Feature Archive

An Allergy-Free Vacation: It's Possible With Planning

Beaches and mountains are the best bet for allergy sufferers, experts say.

By Mark Moran
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

A vacationer in Puerto Rico is bitten by mosquitoes, and applies ointment from a local aloe vera plant to stop the itching. Unaware she is allergic to the substance, she applies it again shortly before returning home. By the time she arrives at the airport in the U.S., she has a bright red rash as a souvenir of her holiday.

"We treated her as if she had poison ivy," recalls allergy specialist Ira Finegold, MD. "Her skin was red and raised on her face, arms, and body, exactly in the pattern where she rubbed the aloe."

Finegold, who is chief of allergy at Roosevelt-St. Luke's Medical Center in New York, says the case illustrates how allergies can make a vacation memorable for all the wrong reasons. And it illustrates the cardinal rule of having an allergy-free vacation: know what you're allergic to, and know whether those allergens are going to be waiting for you at your travel destination.

"Allergic individuals are at risk if they don't realize what their allergic exposure is going to be," Finegold says. "This can take the form of mild sniffling and sneezing from featherbeds in Switzerland, or severe or fatal reactions to a food allergy in an enclosed environment."

"It's important to know what you are in for," agrees Barbara Levine, PhD, co-director of human nutrition at Rockefeller University and associate professor of medicine at Cornell Medical College in New York. "Allergens differ somewhat in different parts of the country. You can find out the climate and specific allergens wherever you are going ahead of time."