8 Tips for Avoiding a Peanut Allergy Reaction While Flying

Avoding Peanut Allergy in Flying

A new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology―In Practice, reports that passengers on commercial aircraft all too often are underserved by airline staff who are neither trained nor prepared for dealing with passengers who have an allergy to peanuts and other types of nuts.

The study as reported in a news release by the University of Michigan is led by pediatrician Matthew Greenhawt, M.D., M.B.A., M.Sc., of the University of Michigan’s Food Allergy Center who used an online survey querying passengers about their in-flight experiences. Data collected from over 3,000 respondents showed that approximately 10% of the passengers had experienced an allergic reaction during a flight.

“We still think the risk of an in-flight reaction is small, but it’s hard to imagine a more helpless situation than having a reaction while you’re at 35,000 feet in an airplane,” says Dr. Greenhawt. “But this study identifies some things passengers can do to reduce their anxiety.”

Those things that passengers can do personally, were identified by practices used by many of the passengers who responded to the survey revealing 8 practical measures to decrease the likelihood of having an allergic reaction while onboard a plane. The 8 tips for avoiding a peanut or other type of nut allergy reaction while flying include:

Peanut Allergy Tip #1: Request accommodations ahead of time

Peanut Allergy Tip #2: Request a peanut/tree nut-free meal

Peanut Allergy Tip #3: Wipe your tray table with a commercial wipe

Peanut Allergy Tip #4: Avoid the use of airline pillows

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Peanut Allergy Tip #5: Avoid the use of airline blankets

Peanut Allergy Tip #6: Request a peanut/tree nut-free buffer zone

Peanut Allergy Tip #7: Request other passengers not to consume peanut/tree nut-containing products

Peanut Allergy Tip #8: Do not consume airline-provided food

“Flying with a peanut/tree nut allergy is equal parts frustrating and frightening for allergic passengers. These eight passenger-initiated risk-mitigating behaviors may help clinicians wishing to advise concerned patients planning to fly commercially,” says Dr. Greenhawt, adding that the majority of airlines serve snacks or meals containing nuts and that Canada is the only country that has a 3-row buffer zone on their Air Canada flights as part of their service for passengers with peanut and other nut allergies.

Furthermore, the study also revealed that the use of epinephrine during an allergic reaction onboard an airplane is underutilized by passengers and that airline crews are often unaware that a potentially serious medical incident had occurred during a flight where they could have provided assistance.

“Despite that 98 percent of passengers had a personal source of epinephrine available, epinephrine was underused to treat a reaction. Flight crews were not always readily alerted to reactions when they occurred, but interestingly, when they were notified, it was associated with a higher odds that epinephrine was used to treat the reaction,” states Dr. Greenhawt.

The authors of the paper concluded that the 8 tips gleaned from the passenger survey are associated with a lower risk of having an allergic reaction to peanuts and that further study is warranted to validate effectiveness of these passenger-initiated risk-mitigating behaviors.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “International Study of Risk-Mitigating Factors and In-Flight Allergic Reactions to Peanut and Tree Nut” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Volume 1, Issue 2, March 2013, Pages 186-194; Matthew Greenhawt, Fiona MacGillivray, Geraldine Batty, Maria Said and Christopher Weiss.