Category Archives: Allergies in Popular Culture

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

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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

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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

Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities

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Here’s Part 1 of a fun blog for all movie and TV lovers. As we know, allergies are everywhere and the same is true in the entertainment industry. However, not all portrayals of food allergies on-screen are accurate. This can sometimes lead viewers to misjudge individuals with allergies in real life. I have a few examples below of good and bad portrayals of food allergies on the big screen, and a little “blurb” about the scene. CAUTION: The following may contain spoilers.

A really well-known food allergy scene, and the first that came to mind for me, is the allergic reaction Hitch (played by Will Smith) has to seafood in the movie Hitch. If you haven’t seen the movie, a brief clip can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdDPoFcBZEY . The warning signs of a reaction are clear for Hitch: itchiness of the throat, hives, denial, and a swollen tongue and facial features. However, the way it was managed is not recommended. Running, or rather, walking to a local pharmacy to buy an antihistamine medication (in this case, Benadryl) should not be used before administering an auto-injector and calling 9-1-1 in an anaphylaxis emergency. In this clip, it is unclear whether Hitch carries his auto-injector; but his signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction tell us that this reaction could be life-threatening and 9-1-1 should have been called ASAP.

This next clip (watch mainly the first 3 minutes) is from a TV show called Freaks and Geeks that ended after only one season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE65VbUBGbI. In this scene, a bully puts a peanut into Bill’s sandwich, thinking that he is lying about his peanut allergy. This is a very extreme example of the kind of bullying that may be seen in high schools today, although these occurrences have hopefully  improved over the years thanks to anti-bullying and awareness campaigns. We never really see any tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction from Bill other than his panic upon learning that he had, in fact, just ingested a peanut. A positive about this clip is that Bill was rushed to the hospital immediately to receive proper treatment! We didn’t see an auto-injector being used. But, still, this depiction is noteworthy.

Due to its explicit language, I will not share the next clip’s link; but in the recent movie Horrible Bosses, Dale Arbus (played by Charlie Day) throws his peanut butter sandwich bag out his parked car window where it is picked up by Dave Harken (played by Kevin Spacey) who was running around the block. Dave is severely allergic to peanuts and, soon after picking up the litter and lecturing Dale about polluting his neighbourhood, he begins to choke. As he is choking, he manages to say “peanuts” before collapsing to the pavement. He repeatedly points at his ankle where a panicked Dale finds Dave’s auto-injector (finally, an auto-injector on-screen!!!). Dale has no idea how to use it and begins to read the instructions before getting impatient and jabbing it into Dave’s chest and neck repeatedly. The positives about this scene is that Dave carried his auto-injector, even when he went for a run. Dale removing the safety cap is another positive. However, this scene quickly turns crazy, for lack of a better word! 1) Jabbing the auto-injector into Dave’s chest is definitely NOT recommended and, if Dale had read all instructions, it would have been clear to put it into Dave’s thigh. 2) Jabbing the already administered auto-injector is overkill since no new epinephrine will come out of it. So Dale is essentially just poking Dave with a needle (unnecessarily gross!) 3) No one called 9-1-1. This was clearly meant to be a funny scene and, although I’ll admit to laughing at some points, it was very misrepresentative of this situation.

In a hilarious, and often ridiculous, comedy TV show called That 70’s Show, Michael Kelso (played by Ashton Kutcher) has an allergy to eggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Log_tyvaTeg . Kelso’s character is a good looking but very dumb young man who provides the show with plenty of humour. In this particular episode, Kelso decides he is going to drink a cup half full of eggs. His ex-girlfriend at the time, Jackie (played by Mila Kunis), tries to stop him and remind him that he is allergic to eggs (remember, he’s very dumb) but he insists that she should stop trying to prevent him from chugging eggs. And, finally, he just chugs them down. In this scenario, 9-1-1 should have been called immediately rather than the very laid-back decision for one of his friends to drive him to the hospital. By the end of the clip, Kelso’s face is severely swollen and the use of an auto-injector also would have been a very wise decision.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Remember, this is only part 1 so stay tuned for part 2 with even more allergies seen on the big-screen or small(er) screen!

 

Dylan