Category Archives: Allergies and Relationships

University/College Top 3 Tips Series: Going out with New Friends

One of the best parts of going to school is that you will have the opportunity to make lots of new friends. However, with any situation of making new friends, breaking the ice about your allergies can be difficult. Below are my top 3 tips to how to best manage going out with new friends while being safe with your allergies.

  1. Tell them in advance

It is always a lot easier for both yourself and your friends to talk about your food allergies in advance of going out. It can be a fun fact you bring up about yourself when meeting people for the first time. I always find it easiest to introduce when I’m going out to eat with people. Usually if they ask what I want I’ll say, “Anything without nuts because I’m allergic to them!” I try to keep it casual and not make a big deal about it because I don’t want to make anybody afraid to eat with me.

  1. Come up with activities that don’t involve food

It’s always a good plan to have some ideas of activities to do with your friends when you go out that doesn’t involve food. Look up different things to do in the new city or town. For most people, the city will probably be quite new to them so exploring the place you will be living for the next little while is always a fun idea!

  1. Find some places that are safe for you to eat

A lot of the time when going out, people will default to food-related activities. Make sure you have restaurant options that you know are safe for you to eat at. That way when you say that you have an allergy you can offer a list of choices for your new friends to choose from. This helps makes accommodating your allergy easier for others and ensures you will be comfortable when eating out as well.

Making new friends can be difficult – especially when you have a food allergy. It is always best to tell them when you first meet them so everybody is well aware and can ensure that your allergies are accommodated for when you go out! It is also a good idea to let people know where your auto-injector is and how to use it in case of an emergency! If you have any other tips when going out with new friends, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below!

– Lindsay S.

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C is for Confidence: A Food Allergy Story

Something I know now to be the corner stone of my food allergy identity is confidence. Confidence taught, learned, and exercised at a young age is key to becoming an adult who speaks up about their food allergy in every situation. If your confidence is stolen or stifled, it can cause many kids to become ashamed of their food allergies. Then they may attempt to hide their allergy from others or dismiss the seriousness of it which makes the potential for a reaction so much larger. Instead of fighting for your child to have certain foods in a classroom, we should be explaining the severity and importance of awareness. Confidence can be a shield for ignorance and a tool to help change the perception many have about food allergies.

Confidence is the most important skill you can craft when it comes to having a food allergy and it’s something that I think needs to be instilled at a young age. We as a food allergy community need to be building each other up, and helping to educate those around us so no one feels bad or ashamed on a daily basis. If we understand at a young age that we are all unique and beautiful, then the classroom and world will be a far more accepting place.

There is a saying: It takes a village to raise a child. As a community, we should be working together to help those with food allergies gain a voice that is proud of their food allergy. Confidence in myself and my fellow classmates would have made a world of difference between eating alone and helping everyone understand food allergies at my school. It seems like a small skill, but those little seeds tended to over years in school and into adulthood will create an aware, powerful counterpart in the food allergy community. A community that is dedicated to educating others, but more importantly, confident and proud in themselves.

– Arianne K.

Valentine’s Day with Food Allergies

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Valentine’s with an allergy?

Well, I got you!

Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic days of the year. Maybe you and your long-term partner are planning a weekend getaway to relax and enjoy each other’s company or maybe you and your girlfriends are planning on celebrating ‘single ladies’ style. No matter what your relationship status is, you can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday. I didn’t really start celebrating Valentine’s Day until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember being very nervous the first Valentine’s Day we celebrated together because I had actually no idea what I was going to be able to eat. I was so worried that we would get to the restaurant and then be forced to leave because I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. So my advice? Don’t be like me! Be confident and take initiative! Over the last four years of dating my boyfriend, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to master Valentine’s Day:

Valentines day hearts on wooden backgroundPlan ahead! – Going out for dinner? Think ahead. My boyfriend and I already contacted the manager of the restaurant we are thinking of trying this Valentine’s Day, two weeks in advance. Valentine’s Day itself is a very busy day/night at most restaurants, so don’t contact the restaurant the day of. Contact the restaurant maybe two, three, or even seven days in advance and speak to the manager. The majority of classier restaurants usually also do special “Valentine’s Day” menus and these menus are typically different from their usual menus. Just because you’ve been to a restaurant before does not mean it’s going to be safe for you on Valentine’s Day. The manager will be able to give you the best advice on what is going to be safest for you. Once you get to the restaurant, request to speak to the person you’ve already contacted. I’ve had amazing experiences at The KEG, Baton Rogue, and Copacabana on Valentine’s Day.

Laura Secord – If you’re allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and have never had the opportunity to try Valentine’s Day chocolate in a box because of the enormous amount of nut products in these chocolate filled boxes, Laura Secord has your back. The 100-year-old Canadian chocolate franchise has an assortment of peanut-free and tree nut-free chocolates in both bars and boxes. They even have a special Valentine’s Day nut-free chocolate assortment box. I picked up a box the other day and it was incredibly delicious. Start making hints to your date that you’re craving some delicious Laura Secord nut-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Go Canada!

Keep it simple! – There’s honestly no need to go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Keep yourself safe (and save yourself some cash) by inviting your Valentine over to your place this Valentine’s Day. Make an allergen-safe dinner at home together and watch a cool movie. You will not only have a great time, but you and your Valentine will bond by being able to share with him/her your allergen-safe secrets. You (and your wallet) will be grateful that you’re not out on arguably the busiest dining out night of the year.

Don’t make Valentine’s Day revolve around food! – Who said Valentine’s Day had to be associated with food? Celebrate the day with your loved one by doing something or going somewhere that you wouldn’t usually go to; take a trip to Niagara Falls, go skiing, or take out those skates and go to the nearest ice rink. You make your own fun!

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to enroll your loved one. Share with your Valentine your worries and come up with a game plan in advance together. Get asked out on a date and you’re told that the restaurant is a surprise? Immediately take the initiative and share with your date that you have allergies and you’d love to be a part of planning so that you two can find a suitable destination for you. My boyfriend now takes initiative even before I do! It’s not supposed to be a scary or stressful night, so find a way to have fun with it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

– Giulia C.

To Epi or not to Epi? Why I Stupidly Delayed Giving Myself Epinephrine

At the Library

I grew into several life-threatening food allergies when I was 19 years old, and learning to manage these allergies has been challenging. Let me tell you a story. I was spending an afternoon in a local library studying for an upcoming university exam and I decided to refuel at the library café. I ordered an iced cappuccino and after drinking a few sips, I could feel something was wrong. I could feel my throat beginning to swell and I began to feel dizzy. I looked to the café and realized that the same blender that was used to make my cappuccino was also being used to make fruit smoothies. Among the long list of allergies that I grew into are raw fruits and raw vegetables.

I was having another reaction. My throat continued to close, I felt more faint, and I was starting to have trouble breathing.

I grabbed my backpack and took out the medications I bring everywhere with me: antihistamines and my EpiPen®. I took the antihistamines, but I was hesitant to take my EpiPen®. I gathered my things, quickly got to my car, and drove to a nearby hospital. I parked my car in the emergency department (ED) parking lot and waited.

I couldn’t swallow, I was having trouble breathing, and I felt really nauseous. I made a deal with myself: if at any time this reaction gets worse, I’ll take my EpiPen®, and go into the ED.
My symptoms remained unchanged for the next half hour, and
then began to resolve over the next few hours.

Looking back, I was extremely lucky.

Double-dose

Now, another story. I was helping move some furniture at a friend’s house two summers ago. After we finished lifting the last bookcase, his father brought us both a glass of wine. After one sip I felt strange. My typical symptoms occurred (throat swelling, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and extreme nausea) but this time they came on like a freight train. I ran to get my EpiPen® and immediately administered it to the outside of my right thigh. Then I took an antihistamine. We alerted 911 and sat on the couch. Minutes after my first EpiPen®, my throat completely closed off. Even as I write this right now, I become very emotional. Those were some very tense minutes that felt like an eternity. My friend’s father was calmly instructing 911 what was happening, and my friend administered a second EpiPen® to my left leg. I was still gasping for air and my swollen throat would not let any air in. The fire fighters burst through the door. I felt a little air pass into my lungs – the second EpiPen® was working. I am so thankful that I did what I did, and that my friend and his family knew what to do too. They saved my life.

In my first story I didn’t take my EpiPen® and I am well aware how lucky I was in that situation. I have had 12 anaphylactic reactions in the past seven years, and in some circumstances, I chose not to take my EpiPen®. In retrospect, I wish I had used it every time. So, why didn’t I? Here are some common themes that I’ve noticed about my decisions:

  • This one won’t be serious, right?

I have had 12 allergic reactions in the past and most of the time I use my EpiPen®. I have never had what’s called a “biphasic” reaction, I have never needed a breathing tube in the emergency department, I have never been admitted to the hospital for my allergies, and before the reaction at my friend’s house, I have never stopped breathing completely. So, why would I have serious complications during this allergic reaction?

  • Guilt

When I administer my EpiPen®, I call 911, go to the hospital, and receive care from nurses and doctors. Usually, by the time I get to the hospital I am stabilizing, I am able to breathe without difficulty, and the swelling in my throat decreases. In the emergency department I look around and see some really sick patients – elderly patients, infants, and those who are not as fortunate as I to be recovering. I feel very guilty that I am taking up a bed. I don’t deserve this.

  • Costly

The ambulance in Ontario will cost a patient under 65 years-of-age $45, and replacement EpiPens® can cost over $100 if you do not have insurance.

  • Waste of time

After using an EpiPen® and calling 911, patients are routinely kept in the ED for 4 hours to see if they will have a biphasic reaction. This is how long it takes the epinephrine to wear off. So after the reaction, the ride to the hospital, and the ride home, at least 6 hours have gone by and it’s often more time than I can afford to give up.

It’s important to understand the difference between the medications that can help us during an allergic reaction. An EpiPen® contains the medication epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Benadryl® and other over the counter allergy medications are commonly referred to as antihistamines. The medication in Benadryl® is called diphenhydramine. It’s not necessarily useful to remember these long names, but it can be important to understand how these medications work in order to avoid making the mistake that I have made – choosing not to take my EpiPen®. Epinephrine does the job of an antihistamine but it helps in more ways, and it works much faster with stronger effects. It is always the medication of choice for life-threatening allergic reactions.

I have to be honest, there is one important reason why I chose not to take my EpiPen® that I haven’t told you yet. Whether we’ve had one happen to us, watched a friend have one, or heard the story of a friend’s reaction, anaphylactic reactions are terrifying.

A man is reacting to something he didn't expect

It’s actually happening…

Sometimes, in the early stages of an allergic reaction, it may be tricky to discern if what is happening actually is a reaction. In a situation where I may not be sure whether I am having a reaction, I used to feel that by administering my EpiPen®, I was confirming that this was, in-fact, a reaction. When people are presented with bad news, a well-known coping mechanism involves going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model):

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The bad news I was presented with was, “Fraser, you’re having an anaphylactic reaction.” By not administering myself my EpiPen® I was dealing with this bad news by denying it. I have coped with the news of an allergic reaction with other stages in the past as well. When I drove myself from the library and waited in the emergency room parking lot, I was bargaining with myself: “Okay, I’ll wait here and take an antihistamine deal?”. I know it can be difficult to do, but the safest and most effective way to deal with an allergic reaction is to skip right to acceptance.

If my body had reacted more rapidly while I was in the library, I may not have made it to the hospital safely due to the way I handled the reaction. In short, in the future, I will always use my EpiPen®. Unsure? EpiPen®. Scared? EpiPen®. It is impossible to predict how one’s body will react to the same allergen an additional time, so basing what might happen based on my history of reactions is not a good idea. Financial cost and a short stay in the emergency department should never influence my decision to take care of myself. Allergies, whether we like them or not, may be part of our lives and they are of no fault of our own. Accepting them as a part of what makes us special can be difficult, but once this is done, it makes the challenge of having allergies much more manageable.

– Fraser K.

When a Boy with a Food Allergy Walked into my Life: Girlfriend Edition

Chocolate covered almonds, peanut butter sandwiches, and M & M’s are a few of my favourite things to eat! For me, going a day without peanuts, tree nuts, or almonds was as rare as a black swan. I have been very lucky in my life to have no food allergies. On top of that, my family and my closest friends are also allergy-free. Needless to say, you can imagine how much my life flipped the moment I found out my major crush (who is now my boyfriend) informed me of his life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. This was also a relief for me, as I understood why we didn’t share a kiss after our first date.

The first time we kissed, and several times after, I noticed a trend. The question “have you consumed any nuts today?” along with an interrogation of my diet, was something I quickly got accustomed to. I’ve never been questioned before kissing someone, so that was a totally new experience for me. Talk about feeling pressured! This wasn’t a typical question that had a range of answers, it was either yes or no. I had to be 100% sure or else my boyfriend’s life was at stake. I became very well acquainted with ingredient labels on all products. This helped me to feel confident to ensure I was nut-free and kissable on days when I was visiting my boyfriend.

Woman trying to kiss a man and he is rejecting her outdoor in a park
Before kissing someone, ensure they have not eaten your allergen!

I began making a list of personal items that may contain peanuts and tree nuts, or could have been contaminated at some point (with the amount of peanuts and tree nuts in my life, you can imagine how long this list was). If there’s one thing my friends know about me, it’s that I love my chap stick. In all honesty, I use it hourly! So I chose to assume all previously used one were contaminated and bought new ones. I then marked the new ones with permanent marker to indicate that they were nut-free and safe from cross-contamination. As I used my old personal items that potentially came into contact with nuts, I eventually replaced them with nut-free products that would be safe around my boyfriend. After all, if things go well with this guy, my future will be surrounded by a nut-free environment so I might as well get used to that sooner rather than later.

I currently live at home and figured it would be important for my parents to be informed of my boyfriend’s food allergies. To help my parents have a better understanding, I named a couple of examples of tree nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. It was a good thing I did, as my dad later questioned me about almonds. This gave me an opportunity to educate my parents further and since I had their attention, I brought up the topic of cross-contamination, such as clean nut-free counter tops when my boyfriend is visiting. My parents were put to the test over the holidays when they invited him over for Christmas dinner.

I made sure I went over the ingredients with my parents to certify everything was nut-free and I reminded my parents to stay away from items such as previously opened butters that could have been contaminated. I am happy to say that the dinner was delicious, and my boyfriend was able to enjoy an allergen-free turkey dinner.

Couple shopping in a supermarket

I thought the holidays was a big test, but that was nothing compared to the vegan pot luck get together my friends and I choose to organize. Vegan dinners tend to contain a lot of tree nuts due to their high protein content. As mentioned earlier, none of my close friends have any food allergies. During the planning phase, my friends and I went over who was making what dish. To tone down the anxiety my boyfriend may feel that night, I picked a main dish so the both of us could be confident knowing there is at least one thing we could eat, after all, kisses were on the line and going an entire day with my boyfriend and not being allowed to kiss him, seemed torturous! Next, I became the nut police, or at least that’s what my friends called me. I made sure each person was aware of the extent of my boyfriend’s allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. A couple days before the big day, I started giving some tips on reading labels, and foods/areas to avoid (such as pre-made salads) at the grocery store. I reminded my friends to pay close attention to their ingredients, and if they made a mistake, and accidentally contaminated their meal with nuts, to be aware of that so that I could inform my boyfriend of which foods to avoid. Not only was my boyfriend able to feel relaxed during our get together, but my friends also chose to support the new change in my life, and learned more about accommodating food allergies.

I had no idea the impact his food allergy would have on my life, but I found the transition to be much easier, especially when kisses are up for grabs.

– Cindy B

Top Ten Tips Series: How to “Rock” Your Food Allergies

As someone who has grown up since the age of nine avoiding peanuts and tree nuts, I like to think I “Rock” at managing my food allergies. If you aren’t as confident, or if you want to become even more confident, then here are my top ten tips on how to completely “Rock” your food allergies:

  1. Wear your MedicAlert® or medical identification in case of emergency. For those like me who were really self-conscious about wearing these, there are now tons of really awesome new pieces of identification right down to military-style dog tags! Pick the one most stylish for you, then rep it and tell everyone about your food allergy.Man jump through the gap. Element of design.
  2. Show and tell. Show off your auto-injector and teach others how to use it.
  3. Be a master chef. Create a special food recipe that is allergy safe and share it with your friends to show that you too can eat delicious foods.
  4. Don’t keep your food allergies or an allergic reaction a secret. Be proactive and tell friends what to expect before a reaction occurs. Tell them what steps they should take in an emergency.
  5. Lead the way, spread the word! This can be done so many ways. You could write a song, create a sketch comedy routine, paint your thoughts, write a blog, write to a politician, or create a twitter account with tips on staying safe with food allergies. There’s an endless chain of possibilities here to really pave the way for every other food allergic person!
  6. Be suave. If dating, be flirty with potential dates by incorporating your food allergy into texts. One line that has proven to open the lines of communication for me time and time again is: “Hey, please try not to eat any peanuts or tree nuts from now until I see you tomorrow ;)” The wink face may seem corny but it is very helpful in keeping the message light, but serious, by implying that I may go in for a kiss and want to be as safe as possible. Her follow-up will likely involve some opportunity for me to educate her on the potential risks of kissing if my allergens are present.
  7. Educate co-workers. There are a lot of people who have never been exposed to food allergies and have no knowledge of the potential consequences allergen exposure can have on someone at-risk for anaphylaxis. For this reason, I think it’s important to teach the people you work with (and see every day) about food allergies. Teach them about signs and symptoms, how to use an auto-injector, where they can find yours, steps to take in case of an emergency, and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you want more advice on how to do this, check out Jason’s take on how to educate co-workers: https://adultswithallergies.com/2016/04/01/explaining-my-food-allergies-series-to-a-co-worker/
  8. Learn from past mistakes. I’m sure we have all had a close-call (or two…or many) in our lives. I like to think that mistakes are made so that we can learn from them. I try not to dwell on them. I figure out where I went wrong and how I can improve to ensure I remain safe in the future.
  9. Remain confident when facing adversity. No one knows you better than yourself so when you face a difficult food allergy scenario, remain confident, and stick to your safety game plan! You are the master of your food allergies.
  10. Continue to be AWESOME! Use my tips or find your own way to rock your food allergies! Just remember, to keep being awesome.

Awesome comic bubble retro text. Pop art style

Do you have any other tips that you think would benefit other adults with allergies? Feel free to post in the comments below and start a discussion.

Dylan B.

Explaining Food Allergies to Kids

Birthday Party

When I was growing up my parents would go to exhaustive lengths to ensure anyone who babysat me knew the full extent of my allergies, how to avoid triggers, and what to do incase I had contact with a potential allergen.  As I got older, I switched roles and soon found that I was the babysitter now explaining to the children I was looking after why I couldn’t prepare them things like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With the rate of childhood food allergies on the rise, it is becoming important to not over simplify or downplay your allergies when talking to children. Rather it is important to make sure they are told, in an age appropriate manner, what allergies are and the seriousness of an allergic reaction. From my perspective, there are two benefits that can result from taking the time to explain food allergies to children. The first obvious benefit is that a child is more likely to act appropriately around you with regards to your allergies. The second, larger benefit is the fact that, the more exposure to and education about allergies they receive, the more likely they are to understand the concept of food allergies in general.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind and assess when explaining food allergies to children is the actual age of the child and what they will be able to comprehend in terms of information and detail.  You don’t need to go assessing where the child falls on Piaget’s Scale of Cognitive Development, but gain a sense of what is appropriate for them to learn based on things they already know. When talking to a child about food allergies, engage them in the conversation, ask them questions to assess their ability to understand what you are explaining and, if you have the time and are really creative, feel free to get interactive and even make a game about the information they are learning! Okay. So not every time you explain your allergies to a child will involve a game about say ‘matching food allergies with symptoms’. But try to always get to know the child you’re talking to and see what’s the best way you can relate to them and help them with understanding this important topic.

In terms about what information to address, again this will involve assessing why you are bringing this topic up with the child and what they will most benefit from learning. If this is a child’s first exposure to someone with allergies, the obvious conversation to start with is what allergies are. For a younger child, the most important piece to get across is the emphasis that some foods are very harmful if eaten or even touched by people with allergies. As a child gets older, they will be able to understand and even be interested in a more in-depth explanation of allergies. This can involve going on to explain the body’s immune system and how it can overreact and identify certain food items as allergens. If a child is exposed to someone, such as a playmate with severe allergies, it then might also be worth explaining about the treatment involved when someone is having an allergic reaction. The explanation can again vary but could involve emphasis on notifying an adult or someone who is able to activate EMS and provide immediate treatment with an auto-injector or, if appropriate, the child could be educated about the process of using an auto injector. 

With food allergies on the rise, it is never too early to start educating children about what allergies are and how to act around those who do have allergies. And who better to start the conversation than a young adult who has grown up and has had the experience first hand!

Caitlyn P.