How to Travel Without Triggering An Eczema Flare


By Emily Delzell

Published On: Jun 10, 2019

Last Updated On: May 29, 2024

There are few places hotter than Birmingham, Alabama in July, as Bryson Doyle and his family found out when they traveled to the Deep South for a family reunion from their milder home climate in Pontiac, Michigan.   

“Bryson’s atopic dermatitis can be triggered by almost anything, but heat is a real big trigger,” said his mother, Lynell Doyle.

“Birmingham is the hottest place I’ve ever been in my life,” Lynell said. “Bryson broke into rashes often, and we had to spend a lot of time in air-conditioned areas.”

Planning ahead

Lynell prepped well for the sizzling Alabama climate by bringing a stash of components for ice compresses, chilled towels, as well as Bryson’s moisturizers, medications and EpiPens.

She typically plans weeks in advance for travel with Bryson, 12; his brother Brenden, 9; and their father Garland. When they travel, the largest bags the Doyles bring are the ones packed with their eczema necessities, plus food and beverages they know won’t result in an allergic reaction.

Although the Birmingham heat along with its bugs presented more of a challenge than Lynell anticipated, the Doyles adapted and enjoyed reconnecting with extended family.

“There was a picnic, and we were able to attend — we just didn’t stay as long as everybody else,” she said.

Bryson even made the evening fireworks show. His parents wrapped him in a light blanket to keep bugs off (like many people with atopic dermatitis, Bryson’s skin can’t tolerate insect repellent).

The best defense against eczema flares when traveling is anticipating them and having the right tools at the ready to combat them, said Karol Timmons, a pediatric nurse practitioner and clinical coordinator in the division of allergy and immunology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Being flexible

The Doyle family’s proactive, flexible approach is the way to go when it comes to travel, said Jennifer Moyer Darr, a licensed clinical social worker in the division of pediatric behavioral health at National Jewish Health in Denver.

“Eczema and atopic dermatitis don’t have to prevent adventure,” Moyer Darr said. “You may have to go about it a little differently than your neighbors, but you can still go, and you can still enjoy it.”

Overcoming common eczema travel challenges 

The Doyles are a great example of planning ahead for eczema triggers and being flexible with plans and expectations. To help you prep for your travel plans, here are some smart solutions to other common travel challenges for people with eczema.

Stress of travel

Travel stresses everyone out, and for people with eczema, pre-trip jitters can trigger a flare.

If stress if a factor, you can step up your skin care regimen a few days before you leave, whether that means two baths a day to maximize moisturization or extra vigilance in applying topical steroids to hot spots, said Darr.

“If you’re teetering on the edge of a flare, the odds are good that travel will knock you over. With extra care, you might still experience issues, but they’ll be less likely to ruin your trip,” she said.

Changing climates

Like Bryson Doyle, many people with eczema flare when they travel into a different environment.

“Understand what kind of climate triggers skin irritation for you and think about what you’ll be doing so you can bring everything you might need,” Timmons said. She advises packing about twice as much medication and moisturizer as you think you’ll need.

Air travel

Recirculated air and close quarters mean you’re easily exposed to other travelers’ illnesses. And, if you a check a bag, it may not arrive at your destination when you do.

When you get on the plane, wipe down your seat, arm rests and other surfaces with antibacterial wipes. Pack a carry-on with a two-day supply of medications, moisturizers, inhalers and EpiPens.

Keep medications in their original containers and bring a letter from your physician if you want to pre-board (a good idea to get time to settle in and relax) or need to carry on liquid medications that exceed the normal limits (3.4 ounces).

Contact allergies

You can encounter everything from dusty rugs and pet dander in a friend’s home to feather pillows and reaction-causing cleaning products in hotels to dust mites almost anywhere.

If you’re allergic to dust mites, Timmons suggests taking along a fitted dust mite bed and pillow cover. You can also find a hotel that offers feather-free rooms to help lower your risk of being exposed to allergens.

Call hotels in advance and request accommodations that will lower your risk of a flare.  “Ask them to use unscented cleaning products or to let you clean the room with your own products, for example,” Timmons said.

“Look for hotels with bathtubs for soaking in moisture and rentals with hardwood floors,” she said. “If you’re staying with a friend or relative, discuss your needs well before you go to give your hosts time to prepare.”

Use a grocery delivery service like Instacart to supply bleach for baths or the cleaning and laundry products you use at home.

Food allergies

It’s easy to end up hungry with few safe food options when you’re stuck in an airport terminal or driving the last stretch of a long road trip.

Include a stash of your go-to snacks in your carry-on or easily accessible bag. Call restaurants in advance and ask if they can accommodate your or your child’s food restrictions.

International travel

When you’re traveling in the United States, you can usually find your brand of moisturizer or laundry detergent. Overseas, all bets are off. It may also be hard to tell if menu items contain ingredients you or your child is allergic to.

If you’re worried about having your special products from home, ship needed products to your destination a couple weeks before leaving. In addition, visit FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), where you can print out a “food allergy chef card” that lists in one of 11 languages the foods you need to avoid.

A bad flare

A bad flare in the middle of a trip can derail your plans. And it’s worse if you can’t easily get access to any necessary medications to help you through it.

If you think a bad flare is likely, ask your healthcare provider to write a prescription so you’ll be able to get the medication you need quickly. Also, don’t forget about all the other eczema management tools you’ve learned about. “For example, you may not have needed to do wet wraps in years, but when you’re on vacation and have a bad flare, it might save your trip,” Timmons said.

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