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Airborne Attacks: Peanut Allergies a Concern for Air Travelers

Airborne Attacks: Peanut Allergies a Concern for Air Travelers

in Overall Health by
Airborne Attacks: Peanut Allergies a Concern for Air Travelers
By: Herb NeufeldCC BY 2.0

Part of the “Big 8” when it comes to food allergies, approximately one percent of the U.S. population suffers from a peanut allergy. If this number seems low, that’s probably because it doesn’t accurately account for all of the individuals with undiagnosed food allergies. However, in recent years, the understanding of allergies has improved and the number of kids with undiagnosed issues has slowly begun to decrease. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of reported food allergies increased by 18 percent for children under the age of 18.

While many people will outgrow allergies they suffer from as children, less than 21 percent of individuals with a peanut allergy will ever outgrow the condition. Considering the prevalence of peanuts, this can continue to present dietary issues for millions well into their adulthood. While taking precautions to avoid nuts and nut based products can go along way to preventing any kind of allergic reaction, the findings of a recent study have suggested that individuals with nut allergies need to take special care to avoid peanut allergy reactions when on a airplane.

Airborne Allergies

Ask most frequent travelers what comes to mind when they think of air travel, and eventually you’ll probably hear about the token bag of nuts most airlines still offer to passengers. While these small packets of tree nuts and peanuts, or prepackaged meals that contain nut-based ingredients, might help to briefly hold back mid-air hunger pangs, they can also cause serious allergic reactions in fellow passengers.

A recent online survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Food Allergy Center that polled over 3,200 passengers found 349 individuals had suffered an in-flight allergic reaction. While the odds of suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts on an airplane might seem remote if you decline to eat your courtesy bag of nuts, this ratio actually accounts for slightly over 10 percent of those surveyed. However, you don’t have to eat peanuts on an airplane to become exposed to the oils from the nuts.

Considering how many people might have sat in your seat already that day, especially if on a red eye flight, you might have a greater chance of becoming exposed to peanut oil in your seat on an airplane than at home in the kitchen.

Appropriate Precautions

Researchers were able to determine that passengers who took certain precautions were better able to protect themselves from a suffering an allergic reactions while flying. These precautions included:

  • Requesting an allergy-related alternative when offered a nut based snack
  • Requesting a meal without tree nuts/peanuts
  • Wiping down their table tray with a sanitizing napkin prior to use
  • Avoiding the use of airline provided blankets and pillows
  • Requesting seating in a nut-free buffer zone
  • Politely requesting that other passengers refrain from eating their nut based products while seated next to them
  • Not eating any airline provided food

While taking such steps to avoid having a nut-based allergic reaction on an airplane might seem extreme, consider the stress and anxiety that having an attack 35,000 feet above the ground might cause.

Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Kurt Tingey, a Vancouver, Washington dentist.

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