Posted by Cris on | April 17, 2011 | 6 Comments
Many parents are afraid to take their food-allergic kids out to a restaurant – never mind an entirely new country. Holidays are fraught with peril: what will they eat, what will I do if they have a reaction – and where do I go if it’s a really bad one? The epi-pen, after all, only buys you an hour or so to get to a hospital.
But we can’t let our fears fence us in. We need to eat out. We need to go on vacation. We need to teach kids to explore the world and embrace life, even as we teach them to watch carefully what they eat.
One option is to splash out a bit more than you normally would on a traditional travel insurance policy, and get a doctor on speed dial. Companies like International SOS provide “travel assistance” to their members, which goes way beyond basic travel health insurance: their service comes with 24-7 advice from in-house doctors, guidance on local hospitals all over the world, and even emergency evacuation, if things go really pear-shaped.
Dr. David Teo, Singapore and Malaysia Medical Director for International SOS, talked to sneezywheezy.com over the phone about the kinds of services they offer families with severe allergies.
Prior to joining International SOS, Dr. Teo was the Chief Army Medical Officer of the Singapore Armed Forces, holding the rank of Colonel. He obtained his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the National University of Singapore, followed by a Master in Medicine in 1993.
SW: What pre-travel services do you offer families like ours, whose kids have severe food allergies?
Dr. Teo: Parents can contact us, and give us their itinerary before they travel. We’d say ‘these places are rather remote, there’s not a GP or clinic for miles around – we’d advise you not to go’. Or “these are places where medical facilities are present, but bad”. And we’d give you the contact details of good hospitals that we have accredited, in the locality.
SW: What happens if a child has a bad reaction while on holiday?
Dr. Teo: My doctor will take the family through it all, over the phone, based on what parents say about the symptoms. We’d say ‘ok, administer the epi-pen now, as instructed.’ We may ask the hotel to arrange transportation to a clinic we suggest – we’d also call the clinic, and say ‘please bring the doctor in’. In many places in the world, the doctors are not in at night. We will alert the clinic or hospital and make sure the doctor’s there. We then follow up with the doctor on the condition. About 80% of cases of should resolve after the treatment. If they develop complications, like going into septic shock Anaphylactic Shock , we will then arrange an emergency evacuation.
SW: Are there vacation spots in Southeast Asia that families with kids who have known anaphylactic allergies should avoid? Or places that are better to go to, because they have good emergency medical facilities nearby?
Dr. Teo: Phuket certainly has good facilities; one of the top hospitals there is Phuket Bangkok Hospital, which has a very good emergency department. But we don’t want to tell clients where they should travel to – it’s better for client to call us and tell us where they are going and we can advise them from there. Even if they are going to Siem Reap (Cambodia) where Angkor Wat is, there are a few hospitals (we work with). But if a child had multiple allergies, it’s better not to be too adventurous and go to a rural area. I’d advise sticking to a larger city or resort town with good medical facilities.
SW: What other advice to you have for families like this?
Dr. Teo: Children who have (food) allergies usually have other medical problems, like asthma. Asthma kills more children than allergies. And one of the bad things that happen when you have an allergic reaction is not just the drop in blood pressure, but the bronchial spasm: the larynx and airways shut down. The adrenaline (injection) you give your child works to open the airways. But we do advise people to carry a broncho-inhaler as well – not just the epi-pen. You give the epi-pen once, but if the lungs are still tight, and you’ve got a way to go to the hospital in your locality, the inhaler is very helpful in opening up theairways in the meantime.
In a situation like this, it’s very helpful to have our medical staff, just a phone call away. We know where they are, where the hospital is, what the locality is like – we may say please, just take a taxi because it’s faster than having them send an ambulance down. Local knowledge helps.
SW: Thanks very much, Dr. Teo.
Note to readers: While the bulk of International SOS’s clientele are large multinationals, which buy corporate memberships to cover their staff & families, they do sell individual memberships as well. An annual individual medical membership costs S$346.50, and a family annual medical plan is S$1,039.50. These plans cover unlimited travel within the year. You can contact International SOS in Singapore at 6338-2311 and speak to Diana Lu.