All posts by Adults with Allergies Blog Editor

We’re going to need a bigger bracelet!

Closeup portrait nervous stressed young woman girl in glasses student biting fingernails looking anxiously craving something isolated on grey wall background. Human emotion face expression feeling

My foot was tapping the floor faster than the scarlet speedster, and my arms were crossed so tightly across my chest I could hardly breathe; but I barely noticed. Even the nervous glances my mother was giving me went unaddressed as we patiently waited in the doctor’s office.  This was my first food allergy test since I had a severe allergic reaction three days previously to perch, a type of fish. It was a reaction that came out of left field and required two doses of epinephrine, and a 24-hour hospital stay. Since my reaction was from a food that had never been identified as one of my allergens, I was too terrified to eat anything but mashed potatoes. I was paralyzed in fear of what else might cause me to react randomly, so I refrained from eating even foods I knew to be safe.

So there I sat, stomach growling in hunger, arms red and itchy from testing, and yet I barely felt a thing because my mind was too busy racing with scary scenarios. Time felt like it was at a stand still between the testing and results, when finally my doctor stepped into the room. He started with the basics; for my known allergies (peanuts and tree-nuts), the levels remained the same. He then asked me to recount what exactly happened three days previous.

I sat up a little straighter, tightened my arms around my chest and tried my best to remember:

I never liked the smell of perch, it was “gross” in my opinion so when I was told it was for dinner I was disappointed, and the rest was blurry. I reluctantly ate a small piece and immediately felt the symptoms of an allergic reaction. My father administered an auto-injector and shortly after I was taken in an ambulance where they gave me another shot and 24 hours later I left the hospital. The whole event was a blur of strong emotions and even though I should look at it as a learning event, I would rather forget it altogether.

I leaned back in my chair, close to tears and after a long pause and a lot of writing, my doctor looked up from his notes. He handed me a paper with a list of fresh water fish, and proceeded to tell me my levels on each, and simplified his explanation by saying I was at-risk for anaphylaxis to most of them.  After a long silence the first words out of my mouth were something along the lines of: “this not fitting on my medical alert bracelet.” My mother and I went through the motions after the appointment, both of us defeated by this news. After years of coming to terms with my peanut and tree nut allergies and getting a handle and level of comfort we were just thrown a curve ball late in the game. I wanted to cover my head and forget the whole ordeal; I jumped between wishing I never ate the fish and stayed blatantly oblivious to these new allergens and being thankful that the reaction happened in my home around people who knew what to do.

It took me a long time to come to terms with trying to eat new foods. Over time, I’ve come to terms with these new allergens thanks to the information my doctor gave me on that day. At the time, I wasn’t appreciative of the information but now, I think of it as a blessing.

I never truly respected and understood the importance of the semantics from allergen testing until I was thrown a fork in the road with these new allergens. Moving forward with allergy testing instead of paying more attention to my itchy arms, I listen more to my doctor and have him explain more in-depth regarding new allergens and what my levels mean.  Allergy testing has been and will always be important, and no matter what emotional events may surround your visit or why you’re there, its always better to be informed and prepared than ignorant to something new.

– Arianne.

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A Girl’s Night Out

iStock_000063167753_SmallWhen you’re getting ready to go out for a night on the town with your girls, I don’t know about you, but my food allergies are the last thing that I want to think about. Regardless, they are always on my mind in order to keep myself safe. As long as you keep yourself in control you can still have fun with your friends and stay safe, even if you consume alcohol.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do is ensure that your friends who you will be with know about your food allergies. From spending enough time with me, the majority of my friends are well versed on what my food allergies are and what to do in the event that I have an allergic reaction. At some point, I have given them all the lesson on what would happen if I did have a reaction and how to use my EpiPen®.

The ongoing joke with my friends is my constant struggle to find a small purse that is big enough to hold my EpiPen®. When going out, I like to find an over the shoulder bag that is small enough that it will not get in my way, but large enough to hold my EpiPen®. Over the shoulder bags are also great because their size makes them harder to lose.

If you choose to drink alcohol on your night out, I feel that the most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe when you have food allergies is to keep yourself in control. It is easy to let peer pressure influence you to have a little too much to drink. When your judgement is impaired, the decisions you make regarding food may not be as well thought-out as they should be. For that reason, I always try to have a good meal before I go out so that I am not too hungry later if I find myself in a tricky food situation.

Another big thing to consider is the drinks that you consume. The content of allergens in some types of alcohol are much more obvious than others. Personally, I have peanut and tree nut allergies. I am well aware that liqueurs like Amaretto and Frangelico are tree nut-based. Unfortunately, some alcohols are not as obvious. I recently learned to my surprise that some brands of gin contain almonds! For that reason, it is a good idea to really look into the ingredients of liqueurs before going out. This can be challenging since many do not have an ingredients list on the bottles. Calling the company is the best way to accurately know if a product will be safe for you. To keep my life easy, I like to stick to a few drinks that I know will be safe. That way I do not need to question what will be safe and what is being mixed together.

With these things in mind I think it is very manageable to have a night out with your girls, regardless of your food allergies. Being prepared is the best way to stay safe, but always remember to have fun!

-Sara S.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Travelling is Do-able

Back view of a couple on a hiking path taking a break and looking at the view

I was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at a very young age. Growing up I had always wanted to travel, specifically to Egypt so I could dig up mummies! I am at-risk for anaphylaxis to all seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, peas, and beans. As I got older, I thought that travelling to the dunes of Egypt might not be in the cards for me—perhaps it was too risky. I always thought that the varying cuisines, array of languages and cultural differences would make it impossible. Over time, however, I have learned that travelling is in fact a manageable task! Sure, the above mentioned factors may make it more challenging, however, I learned to cope with the risks because seeing different parts of the world was important to me! It takes a certain level of forethought, but if you plan accordingly, trips can be safe, and eye opening!

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling throughout the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia), United States (Florida, Louisiana, Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania) and Europe (Prague, Italy, France, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia). In some of these places, many of the foods I am allergic to were common among their well-known cultural dishes. For example, in New Orleans, seafood is used in many dishes like Jambalaya, a Creole dish, that is similar to other rice and meat dishes, combining various meat/seafood and vegetables. It’s been said that this dish originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans when the Spanish attempted to make paella with available ingredients in the New World. Also, pralines (known notoriously to contain nuts) were a huge confectionery item sold in numerous gift shops! The French brought this sweet treat to New Orleans as pecan trees and sugar cane were plentiful! Eventually, cream was added and almonds substituted pecans forming what is now known as the American South praline.  Surprisingly, I found that many restaurants in New Orleans used peanut oil! Despite the prevalence of my allergens, I had an amazing time visiting New Orleans. It really is a very vibrant, and unique city. The streets themselves seem to be alive—energy exudes a constant buzz and feel-good vibe. Something was always happening. And even in the moments when a wave of calm swept over the city, it seemed momentary—signifying a celebration dying down, or a new one just getting started!

I’m grateful that I had the courage to go. It wasn’t easy, but I definitely won’t ever let me allergies hold me back from seeing a new place. As long as I get travel insurance, carry auto-injectors, pack extra food, and communicate, then I know I am go to go! Who knows… maybe Egypt is still a possibility!

Nicole K.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Co-worker

Business People Meeting Conference Brainstorming Concept
Having open lines of communication with co-workers about your food allergy is important

I experienced my first anaphylactic reaction when I was an infant. By the time I entered the workforce I had more than two decades of experience taking care of my own safety. I was an expert, an anaphylaxis ninja, masterfully controlling my environment to ensure my safety.

This idea was shattered into tiny pieces one day when the office prankster saw me hard at work and used the back of my head as target practice. His projectile of choice was a handful of peanuts; the allergen I had reacted to.

In his defence he didn’t know his prank was dangerous. But for me this situation was a wake-up call; I was confronted with the fact that my track record hadn’t made me an expert, it made me complacent. I thought that it would have been awkward to inform my coworkers about my risk of anaphylaxis, but now I knew it was far more awkward to do so while picking a peanut out of my hair.

I realized that I needed to be proactive and explain anaphylaxis to my coworkers. Here are a few of my strategies for sharing food allergy information with coworkers:

  1. Go all the way to the top. If your company has a good Human Resources department go there, otherwise go to the highest manager you have access to. In my case, I went straight to the company president. I shared that I am at-risk for anaphylactic reactions and I educated him on what that meant. In all honesty I felt embarrassed, but the response to this was amazing. By the end of the day all the peanuts had been removed from the building and the cleaning staff were given special instructions to ensure every surface was cleaned. Most important of all was that now the management team knew what to do if anything happened.
  2. Next, go close to home. My company had 120 employees in two locations. I couldn’t tell everyone at once so I started within my department. This created a zone of safety with the cubicles nearest my own receiving the first education. Since these coworkers were actually eating food near my desk, they were critical to my safety. On top of this, they ended up being great advocates and helped me spread the word throughout the company.
  3. Be open to curiosity. Whenever someone had a question I went out of my way to educate them. I adopted the attitude that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Things that I took for granted were unknown to my coworkers so answering questions was a great way to make sure that the people around me were as anaphylaxis conscious as possible. For example, I got questions about smelling peanuts, symptoms I experienced in the past, how fast a reaction is, what they could do if I had a reaction and many others. These were great opportunities to educate people.
  4. Be direct and clear. It’s important to remember that anaphylaxis is serious business. I didn’t dwell on the darker side of food allergies but I did address them head on. After I explained what a reaction might look like I was honest, people have died from this, not often but it has happened. By approaching the subject directly I was able to get my message across and avoid other situations like the prankster episode. It turns out that my coworkers appreciated this method as it helped them understand the situation clearly.
  5. Teach people how to react to an allergic reaction. I always carry an auto-injector but during a previous reaction I learned that it can be hard to operate under pressure. When my hands were shaking I had my brother administer the injection for me. With that experience in mind I taught my coworkers how to use my auto-injector. I managed to get one of the trainers that has the needle removed and we practiced several times. Then we talked about the other steps such as calling an ambulance. Overall, it helped empower the people around me to feel like they could help if something went wrong.
  6. Continue to be proactive. My work was never over. This went for both my real work and my food allergy-awareness work. Food Allergies are a very important part of my life but just a fleeting thought for most people. Some people I had been working with for years would still forget about my food allergy from time to time. It’s your responsibility to stay safe so be proactive and continuously educate.

As people who are at-risk for anaphylactic reactions, we get used to talking to our friends, restaurant staff, and our families. But in many cases you spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else. It’s important to take matters into your own hands and talk to your coworkers about the risks associated with severe allergic reactions.

What about you? What strategies do you use to talk to your coworkers?

– Jason B.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Significant Other

Couple having intimate dinner of summer eveningExplaining your allergies to anyone can be a difficult task, especially when faced with a new person you have started dating. Although it might feel uncomfortable or be hard to do, it is really important that your significant other has a good understanding of your allergies and how to help you stay safe.

When I first start to date someone, I try to bring up my allergies as early as possible in a more low key way than making it into a really serious conversation. I find that an easy way to do this is the first time I go out to eat somewhere, I casually mention that I have food allergies and that there are some restrictions as to where I can eat. By doing this, I do not have to bring my allergies up out of the blue. Another advantage of mentioning them this way is that it can ensure that we will be eating somewhere that I know is safe for me.

Typically, I don’t launch into all of the details of my allergies when I first bring it up. Often times the other person will bring it up when we do go out to eat or when we talk next as it is something they have been curious about. This is when I go through the basics of my allergies: what am I allergic to, where I carry my auto injector, and the fact that my allergies are life threatening and something to be taken seriously. I try really hard not to scare the other person as my allergies aren’t something that should intimidate or scare them. The more confident you are in talking about your allergies the more comfortable your significant other will hopefully feel about them.

At some point a little later on, it is important to ensure your significant other knows where you keep your auto injector and how to use it. People are often really interested in seeing an auto injector up close and want to know how it works so this is a great opportunity to have a teaching moment with him or her.

As you continue on in your relationship more aspects of your food allergies will come up naturally. I’ve found that topics such as safety on dates, with drinking, and travelling have been very commonly brought up. As long as you feel safe as your relationship is progressing there is no need to tell your significant other every last detail about your food allergies and how to manage them on the first date. It will be much less overwhelming and easier for them to remember if they learn over time.

Dating someone with a food allergy can be a difficult task! Especially if your allergens are a main component of your significant other’s diet. It is important to remember that this can be a big adjustment for people and it will take time for them to become knowledgeable about how you manage your allergies. Make sure you are always open to answering questions that they might have and be accepting of mistakes that they might make along the way!

If the person you are dating is right for you they will be accommodating and understanding of your allergies!

Lindsay S.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To Children

Child scratching head with question mark on blackboard concept for confusion, brainstorming and choice

I am twenty-five and currently do not have any children of my own. However, as a school teacher, I interact with children on a daily basis. I have taught students in kindergarten all the way up to grade six. Obviously, my language and delivery may have changed slightly, but I never hesitated to talk to my students about my food allergies.

To me, it is important to have this dialogue with them as we spend a lot of time together. With my students, I discuss that my allergens have to stay outside of the classroom. This is my way of minimizing the risk of an allergic reaction. However, if a child brings snap peas as a snack, or a sesame seed bagel for lunch, I allow them to indulge outside in the schoolyard or in the lunchroom.

Another management strategy I teach children in my class is about hand washing. Generally speaking, this is a great discussion to have with children as it addresses good hygienic practices. I encourage my students to wash their hands before and after they eat. Before eating is obvious—it helps to eliminate germs entering your system. After eating is also important as it eliminates the presence of any known allergens since other students and staff in the school may be allergic to foods other than peanuts.

I also discuss the possibility of an emergency situation. The language I use varies depending on the age of students, but I try to stress the importance of notifying another adult as soon as possible. For example, running to another classroom, notifying someone via the P.A system, or just calling for help. With older grades, I discuss common signs and symptoms and the proper use of my EpiPen®. I have some resources, like books and videos, that I read or show to the class to further discuss this topic. I have held Q&A sessions with my students to ensure they get clarification on any information about food allergies.  Interestingly enough, these conversations can often be linked back to the Ontario Health Curriculum.

Some students come to class with a lot of prior knowledge about food allergies perhaps because a family member or friend has an allergy. Keep the age, maturity level, and exposure to this topic in mind when talking to children about allergies. I ensure that I adjust my vocabulary and message accordingly. Here are some sample phrases I’ve used before:

  • “I am allergic to [insert allergen] which means that if I eat these foods I can have a serious allergic reaction. My symptoms might include a rash or trouble breathing.”
  • “If I have an allergic reaction from eating [insert allergen], I may have to use my EpiPen® and go to a hospital for further treatment.”
  • “I hope you understand that [insert allergen] isn’t something that can come into the classroom because I don’t want to risk having an allergic reaction.”
  • “I noticed that you ate a snack with [insert allergen] at recess. Could you please go wash your hands?”
  • “If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, can you please notify another teacher? What are some ways you could notify another teacher?”

Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the Ontario Curriculum (Grade 1 section):

  • “Students will apply their knowledge of essential safety practices to take an active role in their own safety at school (e.g., inform teacher of allergies, be aware of food safety issues, play in supervised areas, follow safe routines for travelling to and from school)
    Teacher prompt: “What are some things that students may be allergic to?”
    Student: “They may be allergic to nuts and other foods, bee stings, or medicine.”
    Teacher: “What can we do to make the classroom as safe as possible?”
    Student: “We should not bring anything that might have nuts in it to school. People with allergies who need to use medicine if they have a reaction should carry their medicine [epinephrine auto-injector] with them. We should know who has an allergy and what the signs of an allergic reaction are, and we should get an adult to help if someone is having a reaction.” (Ontario Curriculum, 2015).

Nicole K.