Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Recognizing the Signs of an Allergic Reaction

iStock_000020351292_SmallIt started with some hives. A few here or there, maybe on my arms or a bit on my chest. I never really thought much of it. To be clear, this all happened when I was living in residence at Algonquin College. The reason why I never really thought much of it was because the place where I was living was less than clean. The carpets seemed to be always dusty no matter how many times we vacuumed or dusted, there was permanent grime on the tiled floors, and the air quality was less than desirable. I thought it must have been my seasonal allergies or my dust allergy so I bought a dehumidifier and thought I would be done with it. But nope, my hives still came at least three a week. So I opted to start using a new shampoo and conditioner. Still nothing, they were persistent little buggers who would last for hours. Only now they seemed like they were spreading. I told myself it was because I was scratching them non-stop and that’s why they were spreading. I was starting to get fed up with these little red dots! I had changed so many aspects of my life and it was not getting any better.

I had never suspected it might be the food I was eating. Prior to going to college, I had contacted the school about the cafe in the residence. I was told it was safe for my peanut and tree nut allergy. The meals served in the cafe were mostly basic pastas and meat dishes that I had nothing to really worry about.

But when I started making notes of everything I did on the days I would get these hives, it always coincided with me eating meals at the cafe. Now, I was starting to get worried, why would they assure me it was safe if it wasn’t? When I spoke with the manager of the cafe in residence they told me they don’t use any peanuts or tree nuts or nut oils. But the containers they use they get from the big cafe on campus. He put me in touch with the manager and I was on my way.

At first it was hard to get a straight answer from them, but I finally got down to the nitty gritty and realized that the same pans used for the food in my cafe, were being used in various other parts of the cafe containing peanuts and tree nuts. They weren’t being cleaned well enough and the residue was affecting me enough to cause the hives.

I was stunned, annoyed, angry, and a million other emotions. How could such little residue cause such a big reaction? I’ve always known the dangers of cross contamination, but this took the cake. I should have paid more attention to the signs, and not brushed off the hives as something less serious. Hives are a pretty big sign that something is not right. It took a few months of continuous hives before I took matters into my own hands and found out why. The staff tried to assure me that they would take better precaution with food prep, but I was too scared from the hives to eat at the cafe anymore. I bought some allergen-safe foods to cook in my own room and said goodbye to the cafe.

I learned a very important lesson that year in college, never ignore a sign. However small or large, it is important to recognize when something is wrong and attempt to correct it.

– Arianne K.

3 thoughts on “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Recognizing the Signs of an Allergic Reaction”

  1. I have a HUGE amount of trouble with exposures to small trace amounts of my allergen. At times, I think I’m going crazy and think it couldn’t possibly be this bad and that I must be dealing with some other yet-to-be-discovered condition. Lately, I’ve had to pin down a few things and believe the following are the culprits: not washing my hands before moving the plastic seal with the ring on it from cartons of orange juice and milk, using a can opener that had not been thoroughly cleaned to open up cans that I had washed, using salt in recipes whose container has a metal piece you pull up with your finger to open. Does anyone else react to things like this?! In the case of the can opener, I’d been washing it by hand, but I guess there was still residue left behind from when I had used it to open a “dirty” can. With the salt, I’d been using my fingernail to open the metal piece, but perhaps that wasn’t enough to keep residue from ending up on the metal piece and then contaminating my salt. There could have been residue on the container where the metal piece touched when closed as well. Who knows. When I’m having symptoms of a reaction, many times I want to deny them, to write them off as something else, but my instincts are telling me otherwise. I may try to tell myself that it might be due to not getting enough sleep or from eating junk food, but in the back of my mind I always wonder if there’s something causing me to be exposed to my allergen. I think a big thing we all need to learn to do as well is trust our instincts. We really need to pay them attention and listen to them, even if it seems crazy to do so at times.

    1. Oh yeah…. This is something I identify with! I have a ton of allergies, newly developed, and I share a kitchen with most of them. It’s been hard, but my diet is so limited I can’t ask my housemates to get rid of all my allergens… Wouldn’t be fair, though I did ask them to dump the almond flour!

      So far this year I’ve had 10 serious reactions, and most have been probably from cross contamination… Forgetting to wash my hands before I eat, being so hungry I forget to wash the surface I’m eating on, and for a long while- having tiny bits of pepper fall on my food while I used the salt/pepper shaker to dispense salt. That last one was before I was diagnosed with a new allergy to black pepper at the end of January… And probably an allergy to sulphites too.

      So, all that to say I know the feeling. I have mild reactions fairly frequently still (allergist thinks chronic hives), and I am always debating with myself. Mosquito bites? Maybe I’m just dehydrated and dry skin? But most of the time those debates where I deny my hives are actually the beginnings of a major reaction, and an hour later I’m red ALL over, hives have gone crazy, I’m lightheaded, having a coughing fit, and not thinking clearly… In other words if I’d trusted myself I might have been more prepared for the epi that followed… Sigh. Not crazy… Not crazy at all.

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