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HEALTHY TRAVELER

Allergy Miseries Nothing to Sneeze At

September 17, 2000|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Autumn vacations can offer smaller crowds, shorter lines, cooler weather. But travelers who have hay fever and other environmental allergies need to choose their destinations wisely. Before booking, they might consider consulting an allergist. Internet sites and telephone information lines also can provide current information on what allergens are prevalent around the country and, in some cases, overseas.

Whether a destination will spell relief or misery for allergic travelers depends on the time of year, the allergy and its severity, allergists say. For people sensitive to outdoor pollen, Hawaii and other tropical destinations are good choices, says Dr. Robert Eitches, an allergist on staff at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, because the pollen of tropical flowers usually is too heavy to be airborne for long.

A cruise can be another good choice, although the ship might present a different problem: mold.

Dr. Linda Ford, an allergist in Omaha and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, says that cabin selection can help. "The higher you go, the fewer mold spores," she says.

People who are sensitive to mold spores should definitely avoid fall vacations in the Southeastern states, Ford adds, because of high concentrations of mold.

Before booking a trip, travelers can learn about typical pollen levels at the destination.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, for instance, offers a free brochure, "These Plants Cause Allergies," which depicts grass, tree, weed and ragweed pollen seasons nationwide. Tree pollen season, for instance, runs from January to June in the lower third of the country; from February to June in the middle half of the country, plus Oregon and Washington; and from March to June in Northern states. For a copy of the booklet, telephone toll-free (877) 9-ACHOOO. Operators on that line, weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Standard time, also give out information on pollen and mold spore levels, or you can check the Web site of the National Allergy Bureau, a part of the academy, at http://www.aaaai.org/nab.

Another source is the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America toll-free line, (800) 7-ASTHMA, which has operators on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Standard time.

Some overseas destinations have pollen information bureaus. Travelers headed to England, for instance, can e-mail for data by logging onto the U.K. Pollen Monitoring Network, http://pollenuk.worc.ac.uk/aero/abpollenuk.html.

Besides knowing what to expect at their destination, travelers should be prepared for exposure to allergens en route, such as pets in the plane cabin, Eitches says. When booking a flight, alert the reservations agent that you are sensitive to animal dander, the airlines advise. Then remind the gate agent upon check-in. There is no guarantee you won't end up next to a pet in the cabin, but a spokeswoman for one airline says every effort is made to separate sensitive passengers from pets.

For travelers staying in private homes, a big issue is animal allergies from house pets. Eitches suggests asking your host to keep the animals out of the rooms you will be sleeping in, ideally for two or three weeks before arrival, to cut down on animal dander.

Work out a game plan with your allergist too. It's important to bring along all the medications you take for allergy or asthma. And check with your allergist to see if you might need others. Suppose a traveler with hay fever is going to New York or Massachusetts in the fall. Eitches would probably send her off with a cortisone nasal spray, perhaps prescribing a higher dose than taken at home. He might suggest the traveler also take an antihistamine with a decongestant while flying and take an antibiotic in case a sinus infection sets in.

If you are going abroad, Eitches adds, check if allergy medications that require a prescription here are available over the counter there, which often is the case.

Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kdoheny@compuserve.com.

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