While most food allergy reactions are from ingesting food, breathing in particles of food protein in the air can also cause allergic symptoms. Just like you breathe in pollen and animal dander which can cause allergic symptoms; itchy watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, breathing in particles of food protein in the air can cause similar symptoms. Fortunately, airborne food allergy symptoms are usually mild and rarely result in anaphylaxis.
To trigger a reaction to food in the air, the food protein has to be disturbed in order to get aerosolized. Simply being around food sitting out undisturbed (e.g., a peanut butter sandwich, a glass of milk, or a boiled egg on a plate) will NOT cause a reaction.
Here are some examples of methods that can aerosolize food particles:
Similar to symptoms people can have during their allergy season from pollen or around pets, which are generally mild and are unlikely to cause anaphylaxis:
According to AAAAI ask the expert, “flying with a peanut allergy and being exposed to potential sources of peanut in the cabin is not likely to represent an increased risk to the peanut allergic flier. There is no evidence to support peanut vapor as a cause of reactions or that peanut dust itself circulates and causes reactions.
There is evidence that common surfaces on an airplane may have residual peanut contamination, but there is also evidence that this can be readily cleaned with commercial agents that passengers can bring aboard themselves, and that doing such cleaning has been noted to reduce the risk of reporting an in-flight reaction.”
Although exposure to airborne food allergens does not typically result in anaphylaxis, exposure can trigger symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny, cough, congestion or difficulty breathing. And the more severe the allergy, the greater risk there is of a reaction. So how can you protect yourself?