How to Avoid Anaphylactic Shock with Eczema
Every year, I make it a priority to visit a new country. I love traveling and exploring new territories because it gives me a newfound level of awareness about who I am, who others are, and more.
Trip to Cuba
This past summer, I decided to visit Cuba with one of my best friends, Danae. We traveled to the celebrated city of Havana, learned about Cuba’s history at the Museum of Revolution and had a famous mojito at La Floridita. We also traveled 3 hours away to the suburban area of Trinidad, where we rode horses to waterfalls, ate the best mangos ever, and laid out in the sun on one of the most beautiful beaches of Cuba, Playa Acon.
An unexpected surprise
As expected, I got the chance to experience new culture, people, food, and beaches! Unexpectedly, however, I also experienced my first extreme allergic reaction while traveling abroad.
Hungry for pizza
It was the last full day in Cuba before leaving. We were in Havana and shopping for souvenirs to bring back home for our friends and family. I was so hungry and wanted to try their pizzas as everywhere we went, we saw Cubans eating pizza. We went to a restaurant that was recommended by locals and ordered a large pizza with ham and sausage for both Danae and I. I couldn’t wait to fill up my tummy with goodness!
An allergic reaction
After the third bite of excitingly eating my pizza, the inside of my mouth began to tingle. In a matter of seconds, my lips, tongue, gums, and back of my throat began to insanely itch. I was way too familiar with this sensation. I thought, “Uh oh, I am having an allergic reaction.” Right away I stopped eating the pizza and informed my best friend of what was happening. I could see the fear in her face and hear the worry in her voice. “What do you want to do?” she asked.
Carrying on, as usual
This was the first time I got an allergic reaction away from home. Whatever I decided on, I knew I had to act on quickly before my mind escalated into a panic. As my lips began to swell, I responded, “Don’t worry. I’m fine. I will keep myself calm.” We spoke to the restaurant about the incident and they recommended I go to urgent care. I politely refused and said, “No, it’s not that serious.” I grabbed my cup of ice to distract me from my itchy mouth and set the intention that we would continue our trip as normal.
An attempt to stop the allergic reaction
About 30 minutes later, my stomach began to hurt. I calmly and nonchalantly convinced my friend to head back to our Airbnb so I can force myself to throw up whatever was in my stomach and again, continue our trip as planned. When we got to our place, I forced myself to throw up in hopes that it would make me feel better. Instead, it did the quite opposite.
I ended up putting my body through an anaphylactic shock. Google defines this as “an extreme and often life-threatening allergic reaction to an antigen to which the body has become hypersensitive.” In just a short few minutes, my throat began to close up, body was covered in large bumps, eyes were blood-shot, and my skin was on FIRE.
“Stay calm,” I kept repeating to myself in my head. I turned to my best friend and said, “I’m not going to make it to the hospital. Get me someone or something to take now.” As she rushed to get help, I continued to tell myself, “Stay calm.” I’m pretty sure I also said, “There’s no way I’m going to die from an allergic reaction…in Cuba…and away from home.” I spent the next 2 hours in a small bathroom, releasing all that my body was rejecting. The following 5 hours were spent in bed, going in and out of hot flashes.
Although this was one of the scariest times of my life and a true wake up call indeed, I gained a few lessons when it comes to traveling with eczema and allergies.
Invest in an EpiPen
An EpiPen is an injection that contains epinephrine – a chemical that opens airways in the lungs, which can reverse wheezing, severe skin itching, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction in cases of an emergency.
The last time I carried an EpiPen with me was over 15 years ago. I always used to tell myself that I will never need it. This was a moment when I wish I had it. Invest in one.
Communicate your allergies
Fortunately, I was able to communicate to my friend what was happening to my body at any given moment. But if matters had gotten worse, I did not have a backup plan.
If you are traveling with a partner, communicate with that person what you are allergic to, where you keep your medications, and how they can support you in case of an emergency. If you are traveling alone, be sure to carry this information in the form of documentation wherever you go. In a dire situation, where you are unable to communicate effectively, you can hand someone a document with all of the necessary information.
Know where to go in case of an emergency
Although I didn’t end up going to a hospital, an idea of where the local hospitals were located would have supported me. Wherever you travel, get a clear understanding of nearby hospitals and doctors. Write down the addresses and phone numbers of these locations, add it to your document, and carry it with you wherever you go.
There is no doubt in my mind that if I would have panicked, the situation would have been worse. Staying positive and remaining calm supported me in not escalating the situation.
In the past 2 years, I have built what’s known as a "Healing Mindset". It’s where I practice being intimate with myself so I can learn how to control my thoughts and emotions at any given moment. This includes practices such as meditating, praying, journaling, saying affirmations, and more. These practices are what supported me in this life or death situation. Come up with practices that you can start doing now to support you in remaining calm in a similar event.
Learning from this experience
I am very fortunate and grateful that I survived this allergic reaction. It was a wake-up call to what could happen given my history with eczema. I’ll be sure to learn from this experience and take advantage of the tools listed wherever I decide to travel next.
On an average day, how would you rate your level of anxiety related to atopic dermatitis?