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. Bryson broke into rashes often, and we had to spend a lot of time in air-conditioned areas.”
Lynell starts planning weeks in advance for travel with Bryson, 12; his brother Brenden, 9; and their father Garland.
She’d 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.
When they travel, the largest bags the Doyles bring are the ones packed with these 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 made the evening fireworks show too. His parents wrapped him in a light blanket to keeps bugs off (like many people with atopic dermatitis, Bryson’s skin can’t tolerate insect repellent).
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,” she 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.”
Eczema travel challenges and solutions
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.
Here are some smart solutions to common travel challenges:
Challenge: Travel stress
Travel stresses everyone out, and for people with eczema, pre-trip jitters can trigger a flare.
Solution: 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.
Challenge: Changing climates
Like Bryson Doyle, many people with eczema flare when they travel into a different environment, said Timmons.
Solution: “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.
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.
Solution: 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).
Challenge: 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.
Solution: Lynell Doyle travels with Bryson’s own pillow and sheets. If you’re allergic to dust mites, Timmons suggests taking along a fitted dust mite bed and pillow cover.
“Some hotels offer feather-free rooms in which you’re less likely to be exposed,” she said.
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. 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.
Challenge: 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.
Solution: 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.
Challenge: 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.
Solution: Ship needed products to your destination a couple weeks before leaving.
Visit FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), where you can print out a “chef card” that lists in one of 11 languages the foods you need to avoid.
Challenge: A bad flare
Solution: 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 keep in your back pocket all the eczema tools you’ve learned about,” said Timmons. “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.