Category Archives: Allergies in the Workplace

Always Packing: Carrying Your Auto-Injector  

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It all started with a fanny-pack. It was a bright blue, yellow zippered, Tigger-themed fanny-pack to be exact. From the time I was five, to about twelve years old, this was the most important accessory I had. Why? It was the vehicle for carrying my auto-injector (my safety net and my security blanket).  Back in the 90’s, my bright blue fanny-pack was my ‘go-to’ item; but I quickly outgrew it and needed to find some other way to carry my auto-injector. Luckily, being a girl, I would eventually grow into carrying a purse with me everywhere. But, during my high school days, I hit those awkward preteen/ teen years. I was too young to carry a purse and too old for a fanny pack. I no longer had a permanent desk to put it in or one specific teacher to hold onto it for me. My locker was too far away and I wasn’t allowed to take a book bag with me everywhere. I needed to find another option to discretely and effectively transport my auto-injector while in school. Lucky for me, I had access to many carriers and tricks to help conceal my auto injector and keep it on me at all times.

I purchased a much smaller, stylish black case that I was able to put in my pencil case. But I also made sure I had one in my book bag in my locker at all times. Getting through those high school years was tough. Most people yearn to fit in. And I was much the same. So I refrained from telling many people about my auto-injector in my pencil case. The people I made aware were my teachers and a few close friends. Now I realize the importance of telling people about the location of my auto-injector and how to use it in case of an emergency.

As I grew up, I became more comfortable with my auto-injector and with my food allergies. I was able to find new ways to carry it around discretely. Being a girl, I was lucky to have the excuse of always having a purse with me. The problem I soon arrived at involved different sized purses and singular-sized auto-injectors. From small little clutches to extremely large purses, I was either fighting to find it or struggling to put it in. Luckily I’ve found a few tricks and discovered, through my male friends, that they also had some unique and creative ways to carry around their auto-injectors.  For me, I’ve always felt it is easier to carry my auto-injector in the side pocket of my purse. It’s easy to grab if there is an emergency and it’s easy to find if I can’t tell someone. There will be no more routing around in the deep caverns of my purse. With the new advancements in auto-injectors, it’s easier to carry them in pant pockets or in those pesky little clutches and purses I mentioned earlier. Some new auto-injectors are as small as a business card with a little width. They can be easily placed in most little bags. As for my male counterparts, carrying an auto-injector can be a little trickier as far as not drawing major attention. One the best ways I’ve seen them carried is in an ankle holster (a lá James Bond) that fits neatly under most pants. Those new auto-injectors I mentioned above are smaller and able to fit in most pockets discretely. There is also many companies offering carrying cases for various activities like belts for outdoor/upbeat activities from Waist Buddy (http://www.omaxcare.com/WaistBuddy.html) or the versatile brand Allergy Pack ( http://www.allergypack.com/) that offer many different styles to carry one or multiple auto-injectors. They even make carrying cases for asthma inhalers.

It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what kind of purse you’re sporting or what pants you may be in. It is always important to have your auto-injector with you when you go out.  It can be cumbersome and it can be awkward; but nothing is worse than needing it in an emergency and not having it. So remember to keep it with you. Tell someone you have it with you and where it is located. Think of it as the best and most practical fashion accessory you have; it also just so happens to go with any outfit.

Arianne K.

 

Dining with Clients and Cayenne: Guest Post by Patricia J. Pawlak

Pat (dining with cayenne allergy)

 

I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I traveled the world and had to entertain. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting down with clients for a culinary experience, getting to know them, and knowing you may have to close a deal. In that situation, you want to stay focused and be charming. Nothing zaps the energy out of a dining experience more then having the focus of the evening on your food allergy. I dread the drama of it all and my clients enduring the waiter/ kitchen sprint because of my food allergies.

I have developed such an intolerance to all capsicum, i.e. cayenne, paprika and cumin, that my throat closes up, I start to shake and then, within 10/15 minutes, I actually projectile vomit. It comes on so quickly, violently and unexpectedly that, even during a lunch, I was rushed to the hospital projectiling (as I ruined my new red silk suit).

After several of these rushed trips to the ER, I finally went to an allergy specialist who diagnosed my malaise as the worst possible allergic reaction one can suffer and still survive.

Thanks to Emeril, and the influx of some certain cuisines, most restaurants have infused, charged, and drilled their menus with chili, cayenne, and paprika and made it impossible for me to dine in many restaurants. I have discovered that even the nicest restaurants now marinate all their meat, fish, and chicken dishes with some form of capsicum. That means even a chicken salad is off limits and watch those candied pecans; they have chili on them now.  For some reason, many restaurant salad dressings have cayenne or paprika—even a simple Caesar dressing.  Deserts, from cheesecake to tiramisu, are now spiked with cayenne.  I have even been served strawberries with a “surprise.” Thankfully, I asked what the surprise was or the restaurant would have been surprised! I have gone to restaurants and not been able to have any dish on the menu.

My strategy now is to check out a menu first before I suggest a restaurant for business.  I ignored my own advice last week; I went to a good sushi restaurant thinking that I would not have to bring up my food allergy in front of my clients. To my chagrin, I opened the menu and the first sushi listed was “Jalapeño Sushi” and, along down the line of the menu, most had heat. I had no other choice but to have the proverbial conversation to make sure what dishes I could eat.

The frustration lies not only in its increase of use but in its use in dishes that historically never had any form of heat.  Even when I order a dish that couldn’t possibly have cayenne, Fettuccini Alfredo, I have had it come with cayenne sprinkled all over.  I have asked for plain poached fish (“nothing on it, plain, please”) trying to be discreet. And the fish came covered in chili flakes. When I explained finally that I had an allergy, I was told “You don’t know what good is!” This is not about taste, this is about health and, in my opinion, our taste buds are being hijacked by all this heat!

I am meeting more and more people daily who are developing this allergy due to the proliferation of this spice.  Hopefully, chefs will begin to take notice and will begin to create more interesting dishes instead of just throwing in the heat.
Patricia

Securing Allergy-Safe Lunchrooms at Work: The How-to Guide

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So how exactly do you get an allergy-safe lunchroom at work? The bad news is there aren’t really any resources out there that give you a step-by-step guide to securing one. Now, that wasn’t meant to be a lead up to me saying here’s my step-by-step guide. I, however, have successfully made multiple lunchrooms peanut/tree nut free, and generally allergy-safe, at different jobs over the years. From that experience, I will share tips and give some advice that you can apply to your job-site and hopefully make your lunchroom more allergy-friendly.

First thing to do is ask. If you never ask, you will never make any progress; you will begin and end with no results. This step may seem too simple; but, sometimes just asking really is the most effective strategy. When you ask for an allergy-safe lunchroom at work, be prepared. Questions about the severity of your allergy will arise. Your boss is probably just asking these questions to better understand your situation. Be sure to express all of your concerns and clearly explain the importance of feeling safe around food at work. Suggest helpful solutions, whether this is a peanut/nut-free lunchroom, or specific communal cooking ware designated for allergen-free cooking. It really depends upon your comfort level.

Secondly, educate your co-workers. Many people have grown up oblivious to the world of food allergies. It is this type of person who may, at first, be resistant to having an allergy-friendly lunchroom at work. The best approach is to educate! Teach everyone about the signs, symptoms, and severity of food allergies in general before narrowing in on your specific situation. It might be helpful to bring this up at a staff meeting where everyone is present in the room to hear your concerns. If this sounds intimidating, ask your boss whether they can address it at an upcoming staff meeting. You can also open the discussion up to co-workers and ask if anyone else has a food allergy or knows someone with a food allergy. Chances are someone will; this could help give you support in the pursuit of an allergy-safe lunchroom.

Thirdly, stay positive! Positivity is contagious (in my opinion). If you hit a speed bump in the road, you don’t turn around and say “I give up.” You slow down and keep driving. The same idea applies to this process. Stay positive, do what you can, and keep pushing for that lunchroom!

Lastly, you can always contact the company’s Human Resources department and explain your concerns. The members of this department are trained to help bring staff concerns forward and work on a feasible solution. It may require a little back-and-forth communication; but something important like this is worth putting in a little extra effort.

These tips may not entirely secure an allergy-safe lunchroom; but, if you’ve done everything in your power, then at least you can say you tried! I’d be willing to bet that a reasonable solution will be found if you keep an open mind and never give up on what you want. Have you had successes or challenges putting an allergy-friendly lunchroom into place in your workplace? Comment below!

 

Dylan

 

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

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When it comes to bringing up allergies in the workplace, I think a lot of us get nervous, anxious, or even just simply forget because of all the new information we are trying to learn at a new job. From my personal experience, the sooner I let my co-workers know about my severe peanut and tree nut allergies, the safer I feel at work. A few different strategies have worked for me in the past. I will share them with you here.

1)      I had the unique opportunity during an interview to mention my allergies. The question had something to do with describing a time when I had to deal with a high pressure situation and what I did. I decided to step outside the box and share two experiences. One was a workplace experience and the other was an allergy experience. I explained how my brother was having an anaphylactic reaction and, being allergic to nuts myself, I knew how to use the auto-injector and the steps that needed to be taken to help my brother. This turned out to be a simple way of opening up a conversation about allergies with a company that I would end up working for. Sometimes explaining your allergies before you even get the job can be useful and insightful for both parties. Even if you do not get the job, at least you can walk away knowing that you advocated for others with allergies who may work for that company in the future!

2)      Another strategy that I have used to tell my co-workers about my allergies is, essentially, the same calm, cool strategy I use when meeting new people. I mention my allergies and their severity casually, such as before a team meeting where donuts are provided: “No thank you. I’m severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This is almost always followed up with questions about what I can eat, where I keep my auto-injector, how to use it, and the list goes on. This is a simple, yet quite effective strategy.

3)      I have never done this; but I have heard of people emailing their boss to explain their allergies. From the abundance of emails everyone seems to go through in a day, I’m not sure this is the best strategy; but it has worked for some and maybe it will work for you! Just be sure to keep the email optimistic and informative in case your boss has never had any experiences with allergies before.

4)      A final method I have used is very blunt. I went straight to my new boss (the owner of the company) and explained my allergies to her. After my initial explanation, I asked if she had any questions and we entered into an informative dialogue back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. When we concluded, she took it upon herself to endorse a “peanut/nut free” unwritten policy where no peanut or tree nut containing food was allowed to be eaten in the office. I never asked for this exceptionally kind gesture; but my boss understood the severity of the allergy and would not take any risks. Based on my experiences, I find this strategy to be the most effective.

It may seem scary and nerve-wracking to put yourself in a place of vulnerability by explaining your allergy to co-workers in the workplace. Yet your safety is paramount. Take a deep breath and spread the word! You may be surprised how well your workplace takes your allergy information.

 

Dylan