Woman with 'life-threatening airborne allergy' asks passengers to forgo nuts on flights

Hope Schreiber
Em Lee suffered from an allergic reaction to nuts on an airplane. (Photo: Em Lee via Facebook)
Em Lee suffered from an allergic reaction to nuts on an airplane. (Photo: Em Lee via Facebook)

A woman’s children were “terrified” when they witnessed their mom’s allergic reaction during a flight.

Em Lee’s children thought she would die this weekend when she came into contact with nut residue that she believes was left on a plane seat or tray table from a previous trip.

“They were so traumatized … despite me calmly reassuring them the whole time,” she said. According to her Facebook post, it was only a minor reaction, but she is still urging airlines and passengers to not bring nuts onto flights.

“Having a life-threatening airborne allergy is like boarding a plane and enduring the whole flight with a person holding a loaded gun to your head. It is horrible,” the Australian woman wrote.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends a person to the emergency room — and allergies are on the rise. In fact, a recent study showed that since 2010, there has been a 21 percent increase in peanut allergies in children. In the U.S., around 150 to 200 people die due to food allergies a year, with an estimated 50 to 62 percent of those fatalities being attributed to peanuts.

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For Lee, long flights are terrifying. “I need to carry my own tracheostomy kit in case I need to perform my own surgical airway,” she writes.

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While airlines continue to serve nuts to customers on planes, Lee is hopeful that fellow passengers will avoid them to prevent anyone from suffering from an allergic reaction. “If demand [for nuts] stops, [airlines] may be more receptive to taking them off the menu,” she writes. “Be supportive of those living with this. It truly is an insanely traumatic thing to live with!”

“Airplanes should be completely nut free, it’s a no-brainer when the reaction can be fatal and you’re trapped in air. You should send this to the airline directly,” one woman said.

“People just have no idea, so good on you for raising awareness but those people who read this and still argue they are owed nuts are just really really selfish and dumb!!! And airlines — you’d think they’d do everything they could to stop a major life-threatening reaction high up in the air. Common sense is needed!!” another added.

When reached for comment by Yahoo Lifestyle, Lee provided a Change.org petition to ban nuts and nut products from airlines, which is just 200,000 short of its goal.

Lee, a pediatric feeding specialist, helps children and adults learn how to eat, and she hopes that others would be considerate towards others’ dietary needs.

Em Lee
Lee is a pediatric feeding specialist, helping disabled children and adults learn to eat. (Photo: Courtesy of Em Lee)

Lee often flies overseas to help others. “In India, I was helping children with cerebral palsy and showing them how to eat,” she explains to Yahoo Lifestyle. “I try to fly overseas at least once per year to assist with similar cases, however, knowing that the flight to be able to do this is still so life-threating is disappointing.”

Lee admits her nut allergy “would never stop [her] from flying.” However, “It would be great if the airlines could reduce the risk of death by not offering nuts on board, and allowing cabin crew to request that other passengers do not eat any nuts they have brought on board.”

“I have experienced allergy-bullying my entire childhood. I needed to move primary schools five times because of it. It, unfortunately, is continuing into adulthood as you can see by the comments that people make.” Lee is referring to comments that ask her why she doesn’t just stay at home. “It is not a choice. I have not chosen to have a life-threatening allergy, and I have permanent tachycardia due to the anxiety surrounding when I may or may not have a reaction. The difference is that on the ground, I can go to a hospital in the worst-case scenario. In the air this is not an option, and death is a very real risk.”

Lee confirmed to Yahoo Lifestyle that she was flying on Jetstar Airways. “Their medical kit was not adequately stocked at all,” she told Yahoo. “Jetstar has stated that they tried to contact me, however, I have not heard anything. … They had no antihistamines or suitable medications onboard. We were reliant on myself and other passengers bringing forward the medications they had to prevent [an allergic attack] getting worse.”

Jetstar did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.

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