Print Print this Page

Don't Go Nuts Flying with Nut Allergies

A lot of my patients who have nut allergies are concerned whether they will have a reaction to their allergy when flying.

As reported in an article in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, a clinician and researcher at the University of Michigan, was the lead author of a study in precautions international passengers have taken against nut allergies.

He said he “and his colleagues asked peanut and tree nut allergy suffers from 11 countries, only some of whom had in-flight reactions, what precautions they routinely took when they flew. The most common strategies: requesting a buffer zone around the allergy-affected passengers in which peanuts or tree nuts would not be served; requesting a general announcement that passengers refrain from eating peanut or tree nut-containing food; and ordering a peanut or tree nut-free meal. Other safety measures included wiping their tray tables, bring their own food and avoiding use of airline pillows and blankets. Another security measure included bring their own epinephrine.”

Said the New York Times of the study, “just 1 in 10 passengers who responded to the questionnaire reported having had an allergic reaction on an airplane within the previous five years. Some who had reactions reported taking precautions, while others who made no such efforts reported being fine”

The Times also reported that “federal legislation prevents regulation of in-flight nut restrictions until a scientific study shows that the dust circulates in the air and also triggers reactions in those with allergies”, which this study did not conclude. In fact, I read there were three other flight studies of nut allergy at risk passengers–but concentrated on domestic flights– which were also inconclusive.

Until the airlines ban peanuts and tree nuts from their flights, I would advise my patients to take prudent allergy precautions which airline travelers took in this latest study.