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Planes Should Stock Allergy Rescue Medications, Advocates Say

— May 19, 2023

U.S. airlines are not required to carry emergency allergy interventions.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, in-flight medical emergencies occur in around 1 out of 604 flights. Approximately 853 million passengers fly on commercial planes each year, which can result in dozens of emergencies on flights daily in the United States. The majority of cases are related to anxiety, stomach aches, or a feeling that a person is about to faint. On the other hand, some emergencies, such as anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening.  

Lindsey Ulin, 28, was flying from Pheonix to Austin in early March. She was on the flight with her mother and sister when she started feeling nauseous. She naturally assumed the food to be the culprit and thought the ill feeling would subside on its own. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t go away, and soon she started experiencing hives on her chest and face. 

Shortly afterward, she began having trouble breathing properly. As an internal medicine resident physician, Ulin recognized that she was experiencing a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. The medical condition can be fatal unless an emergency dose of epinephrine is injected into the body. It increases blood circulation and soothes the muscles that restrict the airways. 

The plane didn’t carry an epinephrine injector, and the flight attendant handed Ulin a vial while she was fighting for her life. Luckily, a passenger who identified himself as a doctor volunteered to help administer the medication with syringes that he found in the airline’s emergency kit. The passenger expressed her gratitude in a series of tweets, saying she is only alive thanks to the physician on board who safely administered the medication. 

Planes Should Stock Allergy Rescue Medications, Advocates Say
Photo by Raj Jabri from Pexels

All commercial airlines are expected to have a basic medical equipment kit, including a stethoscope, aspirin, and other devices used for CPR. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t require planes to carry anti-allergy tools such as epinephrine auto-injectors or EpiPens – a shortcoming that bothers many allergists. 

Flight emergency medical kits contain epinephrine but in containers that only medical experts can use in case of a cardio-related emergency. There is an increasing demand to include epinephrine auto-injectors on commercial airlines to address emergency allergic reactions on flights.

It appears that the FAA recently took notice of the demands and is now considering changing emergency kits that would mandate airlines to carry EpiPens, medication to reverse opioid overdoses, and pediatric doses of antihistamines on all commercial flights. The Aerospace Medical Association has recently suggested to the FAA that airlines must regularly carry allergy medications and epinephrine auto-injectors in dosages for both children and adults. The organization is also planning to update the kits to have automatic blood pressure cuffs and Narcan, designed to reverse the side effects of an opioid overdose. 

In an interview, the FAA stated that it is re-assessing the requirements for medical emergency kits on planes. People, even those who don’t have a history of allergies, can minimize their risk by cleaning the sea, tray tables, and armrests when boarding. 


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Allergies in the sky: Airlines are pressed to treat severe reactions

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