Having an Allergic Reaction Over the Pacific

Experiencing an allergic reaction on the plane–

I like new experiences when I travel, but I’ve never quite meant this.

allergic reaction in flight

On a flight from Hawaii to the mainland, I started feeling a little strange.  It felt almost like there was a buzzing at the back of my throat.

Suddenly, I realized I had to throw up even though I wasn’t nauseous at all.  I jumped up to get to the bathroom and the woman in the first row hopped up in front of me and went into the bathroom.

Not knowing what else to do, I casually leaned over, grabbed the air sick bag out of another passenger’s seat back pocket, stepped by the plane door, and did my business.

I’m pretty sure (given how calm I was) the flight attendant assumed I was pregnant.

She helpfully poured me a ginger ale while I was in the lav and bought me some bland food to my seat.

Soon, I started feeling some tightness in my throat.  I felt like I couldn’t quite breathe in all the way, but I was still breathing.  And my skin suddenly felt on-fire hot.

I tried breathing more slowly, but as I sat, it felt harder and harder to breathe.  Eventually, I could hear breaths catching in the back of my throat.

As everyone should shouldn’t do, I took my medical advice from an episode of House I vaguely remembered.

If it were anaphylaxis, it would have happened pretty quickly.  Or at least so I remembered from TV.

I figured if I got really bad, I could run into the aisle waving my arms wildly and hope there’s a doctor on board.  I was afraid if I mentioned something was wrong, it would needlessly cause a flight emergency too.

When I landed, I sought medical attention.

What Happened After

I was grounded until they could figure out what happened.  Sometimes, you’ll have a less serious reaction the first time and have a life-threatening allergic reaction the next time.

I was planning on taking some international trips in the next two weeks, but doctor advised I cancel, let my reaction go down (I was completely swollen with hives at this point), and then get tested for allergies.

Unfortunately, these were paid trips and not award trips, but that’s a small price to pay to make sure you don’t collapse while over the ocean.

So I popped anti-histamines until I looked like my usual self again, waited for everything to get out of my system and got tested.

The Culprit


Apples.  Apples.

Out of all the exotic things I could have had in Hawaii, I ended up being allergic to apples.  (Along with basically every tree and flower on earth).

I can’t remember the last time I had apples.  I never really liked them because whenever I bit one, it seemed so acidic, it left a burning feeling in my throat.


But I’m not epi-pen allergic to apples.  I can get a tightening of the air passages, skin reactions, and the like, but it won’t happen so fast or so severely that I would need immediately medical attention.

My doctor believes that after being around so many flowers, the apple was the last straw for my body.

Now I travel with a copious supply of anti-histamines in my bag, as well as a rescue inhaler.  The inhaler helped so much when I was recovering from the initial allergic reaction.

But apples?  Seriously?  Apples?!  

So I probably didn’t need to cancel my travel because it wasn’t that severe.  But it also wouldn’t have been fun traveling while recovering.

But a small confession.  I did take a trip to Florida while all this was going on as a “replacement” trip.  I figured it was short enough and I didn’t eat before either of my flights.  And I survived.

Have you ever had a scary experience in-flight or leaned about a medical issue while traveling?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. AlohaDaveKennedy

    Have allergies and asthma and travel extensively. Suggest that you take several antihistamines and place them in mini zip lock baggies for placement in purse, jacket pockets, suit cases and carry on bags. Take two rescue inhalers along in purse and carry on. Allergic reactions are not predictable and can vary greatly in manifestation. For you, that apple allergen (protein) can make a nasty surprise hidden in a cookie, a sauce, or an alcoholic drink. The worse case of tree allergy I ever saw was in a kid who jumped in a swimming pool during oak pollen season and turned red as a lobster in minutes from exposure to the pollen hidden on the surface of the water and required hospitalization. Try taking antihistamines before you fly as a precaution, but test them before for any side effects if you will be drinking alcohol or driving. Not a doctor by any means, but I am an old Lifeguard, Divemaster, High Adventure Scout Leader and First Responder.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      Wow, thanks for the advice! I have a doctors appointment tomorrow, so I’ll bring this all up again as a precaution.

  2. It can be really scary! I travel quite a bit and have extensive allergies,; some severe and some mild. A have a major allergy to several types of nuts so I’m constantly covering my nose and mouth when passengers eat them near me or close enough to inhale the scent. I wish they stopped serving nuts on planes but alas, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s favorite airline snack on the count of my allergies.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      Do you have any of those particle masks, and would that help? I have them for in the house if I’m going through old stuff because the dust bothers me so much. Well, at least, my doctor tells me to use them (but I don’t usually, to negative consequences).

  3. The apple put you over the edge. Sorry to hear. Are you being desensitized for any of the allergies?


    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      Not yet, it’s still new. I have some follow-up appointments coming up. She also had me get some high-powered pollen filters for the house, just so I don’t have other allergens getting to me too.

  4. For years I traveled with an Epi-pen and had to use it on several occasions, each while I was far from home. Numerous tests and elimination diets pinpointed no one cause of the severe allergic reactions (facial edema, swelling of the tongue, closing of the throat, etc.) but when Zyrtec came on the market my doctor prescribed it. I took one per day for more than 60 days, then just carried them with me. I never again had an instance where I needed the steroid injection. When Zyrtec went over-the-counter they became easier to get, then the generic version came out at a lower cost. It’s worked like a charm ever since and for a friend and neighbor who suffered badly from airborne allergies. In my case, a different environment, the stress of frequent, distant travel and exposure to foods prepared with who-knows-what ingredients could have resulted in heightened sensitivity to almost anything I was told. So, while the cause proved elusive, the treatment was a success.

  5. I had a similar experience flying Emirates First Class, except, I was on my way overseas. I like you was ultimately tested, however, spent nearly 2 weeks overseas on pins and needles, worried about trying everything between Pad Thai to unique looking things at the breakfast buffet. I know travel with an epi-pen out of an abundance of caution. I found that I had a high allergy to filbert/hazelnuts. Its amazing how many interesting sounding dishes have something that you may be allergic too, once you learn of an allergy.

    Glad you’re ok!

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