Being a young adult with allergies, I have grown up learning all the ins-and- outs of my allergies and how to manage them. Since the age of one, I have been identified as being allergic to wheat, eggs, nuts, and have also had other allergies that I’ve been fortunate enough to grow out of. Like others who have grown up with allergies, I became proficient in knowing what each of my allergic reactions were like, the severity of each reaction, and what works for managing and staying safe with my allergies. Over the years, I have become quite comfortable with my abilities to manage avoiding food allergens. And, while I’ve had the occasional reaction to wheat or eggs, I have been fortunate never to come in contact with nuts—which put me at risk for anaphylaxis. That being said, I recently had a different kind of allergic reaction which I was unprepared for, and knew very little about. This allergic reaction is something known as ‘food dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis’ or FDEIA. Some of us may be aware of the ability of exercise to exacerbate medical conditions such as asthma; but this can also be true for food allergens or foods we are not even normally allergic to. FDEIA is defined as a rare, unpredictable syndrome characterized by anaphylaxis associated with the ingestion of a food and the occurrence of exercise.
I won’t go too in depth. But I want to share part of my experiences with an exacerbated allergic reaction related to exercise. Currently I go to school and live in Kingston. My living arrangements involve housing with a great group of girls who have all been extremely accommodating towards my allergies. My one housemate had done some baking one afternoon and was kind enough to make her baking ‘allergy friendly’ for me. She had finished making her goods before I was about to go for a run. And, being assured it was free of my allergens, I indulged in her baking before starting my exercise. Briefly into my run, I noticed a slight ‘tickle in my throat’ and the idea crossed my mind that my body could be mildly reacting to something. I then made the poor decision to keep going (thinking that the tickle in my throat couldn’t really be a reaction). I then noticed my breathing was becoming a bit more labored and uncomfortable. I again made a poor judgment call and attributed this to just being a normal shortness of breath from the progression of my run. I can’t stress enough how things quickly escalated from there. My breathing became extremely labored, my eyes started swelling, and my body became extremely itchy on its extremities. I also began experiencing a variety of uncomfortable GI symptoms and started to become progressively light headed—which was, likely, from my blood pressure dropping. This was an extremely dangerous situation to be in. I had always been a very confident and regular runner and, in this situation, had no medicine or phone with me. I will admit that, at that point, carrying an auto-injector was never part of my usual running routine. In this case, I still marvel at how fortunate I was that, while this was occurring, I was able to get help and receive medical attention.
What was extremely eye opening to me in this situation, and what I really want to share, was how long it took me to fully recognize that I was actually experiencing a severe life threatening allergic reaction. With my allergies, on a day-to-day basis, I felt quite confident in my ability to identify allergy risks and when a reaction was starting. In this situation, however, I didn’t identify the progression of this reaction early enough. It never crossed my mind that I was at risk for experiencing a severe allergy attack until it had progressed to such that level. It was only after I was treated for this reaction that I was told about Food Dependent, Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis that things really became clear. It was found my personal reaction was triggered by spelt (as species of wheat which my housemate thought was gluten free but in fact was not). While having spelt would cause me to have an allergic reaction, it normally would never have caused such the severe reaction I subsequently experienced that day. Exercise itself has also been found to be capable of inducing anaphylaxis (known as Exercise-induced Anaphylaxis) or ,with FDEIA, it can be related to a combination of food consumption and exercising. As mentioned earlier, with FDEA, it has been found that both foods someone is aware they are allergic to, and sometimes even foods that don’t normally cause an allergic reaction, can trigger FDEA. Research has been done on these topics and, while there is still a need for more, it is an interesting subject to look into and educate yourself about. It is important, as individuals who have managed our allergies for some time, to still be aware of different reactions and risks with allergies that can occur, and to always work to stay educated and safe.