Category Archives: Allergies and Anxiety

Back to School and Allergies

College student backpack

Heading back to school can be a fun and exciting time! Getting to see your friends again, purchasing new school supplies, and meeting your new teachers are just some things to look forward to. On the other hand, going back to school may be overwhelming, especially when having to manage a severe allergy.

I know because I’ve been there…As I enter my final year of undergraduate studies at university, I’ve taken some time to reflect-back upon my elementary and high-school days. I was diagnosed with anaphylaxis back in 2004, at the age of 10. I remember feeling overwhelmed as I contemplated the potential challenges I would face in my future. What will my friends think? Will I ever be able to eat-out? How and when should I notify others about my allergy? For the most part, I’ve been fortunate enough to have supportive friends who understand the implications of severe allergies. Although some may not be as understanding as others, taking a proactive approach in managing your allergies should help alleviate or minimize any problems that you may encounter. Here are some tips that I have found helpful in terms of managing allergies at school!

1. Understand that you are not the only one with allergies at your school: In most cases, you will not be the only student in your school (or class) with anaphylaxis. I remember going through school and there being at least one other student with an allergy (if not anaphylaxis). You are not alone!

2. Bringing-up your allergies at the appropriate time: When making new friendships, it’s often difficult to gauge when the appropriate time to discuss your allergies may be. The appropriate time and place will depend on the individual and the nature of your relationship. In any case, always make sure to notify your friends about your allergy before eating-out at a restaurant. Never feel peer-pressured to go to a restaurant and “risk it.” Take a step back, remember that your health is your most important asset, and tell those around you about your allergy. It would also be wise to show them your medic-alert bracelet and where you store your auto-injector.

3. No trading lunches! When I was in school (particularly elementary school) I remember always being tempted by others to trade lunches or try different foods. Don’t! You don’t know who has handled the food and whether or not there is risk of cross-contamination. Again, never feel ‘peer-pressured’ into trying food either.

4. Seek-out allergen-friendly snacks: Luckily, a lot of positive change has transpired since 2004. Organizations such as Food Allergy Canada have done a fantastic job of spreading awareness about anaphylaxis. As a result, a lot of corporations have taken steps to produce and market allergen-free snacks. Many big-box grocery stores supply peanut-free, nut-free, and gluten-free snacks – some specifically designed for school. Seek these out!

Hopefully, you’ll find some of these suggestions helpful. No matter what age you are, going back to school can be overwhelming. Making a plan beforehand can help alleviate some of your stress moving forward.

Saverio M.

Going to The Dentist with Allergies

Dentist

Note: The following advice is simply that: advice. It is not to be substituted for professional advice from your dentist. It is, rather, intended to serve as a general reminder to help you work with your dentist and/or other dental professionals to aid in safe experiences at the dentist.

 

Going to the dentist is an experience most people try to avoid. I know this because I’m a dental student and my patients are never shy to remind me of this. Usually, a dentist will ask you to fill out a health questionnaire before seeing you. This is where you should write down any allergies you have. A few common ones that are important for your dentist to know include (but are not limited to):

  • Antibiotics (e.g. penicillin, sulfonamides). A dentist might prescribe you antibiotics if you have a tooth ache and need a root canal, or if you just had a tooth extracted. If you see them reaching for the prescription pad, don’t be shy to remind them of your allergy.
  • Latex or nitrile. Depending on the dental office, some dentists prefer to use latex gloves, while others prefer nitrile. Latex can also be found in the rubber dam they use while drilling a cavity, at the tip of the drill used for prophylaxis (cleaning or polishing your teeth), at one end of the vial of anesthetic, as well as other places. If the dentist doesn’t ask you if you’re allergic before he/she sits down, feel free to mention it before they put on their gloves.
  • In local anesthesia with a vasopressor (like epinephrine), sulfites are used as a preserving agent. A sulfite allergy is not the same as an allergy to sulfa, which is an antibiotic. It’s also possible (but rare) to be allergic to a class of anesthetics called “esters” (http://www.dentistrytoday.com/pain-management/anesthesia/265). If you think you’re allergic to local anesthesia because of a past bad reaction, get tested by an allergist to make sure it’s a true allergy.
  • Today, most metals used in crowns and prostheses are precious metals and are well tolerated by the body. If you’re sensitive to non-precious metals like copper or nickel, make sure your dentist knows. In terms of fillings, a true allergy to amalgam is quite rare, but it’s still possible to have a localized reaction on the skin that’s in direct contact with the amalgam (silver/metal filling). Discuss your concerns with your dentist.

If you start experiencing the signs of an allergic reaction, bring it to the attention of the dentist immediately. All dentists are trained in emergency first aid and by law are required to stock epinephrine in their emergency kit. As long as you’re clear about your allergies (and brush and floss regularly), going to the dentist should be a relatively “painless” experience.

Talia A.

Eating Out With Allergies

SONY DSC

Eating in restaurants when you have food allergies can be a source of anxiety (especially if you’re in an unfamiliar restaurant). As long as you keep your allergies in mind, you can find ways to eat out safely. When I eat out at a restaurant that I am not familiar with, I often ask if the restaurant has an allergy menu outlining the common allergens found in their meals.

When choosing what I am going to order, I often pick two items in case there is an issue for some reason. I always inform the waiter of my allergies, regardless of whether I have eaten there before, so that the kitchen can be aware and take extra precautions. I personally find it easier if I am the last one in my group to order, since I take longer to order.  After telling the waiter my order, I inform them of my allergies by explaining that I have life-threatening food allergies to my specific allergens.

I let them know that cross contamination could cause a reaction.  I ask them to inform the cooks of my allergies and ask if they can find out if there would be any issues with the meal I ordered based on my allergies. I have an extensive list of allergies. So sometimes, if I am unsure if the waiter got them all, I’ll have them read the list back to me.  If I ever feel uncomfortable, I will ask to speak to the manager because they tend to have more knowledge about what is going on in the kitchen. As long as you take the right precautions, you can safely enjoy a meal out with your family and friends despite having food allergies!

Sara S.

Allergies and Anxiety

Live_Main_Travel

It can be tough growing up with potentially fatal allergies. There just are no two ways about it. When you are in elementary school, usually your parents, teachers, and school staff members have your back and make sure that you are okay. And, when you aren’t in school, your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings look out for you as well. The transition to beginning to deal with your allergies on your own can also be a scary time in the life of someone with serious allergies.

But, because it is something that your parents and others have been preparing you for for years, it isn’t something that you should look at as terrifying. Often, when you reach junior high, your parents will give you a little bit more freedom. And this includes the freedom to begin to take care of and manage different situations in which you might come into contact with your allergen(s). But, as you remember, you knew that you had the tools to do all of this for yourself. You also knew that your parents were there if you ever needed them.

When you get into high school and, more so, university, the expectation is that you should be able to handle managing your allergies for yourself. Here are a few tips to always remember and keep you alert and prepared for all situations. One, and this can’t be emphasized enough, always take your auto-injector with you no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that you will be eating. Bring it anyway and have it on you not just nearby. Second, make sure someone with you knows how to properly administer your auto-injector should something happen. Last, but by no means least, if you think you are having a reaction, use your auto-injector. You are better safe than sorry!!

Aaron S.

 

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

Allergies and Brunch

breakfast picture

Sunday brunch has become a quintessential tradition for many families across Canada. Aside from providing a means of reconnecting with family and friends, brunch is usually a meal arranged at external venues and restaurants. Living with allergies usually limits the options you have when it comes to eating-out. One of the biggest problems with buffets, or meals that are prepared by someone other than yourself or your immediate family, is the risk of cross-contamination that arises when multiple different dishes are prepared at once. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  1. What to eat?

If you decide to eat-out, always do your homework. ALWAYS!  What I mean by that is be aware of where you are eating and how your food is being prepared. If the brunch is at an external venue or restaurant, call the venue a day or two in advance to see if the restaurant has an allergy policy in place. That way you will know whether or not the establishment is allergen friendly and what specific foods you should stay away from. If brunch is being served at a relative’s house, follow the same procedure – make sure you always ask and remind your relatives (if they already don’t know) about how severe your allergy is and about the risks of cross-contamination. Being at a relative’s house can actually work in your favour. You can ask to see the ingredients used and how the food was prepared. You have more control over the situation. In any event, opt to eat foods that are “simple” (no creams or fancy sauces). Typically, the simpler the food is the less ingredients you have to worry about. This can reduce the chances for cross-contamination.

  1. Seeking alternatives

What happens if you are sitting at your table but you just don’t feel comfortable eating any of the food prepared? This can be a tricky and uncomfortable situation (especially if you are at a relative’s house). They may think that you don’t trust them. The way to get around this is through compromise. If you are at a restaurant, and there is an omelette that you want, but you can’t have because there are too many ingredients to keep track of, ask the chef to prepare another omelette with less ingredients or just get a hard-boiled egg (this is the safest option). Make sure that the chef is aware of any cross-contamination issues. They should have a good idea about which ingredients are safe and which are not. Ultimately, it is up to you. Go with your gut intuition. If you don’t feel safe, do NOT feel forced to eat something. If you are at a family member’s house, and you just don’t feel safe eating the food prepared, politely pull whoever is cooking the food aside and explain how you feel. Explain that your allergy is a very serious matter and is potentially lethal. In most cases, your family should understand and accommodate you by preparing something that is completely safe. These cases can be sensitive. But your health and safety trumps everything else. You have the right to feel safe!

Overall, these are some simple tips you can follow.  Following these tips should eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty you may feel during your next brunch outing.

Saverio M.

Allergies and Anxiety

Worried Couple

In my years of working in advocacy with the allergic community, I have noticed that the topic of anxiety comes up quite frequently. It seems as though most allergic people I’ve met have experienced a bit of a challenge with anxiety at one point or another. My major bout with anxiety occurred during my grade 12 grad trip abroad. I had an allergic reaction that included the following symptoms: itchy mouth, throat, hives, and tightness in the chest. I ended up being okay.

Luckily, my reaction wasn’t that severe. I took an antihistamine and felt a lot better. The worst part for me was that I had asked all the right questions and took the necessary precautions. I realized that I was not really in control of the situation at all. That is what rattled me the most! Unfortunately, this happened on the second night of my trip.  For the next five days, I hardly ate anything except for some of the snack foods I had packed myself. I ended up losing quite a bit of weight in the next few days. Even after arriving home to Canada, I found myself very on edge around meal times. I would check ingredient labels incessantly. I was afraid that everything in my house was in some way cross-contaminated and started eating less and less. I began having panic attacks which was a really scary thing for me. The symptoms are similar to anaphylaxis—a sense of impending doom, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and dizziness. My sister was a great support to me and always helped talk me through my panic attacks.

I basically came to the realization that I can never control everything when it comes to my allergies. I can only do what I can to minimize the risk of a reaction and be prepared to handle a reaction when needed (this includes carrying my auto-injector and purchasing traveler’s insurance in advance, knowing the emergency number in the country you are staying etc.).  With this knowledge in mind, my anxiety is much better. I have not had a panic attack in years and I am able to logically assess risk in stressful situations. Since that graduation trip, I have backpacked through Europe and gone on two Cruises through the Caribbean with no further incidents. I don’t want my allergies to hold me back in life. I embrace new experiences with an open-mind and find comfort in knowing that I am always prepared.

Nicole K.