Travelling to Asian countries with a severe food allergy is a real challenge. Exotic soups, stir-fries, the use of shellfish stock, lack of labelling, reduced awareness of the importance of allergies, geographic remoteness…the challenge can become a nightmare. But it’s possible. Here is a story that shows you how.
This is a true story. Both Jack and his mother provided signed consent to publish. They viewed the final draft. Jack is not his real name.
Jack was excited. During the consultation, he mentioned how happy he was that the school had allocated him a place in the overseas trip to South-East Asia. At 14, in his third year of high school, he couldn’t wait to go.
He’d come along to see me because his asthma was playing up and needed control. He had presented to our clinic 18 months earlier with peanut allergy. There were two episodes in previous years with moderate symptoms, and he had a large positive skin test to peanut. We introduced him to EpiPen and action plans and he and his family were set.
At this second visit we checked so-called peanut allergen component antibodies, now available in Australia. This is a blood test. The result showed a moderate elevation of antibody to Ara h2 only. This is the peanut allergen that causes more significant reactions.
What happened then? Well, let Jack tell you in his own words:
“Having been diagnosed with a peanut allergy quite late, I hadn’t found it to be too great a problem, except on some school camps when my food was modified at quite a bit less tasty than everyone else’s.
Things changed, however when it came to our year 9 trip overseas. I requested and was allocated the trip to Thailand, Laos & Cambodia. Initially there was no concern from the school but then the teachers realized my allergy may be a problem. The school warned me I may not be able to go. I was really disappointed and it diminished the excitement of the trip a bit. After a meeting with the teachers and students who were going on the trip, a great thing happened. In the meeting I asked if the other kids were worried about my allergy situation. They all said it didn’t bother them and they really wanted me to go. A few of them decided to go straight to the principal and show their support of me. A lunch time appointment was made and about 10 kids came. I felt great they had organised this meeting in support of me and were not at all worried about the anaphylactic situation.”
Wow. Doesn’t that make you sit up and take notice! Ten of his friends, boys and girls, went to the school Principal and argued their case to allow Jack to go.
The school and Jack’s parents swung into action, and prepared a two-page risk-reduction plan. This included Jack’s own safe food for uncertain situations, EpiPen training for staff and guides, and food allergy cards in the relevant languages.
The outcome? Back to Jack:
“It took a whole term for the school to draw up an extensive policy, which Dr Weiner had to sign. This was Great News – I was allowed to go!
I had a fantastic experience on my trip. No food problems at all!”
Everyone worked together here. Jack, his family, the teachers, and, most of all, his friends. We Australians pride ourselves on our mateship. We look after our own. I couldn’t think of a better example than the action taken by Jack’s friends.
Travelling overseas with severe food allergy? Here are some resources. Note: For non-North American readers, epinephrine means adrenaline.
Teen trip to Italy with food allergies: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Detailed and informative advice from AsthmaAllergiesChildren.com
Top ten tips for travellers with food allergy. Extra information from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in the USA
Travelling abroad with food allergy. Similar material from Allergy UK
Eight travel safety tips for people with food allergies. Courtesy of Canadian CAA Magazine
General anaphylaxis resources from AllergyNet Australia
Multilanguage food allergy cards Select Wisely
And a Great video from Anaphylaxis Canada: