All posts by Adults with Allergies Blog Editor

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.

Parenting a Child with Allergies

 

5-6 years old boy with his parents isolated on white

Parenting Goal:

The goal should always be to have your child become independent in managing their allergies. Of course, when they are younger, they will need more guidance in how this can be done. This is where modeling appropriate behaviour for your child comes in handy (e.g. reading ingredients, carrying auto-injector, etc.).

Tip #1- Be Assertive, not anxious

It is important that you teach your child how to speak up in a confident and polite manner. Encouraging children to speak up for themselves is crucial; they should be comfortable discussing ingredients, the location of their auto-injector, and any symptoms they may experience. Have them start speaking up in familiar settings for practice. In the future, this will help them advocate for their needs in novel situations.

Although the threat of an anaphylactic reaction is a scary thing, try not to use ‘scare’ tactics with your child. Scaring them could lead to anxiety concerns with your child. This applies to caregivers as well! Try your best to remain calm and in control (even in potential emergency situations). Your child should understand the risks of having allergies, but feel confident and capable of managing the risks rather than frightened and overwhelmed.

Tip #2 Foster Independence

We all know the cliché saying, “live and learn.” Yes, we learn through life experiences (even the negative ones). If given a choice, I’m sure that any loving caregiver would choose to have their child avoid unpleasant or stressful situations. However, being overprotective, or a ‘helicopter’ parent doesn’t necessarily help children—especially those with allergies. As stated previously, the ultimate goal is to have your child become independent in managing their allergy. This means that you can slowly have your child assume certain responsibilities when you feel they are ready.  An example of this would be carrying an auto-injector. As an infant/toddler/preschooler this task would most likely be the responsibility of a parent. However, as school year age approaches, parents have to consider alternative arrangements for this. Remember, there is no real ‘correct’ answer about when a child should start to carry their auto-injector independently. You know your child the best so factor in their personality, maturity level, and age. Some tips for having your child remember and carry their auto-injector themselves:

– Have your child choose a safe, secure spot to keep it (e.g. fanny pack, purse, backpack).

– Help them develop a strategy to remind them to bring it (e.g. post-it note on the front door).

– Give them oral reminders. Remember, you don’t want them to become reliant. Like the old expression says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Meaning of course, you are better off to teach your child how to manage their allergies than to just manage their allergies for them. The key is for them to develop routines that will promote life-long risk-management and effective problem-solving skills.

I would highly recommend checking out the following links for more info!

Managing Anxiety and Feeling in Control
http://www.allergysupportcentre.ca/managing-anxiety.html

Emotional Impact

Emotional Impact

Emotional Health for Parents of Children with Food Allergies
Emotional Health for Parents of Children with Food Allergies

Emotional and Social Issues
http://www.foodallergy.org/emotional-and-social-issues

Nicole K.

Growing up and Growing out of a Food Allergy

 

Beautiful girl is looking at unhealthy donut with appetite. It is situated on a table. Isolated on a white background

I’ve always maintained that while food allergies are an important part of me, they are not something that defines me. That being said, when you grow up avoiding certain foods because of food allergies it is a pretty big moment when you find out that you are no longer allergic to a specific food. Not to mention the new doors that are opened in terms of experiencing new food options. Though I may be dating myself, I can still remember the first food allergen I ever grew out of. It was 17 years ago… and I was six years old. I had grown out of my milk allergy after doing a “challenge test” at my allergist’s clinic and I had just successfully drank an entire cup of milk. My mom then thought that the next step to celebrate this momentous occasion was to give me chocolate for the first time— after tasting, I proceeded to comment on how gross it tasted.

Luckily my taste buds for chocolate have changed. I would have to wait 16 years, but I have also been lucky enough to grow out of another food allergy. My entire life I have been allergic to peanuts as well as tree nuts, but after another visit to my allergist this past fall I was determined to not be allergic to any tree nuts! While my peanut allergy remains life-threatening, I found this to be an exciting change in what I am able to include in my diet.

The first couple of times that I included tree nuts in my diet, I always had a friend or family member with me and it felt very strange to be eating a food I spent my entire life avoiding at all costs. However, it didn’t take me long to discover Nutella and I almost finished an entire jar in one weekend (with help of course…). Over time, it felt less strange to include tree nuts in my diet, and it probably made my friends more uneasy to see me eat tree nuts than it did for me.  When I reached this point, it ended up being fun to discover all the different tree nuts that I could eat, how I could use them in recipes, and finding different menu items I could have that before I had to avoid. For example, I also have an egg and wheat allergy. A lot of vegan foods that I eat are egg-free and luckily, tend to be gluten-free as well. Vegan recipes, however, commonly use different tree nuts as a key ingredient, so I no longer had to be worried about missing an ingredient such as cashew butter, almond flour, or crushed walnuts! It also took me a while to get out of the habit when giving my “allergy speech” to waiters at restaurants to just say “wheat, eggs, and peanuts” instead of “all nuts” when I was stating my food allergies. But this, like with all things, practice definitely makes perfect!

Despite having a new world of foods to try with the elimination of my tree nut allergy, I still found my vigilance has to be up in terms of avoiding the risk of cross contamination with peanuts. Depending on what tree nuts and tree nut products I end up buying at the grocery store “may contain traces of peanuts” is often still included on the label— making strict ingredient label monitoring a must! As well, I have to make sure while talking to individuals about my food allergies, including waiters at restaurants, to stress that my allergy to peanuts is life-threatening and cross contamination is a big risk.

While I still have to be on my food allergy “A-game,” growing out of an allergy can involve a lot of excitement and new food discovery! Have you ever grown out of a food allergy?  If so, how was the transition of incorporating this food into your diet, and what things did you still have to be careful about?

– Caitlyn P.

Top 5 Perks of Having an Allergy

Closeup portrait happy successful student, business man winning, fists pumped celebrating success isolated grey wall background. Positive human emotion facial expression. Life perception, achievement

“In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision”

-Dalai Lama

In life, nothing is as bad as it ever seems. Think back to the time you discovered that you had a severe food allergy. In all frankness, I remember being very upset and discouraged by the news. I was diagnosed with my life-threatening food allergies at the age of 10. I was a child at that time and I saw my allergy as a massive barrier that would inevitably prevent me from doing the things that I wanted to do in life. Over the past 10 years, my views have changed significantly. I’ve taken ownership of my food allergy, and, in some ways, have found ways to embrace it. Here are my five perks about allergies that you can keep in the back of your mind:

  1. You will be healthier

Living with food allergies means that restaurants are not the automatic go-to for quick-fix meals on a daily basis. As good as restaurant food can be on occasion, eating-out every day may not be the best option for your health. When I dine-out, I often throw caution to the wind when it comes to “healthy” food options. If I’m at a steakhouse, I’m not eating broiled salmon and arugula. I’m ordering the thickest, juiciest steak on the menu. The point I’m making is that the unhealthy option is readily available and easily accessible. You are more likely to buy the steak on impulse for instant gratification, rather than the healthier options available. With food allergies, you are less likely to find yourself in that position on a frequent basis. Often times, I cook what I eat, as it is the safest way to ensure that my meals are allergen-free.

  1. You will learn how to cook well

Eating-out less implies that you will be cooking for yourself frequently. Cooking is an important life skill. Personally, I find it relaxing – it’s a great distraction and de-stressor at the end of a long, busy, and stressful day. Although there is a definite learning curve to cooking, you will begin to hone this skill: you will get better and better at it. After a few months, you will be cooking-up a storm – you can show-off your new skills to your friends and family.

  1. You control exactly what goes into your body

This is a lead-off from the last point. If you are cooking for yourself more often, you have control over the ingredients that you use to prepare your meals. When shopping for these ingredients, you can opt for higher-quality, organic ingredients. Restaurants may boast using these ingredients, but more likely than not, the quality and freshness of the ingredients will not be the same as a home-cooked meal.

  1. You will learn how to become more resourceful

This point is most pertinent to managing your allergies while traveling or dining-out in unfamiliar places. When encountered with these unfamiliar situations, you will find creative ways to manage your food allergy. Over time, you will get better at sourcing out allergy-friendly restaurants or a close-by grocery store, so that you can assure a safe meal, regardless of where you find yourself. For example, if you are booking a vacation getaway with friends, you will know to find hotels and resorts that have restaurants with a thorough food allergy policy. Alternatively, you will also get better at finding resorts close to allergy-friendly restaurants or grocery stores. Having food allergies makes you a great problem-solver, which is a skill that can cross-over into any other aspect of life and work.

  1. You will become a stronger person

One of the most rewarding aspects of living with (and managing) food allergies effectively, is the realization that you have become a stronger person out of it. It means that you were faced with a challenge, found ways to counter the challenge, and came out on the other side a stronger and more resourceful person. Managing severe food allergies are challenging, but they do not have to dictate or control what you want out of your life.

– Saverio M.

Overcoming My Guilt After an Allergic Reaction

Concept of accusation guilty shy person girl. Sad embarrassed upset woman in glasses looking down many fingers pointing at her isolated grey wall background. Human face expression emotion feeling

I think it is common to feel guilt during or after an allergic reaction. I have had allergic reactions that have interrupted special occasions, family BBQ’s, and holidays. My worst anaphylactic reaction to date actually occurred on Christmas morning! I felt a little bad about ‘ruining’ a special moment, but of course if it was up to me, I definitely would have opted out of an allergic reaction altogether.

Additionally, I’ve felt guilty just about having a reaction. My mind automatically enters the ‘should’ve, could’ve’, would’ve mode. It’s important to reflect on each situation individually to see if there are any areas where you could change your management strategy to be more successful. Living life often involves making mistakes, which is important because it is how we learn. Even if a mistake is made (e.g. assuming ingredients were safe) hopefully you won’t repeat that behavior in the future. Of course, keep in mind that allergic reactions can also just happen on a fluke—even if you are very vigilant. Remember that allergic reactions do happen, and that always being prepared is what is most important. I like to think of this quote when I begin to feel guilty about having had a reaction:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Nicole K.

Hello new Food Allergy, my old friend

Cropped image of woman comparing products in shop
Double checking ingredient listings for your new (and old) food allergen is very important!

As many people who are at-risk for anaphylaxis may know, food allergies are something that can be both grown into and grown out of. In the best of cases people are able to effectively “grow out” of their food allergies, allowing them to be able to live with fewer dietary restrictions. However, sometimes people can attain new allergies throughout their lifetime causing them to go through the learning process of adapting to and becoming more aware of a new allergen.

I have been lucky enough to grow out of a few food allergies such as egg, shellfish, and seafood. About 8 years ago, when I was 16 years old, I had a mild allergic reaction to a hot dog I ate at a restaurant. I developed hives around my mouth part way through my meal. Knowing that none of my other allergens (peanuts and tree nuts) were in the food I was confused as to why I was reacting this way. I made an appointment with my allergist and explained what had happened. After thinking about it further I could remember times growing up where I would eat meatballs or chicken fingers and complain about the food being spicy because I had a strange feeling in my throat. Looking back, it was probably a mild allergic reaction because right away my allergist knew what I reacted to: soy protein isolate. This is a man-made manipulation of soy that is used as a filler in many reformed and frozen meat products. My allergist had found that many of his young patients with peanut allergies also had an allergy to soy protein isolate. He performed the skin testing and the hive was about two times the size of the one for peanuts!

At that time, I had a lot of difficulties adapting to this new allergy since soy protein isolate was a newer and less well known ingredient in many foods. I found new products popping up all the time that contained it: salad dressings, cake mixes, fruit juices, and sauces. It is coming up in more and more places as it is a cheap way to boost the protein content and help bind products together. This was very challenging for me as I had to look for new words when reading labels on everything I ate. At 16 years old I had a good idea of what foods were safe in regards to my nut allergies but soy protein isolate is so unpredictable that to this day I double check ingredients constantly on new foods because I never know where I will find it!

Growing into an allergy can be quite difficult as it presents new challenges with finding safe foods, eating out, and all the other difficulties one at risk for anaphylaxis finds in life, at a time when you thought you had things under control. Although it can be tough, it has also helped me to become even more careful with the allergies I have had my entire life and make me that much safer when it comes to managing my allergies.

Lindsay S.

Wine not bring the cheese to the party?

Wine and cheese

Growing up with several food allergies has made me hyper-aware of the various foods around me, from parties to potlucks and beyond. I’m always trying to stress the importance of knowing every single

ingredient right down to the oils used in a dish I might eat, as well as the contents of their kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. This vigilance and awareness of my surroundings has helped me flourish as a host; I love setting up/creating/planning events, but it is always a way for me to be in control of an event where food is present.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been theming my parties and everything surrounding them: from food, to decorations, and even what my guests wear. It can be a real pain for some people who don’t exactly want to participate, but for those who are into the idea of themes it can be really fun.  One of the best idea’s or themes that my group of friends constantly returns to is a “wine and cheese” party.  The following is quick and easy three-step guide with some tips to planning the perfect wine and cheese party that is safe for food allergies and intolerances alike.

Step One: Picking the Wine

Finding the right wine can be tricky. Your best bet is to grab a couple of bottles with different taste pallets and flavours so you have multiple options sure to please anyone. Try finding a few reds ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noirs, and Shiraz; all ranging from dry to sweet.  As well, try finding a few different Whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and a Pinot Grigio for a full rounded taste option. And, if you’re feeling like a mix, try finding different blends of types, or a blush for those who aren’t sure what they like.  Now, many wines have multiple ingredients that may not always be listed on the bottle, and tasting notes may differ from actual ingredients.  When I am unsure of ingredients, my first call to action is to check the website for information, and if that fails, calling the company is always a sure way to find out all the allergen information you need. You might be surprised to know that some wines use priority allergens such as eggs or fish as fining agents.

Step Two: Cheese Please!

I always pick my wines before I get my cheeses for these types of pairing events.

As with any food, read your ingredients, find out where it was manufactured and if there is a chance of cross-contamination. A few things to remember: try to avoid blue cheese or aged cheeses if you or anyone in your party has a mould allergy given that it can cause a reaction. If you’re looking for lactose-free cheese, check out this link to a Hard Cheese list given that hard cheeses are naturally lactose-free (Lactose Free Cheese). If you’re looking for completely dairy-free cheese, a personal favourite of mine is “Chao Cheese” which comes in many forms and flavours sure to satisfy. Check out their selection with this link: Chao Cheese.

Step Three: Label Everything!

First off, as with any potluck or party, make sure you label everything! Ensure your guests know which cheeses are which, and if they have multiple ingredients, make a little card by the food or wine with the ingredients written down. Secondly, make sure you have separate serving tools for everything and encourage people to use them properly so your food doesn’t come into contact with each other. Lastly, if your guests are bringing other foods, such as fruits and crackers, make sure they follow the same guidelines or bring the boxes for ingredient references to ensure everyone feels comfortable.

Planning a party should be fun and exciting! Just because you have a food allergy or intolerance doesn’t ever mean you should be denied experiences or places. As long as the proper precautions are taken and you ensure your guests feel comfortable with the food options available, you’re sure to have an excellent time.

If you’re looking for more theme ideas, food options, etc. check out Pinterest. It is an excellent resource for absolutely everything!

Happy Planning!

Arianne