Allergies and Vacations: Making Them Compatible

Hugh Windom

I will always remember my miserable Memorial Day vacation a few years ago at my in-laws in western New York. The problem could not be blamed on my in-laws, but rather the simultaneous arrival of the grass pollen season. Being allergic mostly to year round allergens such as molds and dust mites in Florida, I had not anticipated reacting to high levels of seasonal pollens. I spent the majority of the holiday weekend on a couch with ice-packs on my swollen eyes and Kleenex under my nose. I am now passing on the lesson I learned be aware of your allergies, know the seasonal and geographic nature of pollen and take your allergy medicines with you on all vacations.

yellowpollenplantBe Aware of Your Allergies

Only when you are armed with the knowledge of what you are allergic to can you take steps to prevent these reactions through allergy avoidance. Too often in medicine our focus is selecting the right medication or trying new drugs, rather than taking the time to uncover the cause of the problem. Most would agree that getting at the root of the problem is preferable to treating the end result of allergy symptoms.

Allergy skin testing is simple and fast, even for children. Traditional skin tests are the most reliable and cost effective means to evaluate allergy sensitivities despite advertisements to the contrary (beware of who makes these claims, never a board certified allergist!). The earlier you discover what you are allergic to the sooner appropriate steps can be taken to minimize symptoms, complications and costs of drugs to fix the problems. Realizing that you are allergic to cats will not only help explain why you feel so poorly when visiting Aunt Lucy and her five cats, but also be useful information in managing your day to day allergies.

Know Seasonal and Geographic Pollen Variations

Once you are aware of your allergy sensitivities, selecting vacation places and times to travel can help avoid an allergy-ridden trip. What we are talking about here is outdoor pollen, since the major indoor allergen, dust mites, are basically ubiquitous. The timing of pollen seasons and the types of pollens varies quite a bit from place to place within the United States, not to mention overseas. Grass pollen, for example, is airborne for 6-8 weeks in the Northeast, peaking around Memorial Day, while here in Florida grass pollen levels are lower but are present from April through October.

Information on outdoor allergen levels around the country can be obtained from your allergist or by calling the National Allergy Bureau at 800-9-POLLEN. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website,, can also be useful.

Take All Allergy Medications with You

Allergies don't always just go awayThe biggest mistake in treating allergies is to think your problems are over once you have felt good for a few good days. Allergies typically are long lasting, especially in adults. Depending on the type of medicine you are taking some are effective when taken as needed, whereas others only work if used on a regular basis. Antihistamines, for example, will usually work within an hour upon demand, but are more successful when started prior to allergy exposure (that is, before going to Aunt Lucy's house). The steroid nasal sprays for hay fever, on the other hand, need to be taken regularly and will often take 2-3 days to become effective.

Since most allergy medication is safe and well tolerated, simple prophylactic use before all vacations may be a wise decision. If you know you will be traveling to an area with little chance of running into your allergic triggers, than taking them along with you to use if needed may be acceptable. Whatever you do, do not leave them at home. Being forced to experiment with over-the-counter drugs while trying to enjoy a much needed vacation can be most frustrating.

Heeding these three pieces of advice should go along away to insuring a symptom-free vacation for you and your family. Bon voyage!

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