Category Archives: Allergies and Relationships

How Your Parents Treated Your Allergies Then and Now: Once a Parent, Always a Parent

Blog Pic Nov

I was three years old when my family found out I had a life threatening food allergy to peanuts and nuts. Now, I don’t remember much from that fateful day, but the bits and pieces I’ve gathered seem to allude to the following: I ate a cracker with peanut butter on it and immediately went into anaphylactic shock. My parents rushed me to the hospital because they had no idea what the heck was happening to me.

Afterward, the doctors broke the news to my family that I was anaphylactic to all nuts and peanuts (my life story and my family’s were sent down a very different, but interesting path). At the beginning, my parents did everything to keep me safe; and I mean everything. My saint of a mother spent hours baking everything from cakes and cookies, to ice cream and bread. There were no regulations for food safety, and few companies could guarantee a safe products free of cross-contamination. So our food options were limited. Collectively, my family and extended family decided to clear our houses of all of my allergens (and my brother’s when we figured out his allergy) to limit the chances of either of us having a reaction.

They painstakingly created one space where I could feel completely safe to eat anything found in our kitchen. On top of creating meals, snacks, and even birthday cakes for fellow classmates, my mom helped create support groups for fellow parents of children with food allergies. She also become an integral part of the organization AAIA (Allergies, Asthma Information Association) and spread the message about food allergies to our local school board (to eventually make my school nut-free before its time).

Through it all, my mom and dad did everything in their power to make me feel included in events, safe and, most importantly, normal. It can be so hard on a child’s self-esteem to grow up with a food allergy, and my family did everything in their power to both help me be comfortable with my allergen and to be vocal about informing and educating people. BUT, that did not stop her from telling anyone and everyone about my allergies, sometimes in the most pre-teen embarrassing way, or announcing to any room that would listen that we had a quote “Special Alert” – me.

Fast-forward 20 years to my adulthood. My mom is still taking time to make homemade foods for me when I visit, informing anyone who will listen about food allergies, and is still taking time to discover new and safe foods for me. My family is still my pillar of support when it comes to new or lasting issues I have with my food allergies regardless of distance between us. My food allergies have been consistent in my life and my family’s for such a long period of time that they are no longer a constant topic or issue for us. Over the years we’ve found restaurants that can accommodate, safe places to travel, and resources to make our lives easier.

My parents still choose to not keep my allergen in their home, and not to eat them even while travelling. I guess some habits never go away. And between you and me, it makes me smile every time I think about it. My mom still ever-so subtly prompts me to inform servers and chefs about my allergen before I even get a chance to sit down when eating out. She still makes me re-read ingredients after she reads them and still insist on joining me on every trip I take to the allergist. My parents have always been a beacon of love and support in my life, from allowing me to spread my wings and experience life, to helping me create values and roots to come back home to.

Arianne K.

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.

Teaching Others How To Use Your Auto-injector

Live_Main Auto Injector

Note: These recommendations apply only to the EpiPen® brand of auto-injector and are not substitutions for learning how to use one from a qualified professional.

Teaching your friends and family about how to use your auto-injector is essential when you are at-risk for Anaphylaxis. If you are ever in a situation where you are unable to administer your auto-injector on your own, it is important that whoever you are with knows how to help you. For that reason, I always make sure that people who I spend a lot of time with know about my allergies, where I keep my auto-injector, and what to do if I have an allergic reaction.

When I teach someone about using an auto-injector, I take it out and let the person hold it to ensure that they understand visually. I personally use the auto-injector and try to keep my instructions as simple as possible using two steps:

1. Hold the auto-injector with the orange tip pointing downwards and remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight off.

2. Firmly push the orange tip of the pen into the middle of the outside of the individuals thigh and hold for several seconds after hearing a click.

I always instruct the individual that the auto-injector can inject through pants and to immediately call 911 after using the auto-injector.

To ensure that the person understands, you can ask them to explain your instructions back to you. By teaching others about your auto-injector, both you and your friends can feel more comfortable about your allergies.

Sara S.

Five Allergy-Friendly Date Night Ideas

young couple having fun in the kitchen

When it comes to planning a date night, ideas have a tendency to cloud my brain. I’ve thought of so many unique date night activities at random times but when asked, “what do you want to do?” flat out by a girl, my brain often likes to jumble them all up at once. Coffee or beer is an easy option. Flying a kite might be fun. Going to see a movie is always a good move. Food is an easy option too. But what about my food allergies? Being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to keep food allergy-friendly date night ideas in my back pocket or I risk setting myself (and my date) up for a night of no activities. For a food and drink junkie like me, it’s hard to envision a date night that doesn’t involve food in one way or another. So here’s a countdown of my five favourite allergy-friendly date nights (or days) and how I planned them to help you out if you ever get stuck. Keep in mind that a couple of these dates haven’t actually happened yet. But my blueprint plan is still all laid-out and waiting for that special someone.

  • Day trip to Toronto Island (or the beach or a nice big park). For this one, try to go somewhere that is spacious and beautiful with lots of open space. I find that fresh air on a date helps wash away any stress I may have and really keeps me happy. When I went to Toronto Island, I packed my own picnic lunch in a backpack. Food was never discussed with my date since I love giving surprises and the picnic lunch was the main surprise. By packing my own food, I had full control of what foods I would eat and what foods my date would eat. I asked her ahead of time what kinds of food she liked so she wouldn’t be disappointed by my surprise. Then I made sure I prepared some of those foods with little tweaks to ensure that they were allergen-free. I also clearly explained to my date the severity of my allergy and how to properly administer my auto-injector before date night. The important word there is before date night. Introducing my food allergy early is something I try to do as I find it keeps things more comfortable for both of us on date night. The last thing I did while planning this particular date was visit the area to make sure that there were no surprises (like a peanut café or a beach full of nut shells). If there are ever surprises, I would have to re-adjust my plans and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
  • Take a pottery class together. This is literally on my bucket list of dates-to-do. Taking a class like this is great because you get the chance to talk but you also work on something together that you can take home as a memory. Plus it just looks fun. The other bonus? Pottery class doesn’t have much risk for food allergy reactions. That being said, if you choose to do this, make sure you call the pottery people ahead of time to get a rundown of the process. Ask questions like, does everyone wash their hands before handling the clay? Do you have a vending machine on site? Think about any risks you can think of and ask if they may be present. Then just plan ahead and have some fun!
  • Homemade cooking/baking. For this one, the ball was completely in my court for planning. First, I brainstormed ideas about what my date and I wanted to make (oreo chocolate cheesecake brownies, of course!). Next, I looked up recipes. At this stage, I try to find allergy-friendly recipes but they don’t have to be. When I stumble upon a recipe that sounds undeniably delicious but contains my allergen, I immediately look up alternatives on the internet (Google is a huge help). Next, I went to the grocery store and picked up all the necessary ingredients and read each ingredient list carefully to ensure that nothing even “may contained” my allergen. With these steps meticulously complete, I was able to relax on date night and the final product was delicious!
  • Attend a baseball game (or other sporting event). This one was tricky since peanuts are everywhere at the ball park (or any sporting event for that matter). To plan, I called the venue ahead of time to ask if they had any allergy-safe sections for that match-up. Sometimes a venue will host a game where an entire section is peanut/nut free in the stands. So I try to keep my eyes out for those and plan my date night around them. When they told me they didn’t, I went to plan B: caution. I packed two auto-injectors, just in case. I made sure both my date and I had a hearty allergen-free meal before the game so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy food at the game. This was a relief for both my wallet and me. That being said, we were both snackers at events like this so we snuck in a pack of candy I knew was safe. When we decided to snack, we both washed our hands at the washroom and made sure not to touch anything before eating the candy. As for drinks, we stuck with bottled water! Simple planning for a great date.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon. This one will likely never ever happen but I can dream. Planning a movie date night is simple and can be really fun. Put a bunch of movie names in a hat, then pull one out and watch it. I like to add in silly movies that I’ve never heard of because it adds to the fun of pulling one out of the hat. To make it more engaging, make it a themed movie hat night and only add movie titles into the hat that fit the theme (for example, Leslie Neilson night). I asked my date to bring the hat and volunteered to think of snack ideas. Again, this kept me in control of what we both ate, just in case my date let my allergy slip her mind. By this point in our relationship, she was already quite familiar with my allergy but it never hurts to remind them not to eat your allergen within 24-48 hours of seeing you. Then just kick back, maybe cuddle, and enjoy the movie!

Sometimes date night is extravagant and other times it’s really simple. Just remember to plan ahead, always bring your auto-injector, and enjoy the little moments. Happy date night!

Dylan B.

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.

Staying Safe on Valentine’s Day with Allergies

young couple having fun in the kitchen

Roses are in shops, chocolates are on shelves, and the year’s biggest romantic movies are in theaters. Love is in the air and so is everything else. Having a food allergy can make it hard to navigate through a holiday filled with chocolates and treats. But taking time and explaining your allergens can help ensure a great date.

Staying safe on Valentine’s Day can be tricky at any age. But following a few simple guidelines can help you avoid an allergic reaction and help you spend this special day safely with your significant other.

As always, it is important to make sure that the person you are with knows about all of your food allergies, where they can be found, where your auto-injector is, and how to use it. Making sure that your intended date knows what is safe for you to eat and be around is an important first step to staying safe on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes it can feel like the mystery and romance of the holiday is taken away. But, by talking about your food allergies in advance, you will both be prepared. A good way to ensure that a dinner date goes smoothly is to give or ask for a list of safe places to eat in advance so that you can both be better prepared.

Candy, chocolates, and roses are the quintessential staples for any good Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of safe options for delicious treats available to make your day special. If you’re buying, make sure that you read the labels very carefully, look out for “may contain labels” and, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of resources online and numbers to call and confirm ingredients. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen and you’re making a special treat from scratch, a few measures can be taken to ensure that your snack stays safe. Make sure your cooking area is cleaned and that all of your utensils are disinfected. Never use the same utensils for different foods. Ensure that you know all of the food allergies that the person you are cooking for has. Cross-contamination is just as dangerous as an allergen. So always be aware of what is around you.

Every Valentine’s Day date should be sealed with a kiss. The “will they or won’t they” butterflies in your stomach don’t need any accompaniment from stress butterflies caused by wondering if your significant other has had any contact with your allergen.  The best way to avoid any unwanted stress is to, again, make sure that you communicate your allergens clearly and ensure that your date knows the severity of them. If you’re the one without the allergies, consider a dish or meal that is free of your partner’s allergen to ensure a smooth evening.

Having a food allergy should never stop you from experiencing your ideal Valentine’s Day date. Taking simple precautions to stay safe with your food allergies will ensure a magical date and a night to remember for all of the right good reasons.

Arianne K.

 

A Night at the Movies with Allergies – Take Two

Woman with Hat

To religious movie-goers, a night out at the movies represents all things fun and exciting. There’s a lot to look forward to. Whether it involves touching-base with friends or waiting in anticipation to see your favorite actor play his or her roll on the big screen, movie nights usually equate to fun times. Having anaphylaxis does not have to limit your fun night out. Here are a few tips that you can keep in mind during your next movie night.

  1. Before arriving at the movie theatre…

One of the most important things to do, regardless of the outing you are attending, is to let those around you know that (a) you have a severe allergy (and what you have an allergy to) and (b) that you have an auto-injector. If your friends don’t know how to use an auto-injector or what an auto-injector is, give them a brief demonstration of how to use it and where you store it in the event that you have a reaction. Having your friends be aware of your allergy is crucial to your safety at any event. They will know exactly how to respond. So, in sum, make sure that your friends are aware of your allergy.

  1. While at the movie theatre

Whenever I go out to the movies, my friends always rush to grab some snacks before the movie begins. Eating-out with anaphylaxis is always tricky – you have to be extra-careful about which snacks you choose. Here are some tips you can follow to snack safely:

  • Always choose snacks that are pre-packaged by a brand-name company (not by the movie theatre). There should be a detailed list of ingredients on the back with “may contain” warnings. Preferably, choose snacks that you have tried before so you know that you are safe.
  • If you really love popcorn, bring some along with you. You don’t know what oil is used and how the popcorn has been handled by the theatre staff. The risk of cross-contamination is a lot higher with popcorn that is freely handled.
  • If you don’t feel like eating at all, but you still want to ‘participate’ with your peers, drinks are usually a safe option. Always try to opt for bottled or canned drinks – preferably water, soda or juice. Some coffees and teas are sold in bakeries that sell other baked goods that contain common allergens (ie. peanuts and tree-nuts). So the safest thing to drink is something that is sealed.

In summary, these are some simple tips that you can follow during your next outing to the theatre. Don’t let your allergies ruin a fun night out with your friends. Just be aware of what you are eating and make sure your friends are aware of your allergies.

Saverio M.

 

Eating at Family Members’ Homes During the Holidays and Year-Round

HiRes

Eating at friend or family member’s home over the holidays can be awkward. As much as we love the quality time, sometimes people ‘forget’ about your allergens or just don’t fully understand the severity of them. Here are my top ten tips for dining at family member’s homes during the holidays.

  • Avoid potlucks if possible. I get it. Hosting an event is a lot of work. However, people’s lack of knowledge surrounding ingredients, not to mention cross-contamination, can make this dining situation a risky event.
  • Plan visits between meal times. Obviously, people love to pig out during the holidays. It just seems that eating and catching up with cousins and family are a part of the holiday season. However, try and plan events during mealtimes to relieve any unnecessary stress or concern. Why not go tobogganing or skating instead?
  • Do communal food preparation. Help out with the host in the food preparation process. Being behind the scenes can enlighten you on ingredients and how things were made. You will have a much better understanding of what options are viable.
  • Suggest recipes or menu themes that you know are safe. Depending on what your allergens are, you can always suggest menu items that you know are safe. You can make it fun by challenging people to the best pasta cook off or seven layer dip fiesta (of course this is assuming that you can eat these items). Using this method, you don’t have to worry as much about people bringing dishes you cannot eat.
  • Have your auto-injector on hand. Make sure you bring it. Whether you decide to store it in your purse, jacket pocket or snowsuit, you should have it on you at all times.
  • Always bring a dish you know is safe. It is definitely better to have one safe option to eat versus no safe option at all! Express this to your host and have them scoop some of your delicious contribution separately before sharing it with guests. This way, you can avoid cross-contamination of your amazing, and allergen-friendly, side dish.
  • Check labels upon arrival. Don’t hesitate to ask the host to keep labels from food items. Upon arriving at their humble abode, take a gander at the lists to ensure that the meal will be safe for your consumption. Don’t forget about sauces such as meat marinades and salad dressings. It may feel weird to dig through a garbage can for a label. But I guarantee that it is better than digging into your pocket for your auto-injector.
  • Always pack a snack for yourself. Even if you’re assured that you will be accommodated, it is best to come prepared with a snack or alternative food to eat. It will definitely beat going hungry.
  • If you experience any allergic symptoms, let someone know. Just in case something does happen, make sure you let someone know immediately (preferably a trusted family member who can help keep you calm, assist with the auto-injector, and get you the help you need). Accidents do happen and the most important thing to remember is that you need to communicate! Isolating yourself in an emergency by ‘going to the bathroom’ can be dangerous!
  • Be grateful. As always, you should politely thank your hosts for having you over—especially if they are accommodating! Make sure you voice your appreciation for any extra steps they took in making sure you had a comfortable evening and they’ll be sure to invite you over next year.

Nicole K.

So You Didn’t Make a Plan: Allergies and Contingency

Girl and binoculars

It’s easy to make a plan in your head or write it down. You can map out every detail and think of different possibilities that could happen or arise. Putting those plans into action is a completely different story. A few years ago, my friends and I planned a road trip to Darien Lake, New York, where we went to Six Flags.  As kids, we had traveled there with our parents on numerous occasions; but this was the first year we were going alone. Given my food allergies, I knew that I had to plan ahead for safe options to eat. We were going for three days and I assumed a cooler with some cold snacks would be good enough. But boy was I was wrong. I didn’t anticipate how hungry I would be or what I would crave. I didn’t plan ahead for every meal I could want or be hungry for. I felt lost and without food. We were not close to a grocery store and I began to wonder what I would do. My friends I travelled with, being amazing and understanding about my food allergies, realized something was wrong. We decided to try our luck with the few of the restaurants available at the campground we were staying at. I hadn’t planned on eating out, so I did not call ahead or find out if any of them were safe. The first place we looked at was unable to guarantee a safe meal but, luckily, the second restaurant we went to could confirm they were an allergy-safe kitchen.

After eating, I satisfied my hunger; but I was still upset. I knew I was smarter than this. I always had a plan when I went out (but not this time). I realize now why I was so unorganized on this trip. It was a last minute we decision to go, a few days before to be exact, so I had no time to call ahead to the restaurants to make sure they would be safe. I also had conscience to share my cooler with one other person. So I didn’t have the room I would have liked to put more food in. Lastly, I had traveled there without cooking amenities; so my food options were limited.

I know now, whether it’s two days or 200 days in advance of travel, you should always have a some sort of plan in advance. Reliable snacks and foods are always a smart idea but, as we get older, we need more sustenance and most likely a hot meal. With mobile phones, it makes it easier to contact restaurants or look for grocery stores around you. Making sure you know your surroundings and having a plan are not only important to your safety but also when it comes to enjoying your trip.

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. Knowing what food you like, where you’re going, and what to bring is a lot easier than trying to find safe foods and places to eat. So remember, be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

Arianne K.