will be or are in, select your search radius, and you get a list of restaurants that are patron rated for allergies, staff knowledge, and allergy accommodations.”

10. Use the EpiPen app.

With the goal of helping to “educate you or a caregiver in the event of an allergic emergency," EpiPen has come out with the MyEpiPenApp, which provides visual walk-throughs of how to use the medicine injector and the ability for you to create and share an allergy profile of your child that helpfully lists “allergens to avoid and symptoms that may indicate an allergic emergency.”

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