Travelling and Allergies: Travel tips from Dr Handford

Allergic reactions can develop without warning, and can cause a variety of symptoms including:

  • Skin rashes and irritation
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Wheezing and breathlessness
  • Lip and tongue swelling, and
  • Itchy, watery eyes.

Some people are aware that they have an allergy, perhaps to a particular food, animal hair, pollen, or certain medicines. However, it is possible to be allergic to ANYTHING, and even if you think you have no allergies, you could still develop one in the future.

When travelling abroad or staying in an unfamiliar environment, you may come into contact with things that your body has not been exposed to before. The risk of an allergic reaction is higher and it is worth thinking about some simple things that you can do to avoid a reaction, and to manage it if one happens.

Known allergies: Be prepared

People who know they have an allergy, or who have asthma or eczema, are termed ‘atopic’. This means that they have an increased tendency to have allergic reactions. If you think you are atopic, it is sensible to take extra care in a new environment. You should definitely take antihistamines with you on holiday if you fall into this category.

If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylactic shock, then make sure you speak to your GP before you travel. Take an epipen with you in your hand luggage and hold baggage, and ask your doctor for a note to assure the airline you must be permitted to carry this with you. Make sure you are comfortable with how to use this if needed, and what steps to take if you do have a reaction whilst away. Your GP will be able to talk you through this.

Contact allergens and skin reactions:

Skin care products, sun creams and even the sun itself can cause allergic skin reactions, which are typically very irritating (at best) or extensive and potentially harmful (at worst). If you have sensitive skin, avoid using new skin products whilst away, and take tried and tested products with you. Applying a small amount of a new product or sun cream to a 50p size patch of skin on your arm is a useful way of testing if it suits you, before slathering it all over!

Itchy rashes can make life very unpleasant, and the best way to manage is to keep cool, and avoid applying any products to the skin except moisturisers that you know suit you. Itch is usually helped by taking oral antihistamine tablets, which are available very cheaply over the counter at any chemist or supermarket. Take them for a few days to let the skin calm down fully.

If you have a small area of soreness or itch, such as an insect bite which is irritating you, you can use antihistamine cream or a weak steroid cream such as hydrocortisone 1%. Avoid using this for longer than 5 days, and do not ever use it on your face unless a Doctor has advised you to. Again, this is available from the chemist.

Food allergies:

Allergies to certain foods, such as eggs, strawberries, and tomatoes are quite common. If you know you have a reaction to a particular food, take care whilst on holiday to ask about ingredients in restaurant meals. If you have a severe reaction, for example a nut allergy, be particularly cautious with stir fried food and sauces, which may contain nut oils. Always ask, and if you can’t be certain that a food is safe, choose something else.
Make sure you carry your epipen with you when you are out and about. It is also sensible to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace with you, so that others can easily be aware of any allergies or other medical problems.
A food allergy may cause a rash, lip swelling, tongue swelling, wheeze or tummy upset. If you have any lip or tongue swelling, or shortness of breath, you MUST seek medical advice immediately. If you need to use your epipen, you must also immediately seek emergency medical help, even if you initially feel better. Allergic reactions can appear to have settled before flaring up again unpredictably.

Consider your allergy at all times; from planning to packing and when you’re away

As well as making sure you have the right ‘just in case’ medications with you, it is worth thinking about where you are travelling to. If you have multiple allergies or have had anaphylaxis in the past, it may be sensible to avoid destinations that are remote, or where it is difficult to access medical help. At the very least, make any tour guides or other travellers aware of your allergies, and what to do to help you if they need to.

You may prefer to travel on a self-catering basis rather than relying on restaurant or hotel food if you have a particularly severe reaction to some foods.

Ensure you have some antihistamine and, if appropriate, your epipen, with you on any journeys, easily accessible in your hand luggage.

Ensure frequent and thorough hand washing, especially if you are in contact with animals whilst away. Make sure that you are confident of the ingredients in prepared meals if you need to avoid certain foods.

Allergic reactions are usually mild, self-limiting, and nothing more than a nuisance. However, with some forward planning and by taking some simple medications with you, just in case, you can prevent them affecting the enjoyment of your trip. More severe reactions are very rare. Accessing medical help quickly is key – tongue or lip swelling, or wheezing, are immediate triggers to call for help so you can reverse the reaction quickly.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information for those with heart conditions and do not replace a visit to your doctor. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

Travel Insurance for Allergies

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your travel insurance covers any allergies you may have. is proud to be able to provide cover for all types of allergies including hayfever, food allergies and skin allergies.