Air travel has increased by over 7% annually since 2006, and passengers with allergies frequently express anxiety and concern over the risk of reactions while flying.
A recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice aimed to estimate the frequency of in-flight medical events (IMEs) caused by allergic reactions on commercial flights, despite the limited data available on the subject. To accomplish this, the researchers conducted a thorough systematic review using meta-analysis.
They searched a number of databases for relevant studies reporting IMEs with allergic causes since 1980, including MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and TRANSPORT databases and the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials.
Seventeen studies met the inclusion criteria, and their analysis estimated that 2.2% of the pooled IMEs extracted from the studies were coded as caused by allergic reactions, which may skew higher in children.
According to the study, the incidence of allergic in-flight medical events (IMEs) was estimated at 0.7 events per million passengers. This rate has remained stable over the past 30 years despite the increasing number of passengers and the prevalence of food allergies.
They also estimated that one reaction occurred in 3,600 food-allergic passengers traveling in any one-year period.
The researchers concluded that allergic reactions coded as IMEs during commercial air travel are uncommon, occurring at an incidence approximately 10 to 100 times lower than that reported for accidental allergic reactions to food occurring in the community.
The researchers wrote that the low rates may be attributable to the vast majority of passengers with food allergies taking precautions during travel, such as choosing alternatives to flight, wiping down their seat areas and tray tables, and bringing their own food to consume.