Category Archives: Allergies in Popular Culture

Guest Post – Taylor – Dating with Allergies

Enjoying each other's companyMy name is Taylor and I am a second year student studying Commerce at Queen’s University. I have serious allergies to peanuts, nuts, and fish. I am lucky that I have never suffered an anaphylactic reaction (or, as a result, had to be injected with my auto-injector).

In August 2012, I started dating my first boyfriend. We had been close friends prior. So he understood the severity of my allergies. I still needed to inform him that he could not eat any of the foods that I was allergic to on a day that he was planning to kiss me. In the beginning of our relationship, this took some getting used to because he loved to eat nuts and fish.

Growing up, I always thought that dating would be extremely difficult because of my allergies. I remember reading stories about the difficulties that teenagers experienced when dating. For example, I recall reading about a girl who was allergic to nuts. She saw the boy that she liked take a handful of almonds. If she had not seen him do so, she would have kissed him that night and would have potentially had an anaphylactic reaction.

Having experienced a relationship has taught me that dating with allergies is not as hard as I once anticipated. Yes, it is more difficult for me than for a person without allergies. But it is something that can be overcome. My boyfriend grew to learn how careful he needed to be with food when he was seeing me. He did not completely eliminate my allergens from his diet. But he would not eat foods that contained them when we had plans to get together. He was very respectful when we went out for dinner because he knew that I was selective when choosing a restaurant. When I went to his house for family dinners, I also needed to be very careful that his mother did not cook any food with my allergens. She was very respectful and careful when cooking. I appreciated that she took the time to ensure that I could partake in meals with the family!

Overall I realize that, although dating with allergies can be more difficult for me than for others, my allergies will not hold me back. I will inform all future boyfriends about the precautions to take regarding food and I am hopeful that they will respect my allergies.

Taylor R.

Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Common Misconceptions about Food Allergies

Wooden Man in Labyrinth with Map Having lived with multiple allergies my whole life, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation. Some people think that peanuts are nuts, but almonds aren’t. Others believe that allergies can be cured by hypnotism or that food allergies are really just a myth invented by “Big Pharma” to make money. Out of all the misconceptions I’ve heard, there are a few tenacious ones that keep popping up:

1 – Immunotherapy is a cure for food allergies

Immunotherapy is a process that desensitizes a person to their allergen by giving them small amounts of it over a long period of time. It’s done in a hospital under very controlled circumstances because, as you would expect, feeding someone their allergen can be dangerous. The goal of immunotherapy isn’t to “cure” someone of their allergy but, rather, to allow them to tolerate a larger amount than they originally could. It’s still a pretty experimental process and it isn’t offered everywhere. It also isn’t suitable for everyone; and the results haven’t been shown to be permanent.

2 – You have allergies because your mom was overprotective of you as a child

There are several theories regarding the cause of allergies, one of which is the “hygiene hypothesis.” For some reason, this theory is particularly popular in the comments section on YouTube and news sites; and it is often presented as fact. It pretty much says that, if you’re not exposed to enough germs as a kid, your immune system will get messed up and you’ll end up with allergies. This is just one of many theories, because no one knows the real cause of food allergies. Other possible reasons include the presence of GMOs in our foods, changes in our diets, genetics, the environment, and many more. At the end of the day, we don’t know why more and more people are developing allergies.

3 – If you’re only “a little” allergic to something, you don’t need an auto-injector

I’ve watched friends eat things they were allergic to because their only symptoms were a little bit of an itchy throat. These friends also never carried auto-injectors with them because they had never had a severe allergic reaction before. It’s important to point out that, even if you usually have a small reaction to something, it could one day turn into a big reaction. If that happens, an auto-injector could be life saving.

This was just a short list of some false statements I’ve heard regarding food allergies. It’s important to try and educate people, when they have gaps in their knowledge, about food allergies because public awareness is an important part of keeping people with allergies safe. For reliable information, Anaphylaxis Canada is a great resource.

Talia

Allergies in Film and Television Part 3: Translation to the Real World

Stage

To add to the “Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities” series, I’ve decided to write a follow-up post describing some of the impacts these depictions have in the real world and how we, as informed adults, can change this.

Let me start with a quick example from my life. Last September I moved to a new city to pursue a Master’s degree; so I had to meet all new friends and teach them how to properly administer my auto-injector. As a method of teaching, I gave my new friends an auto-injector trainer and asked them to show me how they thought it worked. A few of them thought the needle had to be driven into my chest, while others figured it probably needed to go into the arm or buttocks. After explaining that the proper location is on the side of the mid-thigh, I asked them why they thought about these other locations. One answer stood out to me as alarming: “I saw it in that movie last week.” The movie was Horrible Bosses when Charlie Day slams (and yes, I mean slams) an auto-injector into Kevin Spacey’s neck and chest repeatedly. Although a funny scene in a comedic movie, this depiction had a clear and potentially dangerous impression on someone who could end up trying the same tactics on me or somebody else in need.

It becomes more concerning when you realize that I’m in my mid-20’s and people half my age have likely seen this movie and thought the exact same thing as my friend. This is just one example of how depictions in a movie can sneak into real-world situations. It’s a big risk using an auto-injector like this to treat an anaphylactic reaction since the mid-outer thigh has been found to be the most effective site for injection. And this could lead to a life-threatening situation that could have easily been avoided if the auto-injector was properly depicted in the film.

In the case above, I was able to correct some myths about food allergies and explain the proper use of an auto-injector. However, I’m sure there are still people who believe that auto-injectors need to be slammed into someone’s chest to save them. So what can we do as informed adults to reverse the myths seen on television and in movies? Simply put, we can educate and spread awareness. I like to bring trainer auto-injectors with me when meeting new people so that I can give them a hands-on learning experience. This is a simple way to not only teach others about your allergy, but it’s also a great ice-breaker! The more you educate people around you about the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, and the proper use of an auto-injector, the more prepared they will be to properly handle any anaphylactic situation they encounter in the future.

As an avid movie-goer and television show enthusiast, I also strongly encourage informing yourself about how food allergies are depicted in films and television shows. That way, when someone nearby starts talking about a movie or show that you know has an improper depiction of food allergies, you can jump in and steer them in the right direction with education! That way we all win.

Dylan B. 

Beauty Products with Allergens

Portrait of beautiful woman with blue eyes. Isolated on white background

Summer is a great time to try out new kinds of makeup and fun color combinations. But a lot of people aren’t aware of all the different ingredients that go into makeup. This is especially important for people with allergies. An allergy to a makeup product might manifest as redness, itchiness, hives or blisters; so it’s important to know what’s in your makeup.

One of the most surprising ingredients in makeup I’ve come across is fish. It’s usually listed as “pearlescence” in the ingredients list (probably because no one wants to put fish on their face). It’s found mostly in lipstick and is used to make it shiny, like the scales on a fish. You can find more details about it at the following links:

http://animals.howstuffworks.com/fish/herring-info.htm

http://www.businessinsider.com/15-surprising-things-that-contain-animal-products-2014-3

http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/cdc/pearl-essence.php

If you’re allergic to fish and want to be safe, there are companies like Smashbox that don’t use any animal byproducts in their makeup. However, these companies will use a lot of plant-based material. For example, one of their foundations contains wheat and barley, and other products contain fruit. While Smashbox doesn’t provide an ingredient list on their website, if you go into their stores, you will find a list on the product’s box.

Aside from makeup, a lot of other beauty products contain ingredients that could potentially cause an allergic reaction. Sunscreen is great for your skin in general and super important to wear in the summer; but it can also contain some chemicals (preservatives and fragrances) that can cause contact dermatitis. If you have really sensitive skin that reacts a lot, try putting a bit of sunscreen on your inner forearm before using it all over your body.

An important fact to mention is that, when a company advertises a product as “hypoallergenic,” it does not mean that the product doesn’t contain any of the priority allergens. For example, I know of a facial scrub that is sulfate-free, paraben-free, hypoallergenic, and dermatologist-tested, yet also contains walnuts as one of the main ingredients. There aren’t any standards that these manufacturers have to meet in order to declare a product as hypoallergenic; so take that claim with a grain of salt.

Remember to always do your research before buying products that will come in contact with your skin. There are many makeup companies out there. So, if one product isn’t safe for you, you can almost be certain that another company has a product that is.

Talia

Part 2 – Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities

Pellicule_effet3

 

Howard Wolowitz, a character from the brilliantly funny TV show The Big Bang Theory, has a peanut allergy. In season 1, episode 16, Howard has an intentional allergic reaction. Without spoiling too much about the plot, Howard is trying to stall as much time as possible to keep his friend, Leonard, from going home early to a surprise birthday party. In order to stall, he initially fakes an allergic reaction; but the nurses at the hospital catch on to his ploy and send him away. Desperate to stall, Howard does the unthinkable and eats a food with peanuts in it. This short clip is what follows:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuOpWSAsKnc

There isn’t much myth in this clip; however, there is plenty to learn from it. 1) Never intentionally eat your allergen to stall time for a surprise birthday party. Nothing is worth risking your life in this way! 2) If you’re having a reaction, a Hospital is where you need to go. So, in that sense, Howard was in the right setting to have a reaction. We never saw an auto-injector used, but having nurses and hospital staff at-hand is even better. 3) The swelling of Howard’s face, extremities, and tongue are very possible symptoms of an allergic reaction (as we also saw with Hitch from my previous post).

In the second season of a Canadian ‘school teacher comedy’ called Mr. D, one of the teachers, Bobbi, has just donated blood to show another teacher, Simon, that giving blood isn’t so scary. After her successful donation, and his not-so-successful donation (I won’t spoil the reason why), the two are relaxing on lounge chairs. The school librarian, Wayne, then brings them each a cookie. Bobbi is allergic to peanuts and asks: “Are there any nuts in these cookies?” Wayne responds with a “No.” So Bobbi takes a bite of her cookie. Wayne then says: “There are peanuts.” Bobbi spits out her cookie, starts to panic, and tells them that she’s super allergic to peanuts. Wayne and Simon then exchange dialogue about the difference between a nut and a legume and how Bobbi should know the difference. She sits back in her chair and tells them she needs her EpiPen. A few things can be learned here: 1) Although Wayne is a ‘smart aleck’, and should have told Bobbi there were peanuts in the cookie from the beginning, the fact that peanuts are considered legumes and not nuts is an accurate fact. 2) Her response of spitting out the cookie and calling for her auto-injector was smart. 3) She says she needs to go to the hospital because her throat is closing up. This is also a smart decision (9-1-1 should additionally be contacted when an allergic reaction arises).

Lastly, Ross Geller, one of the main characters on the TV show, Friends, is allergic to lobster, peanuts, and kiwi. In the following clip, Ross eats a Kiwi-Lime pie that he mistook for a Key-Lime pie that his sister, Monica, made for him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unmfG892KgQ

From the clip, the allergic reaction is very easy to notice. His throat and tongue swelling up are a few of the many possible signs that a life-threatening allergic reaction is taking place. So, in this sense, the clip is quite accurate. However, Ross never suggests the use of an auto-injector. He is afraid of needles and this may be the reason he does not suggest using one; but even his sister never mentions it. The decision to go straight to the hospital could be seen as a good decision (although it would have been wiser to call 9-1-1 and let help come to them). They live in the heart of New York City. So getting to a hospital before the reaction gets very bad, especially without the use of an auto-injector, is not very likely. The decision is ultimately very risky for Ross (he says in the clip that he can die from Kiwi).

Hopefully you learned a thing or two by reading through this two-part blog! Remember to always be critical of how food allergies are portrayed on the big screen. Sometimes clips and scenes are quite accurate, while others are completely wrong or misinformed. Just because we see food allergy management on the big screen, or on our favourite TV show, the management not necessarily accurate or advisable. Some of the clips reviewed here were simply used to cause audiences to laugh; but, when you or someone you know is faced with a severe allergic reaction, it is no laughing matter and proper care should be taken. Thanks for the read. If you have any more clips, scenes or stories to share, please comment here and we can spark a conversation!

 

Dylan