By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Cats in the Cabin
MSNBC’s website had a recent letter about air travel precautions if you are allergic to cats. The answer was incredibly thorough, pointing out such details that American Airlines has a peanut-free policy but will allow up to seven pets to travel in the cabin. The article recommends calling your airline, discussing their policies ahead of time, inquiring whether any pets have been booked—at a hefty fee to the owners—to ride in the cabin, and ask to be seated as far away as possible.
As we have written previously, the highly allergenic dander of cats is very sticky and a problem for, say, small school children whose coats may be hung touching those of kids who have cats at home, so the allergen will follow them home. The same thing can happen when a passenger’s coat ends up in the overhead bin of an airliner. And of course, even though dander may be sticky, some of it will circulate in recycled air of the cabin.
If you have a really bad cat allergy and one of the little beasts is scheduled to fly with you, we recommend the advance use of a medication call cromolyn sodium:
“Cromolyn sodium is … a perfect example of a niche medicine that can be used tactically for certain situations. One of the things that make it incredibly useful as a niche medicine is that it is incredibly safe and side effect–free. The other is that it works to stave off allergic reactions when taken before and even during high exposure to allergens. For example, if your child is allergic to cats and you’re going to visit Aunt Rachel with her beloved calico cat Rambo for the weekend, your child might start puffing cromolyn sodium on Friday.”
Unfortunately, this is a cumbersome way to deal with this problem, and as I have also noted before, a convenient inhalable form of cromolyn sodium is no longer on the market because it isn’t profitable enough.
Finally, what you can do is change your traveling clothes at the first available opportunity if they have come in contact with cat allergen, wrap them in plastic, and launder them quickly.
Another story that caught our eye was about a Frenchman on a flight from Paris to San Francisco who knew he was allergic to cashews but somehow thought it wouldn’t hurt to eat some almonds. Fortunately, Dr. Schuman Tam, a Bay Area allergist, responded to the call for a doctor and treated the Frenchman for the rest of the flight with epinephrine from the plane’s emergency kit.
First of all, kudos to the hero allergist (there’s a phrase you don’t hear very often). But second, what is wrong with allergy education in France that someone who’s allergic to cashews doesn’t worry about almonds? What’s the French for “tree nuts”? This gives us even more reason to promote the concept of component testing. It’s not the food you are allergic to, it’s certain proteins that might turn up in very different foods because, as I have written previously, “nature doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel either.”