Category Archives: Holidays and Allergies

Having a Happy and Safe Holiday with Food Allergies

The holidays are upon us once again! With the holiday season there are inevitably lots of gatherings, parties and celebrations. Whether it is family get togethers or work parties, food certainly plays a big role this season and is a time to be on high alert for those of us with allergies! Here are my top 5 tips to having a happy and safe holiday season with allergies.Full Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Remind your family members about your allergies

The holidays tend to be the time of year where family members who you may not have seen for a while will be getting together to celebrate. For those more distant relatives it can be hard for them to remember that you have an allergy – especially if you are allergic to more than one thing. Instead of being frustrated and dealing with an awkward situation where you can’t eat items at your family gathering, don’t be shy to gently remind your family about your allergies. It may feel slightly uncomfortable but people often feel bad when they realize they have brought something you are allergic to so it’s better to let them know in advance!

  1. Watch out for those baked goods

As common allergens are frequently found in baked goods, it is important to be extra careful around these items. The holiday season usually means lots and lots of baked goods – cookies, Christmas pudding, pies – you name it, somebody is baking it! I have found that people often bring things into work or there are trays of baked goods at parties. It is always important to ask about ingredients and watch for cross contamination. You will generally be safest if you avoid the baked goods unless you can guarantee that they are safe!

  1. Prepare in advance for work parties

There are usually lots of fun parties to attend during this time of year. If you have an invite to a work party do your research! Look into where it is being held and if there is food being served. As it can be hard to find out all the details you are doing yourself a favour if you prepare ahead of time by eating before you go. Some parties may just have appetizers and drinks so you could be starving anyways if you haven’t had a good dinner before attending!

  1. Make your own treats

With the limitations most people with allergies have when it comes to baked treats and goodies it can be quite disheartening having no fun holiday baked goods to eat. Get creative in the kitchen and make things yourselves! You can even have some friends over and have a holiday baking party. That way your kitchen is stocked for the season and you can even bring your own treats with you to gatherings and parties so you can ensure your sweet tooth is satisfied and you don’t miss out!

Christmas lights on dark blue background. Decorative garland

  1. Don’t get stressed by the little stuff

With so many get togethers over the holidays, this can sometimes be an added stress for those with food allergies. Don’t let it get to you if you miss out on some desserts or can’t eat everything at your work party. Remember this is a time of year to celebrate and enjoy those you are with – not what ends up in your belly! I always try to put a positive spin on my restrictions by saying that I won’t put on as many pounds this time of year or be the one on New Year’s Day hitting the gym. Of course, I somehow always manage to find a few allergy-safe treats before the holidays are over!

Hope these tips help you all have a very happy holiday season!

– Lindsay S.

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Travels to Peru- Allergies Included

From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!

Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu
Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu

When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards.  These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.

When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek.  When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe.  Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!

Holiday suitcase

Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.

After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived!  After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru.  This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu.  Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly.  I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).

After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking!  The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below.  Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.

Silhouette of people near the mountain.

The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished.  When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!

Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!

– Caitlyn P.

Halloween as an Adult with Food Allergies

Jack O' Lantern on leaves in the woods

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, eat candy, and go out. I feel like it’s the one time of the year where you can let you inner child out and just simply “be” whatever you want. I feel like with allergies, though, Halloween can bring a whole storm of worries and concerns. When I was growing up and I went trick-or-treating, it would take forever to look through every single piece of candy in my bag and audit whether or not the candy was safe for me to eat. At the end of the night, I would have two piles; one pile of candy I could eat, and one pile of candy I couldn’t eat and would give to my neighbour. As an adult though, Halloween is so different. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year to go out. Don’t think that just because you’re not trick-or-treating anymore that you can let your guard down. Follow these tips to ensure a healthy happy Halloween this year:

  • Always carry your EpiPen® on you – just in case anything happens, you want to be prepared.
  • Only consume beverages and food where you know the ingredients – If you don’t know what’s in the green juice your friends are passing around, don’t drink it. Last Halloween, I went to a bar and ordered a vodka tonic. When I received the drink, it was blue. I told the bartender that he had given me the wrong order, but then he informed me that he had “spiced” up my drink by adding a blue liquor and gin to the vodka to make it more special. I’m allergic to gin. If I had decided to not ask questions and to just drink the beverage that was given to me, I would’ve put myself in a very scary situation.
  • Don’t drink too much! I always make sure that I never drink myself to the point of intoxication. When I see my friends after nights that we’ve gone out and tell me that they literally don’t remember the night, it scares me. What if that happened to me and I just happened to ingest an allergen not thinking about the consequences? It’s just not a situation you want to put yourself in.

Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and you can stay safe and still have fun with allergies. Now, I’m off to go figure out my Halloween costume this year and make my plans!

Happy Halloween,

– Giulia C.

Birthdays for Adults with Allergies

Birthday cupcake in front of a chalkboard

Birthdays are often synonymous with fun and excitement. Celebrating, relaxing, and catching-up with old friends are all things that we look forward to when we plan our own birthday parties, or get invited to one by our friends or family members. Food allergies may initially pose some complications to birthday party celebrations, especially if the party takes place over a meal, or at a restaurant.

This is an all too common, and potentially stressful, situation encountered by many adults living with severe food allergies. The initial excitement for the party that you were just invited to is suddenly overshadowed by doubts, and even anxiety, that stem from how to properly manage your food allergies in the given situation. Some of these doubts may come in the form of the following common questions that I ask myself:

  • “Will there be a meal served at the party?”
  • “What restaurant will my friend/cousin/significant other choose for their birthday?”
  • “Should I call the restaurant in advance?”
  • “Should I avoid eating at the party all-together?”
  • “Will I be singled-out if I don’t eat anything? Will I feel awkward?”

This post will attempt to address some of these questions by providing you with some tangible tips that you can use either when planning your own party or if you are invited to a birthday party in the near future.

Scenario 1: Planning your own birthday party

This is the easiest scenario to face since you have complete control over every detail of the party. In this case, you can either:

  • Plan your party around a fun activity (e.g., A karaoke party or informal get-together) that doesn’t involve eating-out at a restaurant.
  • Plan a lunch or dinner party at a “safe” restaurant, which is a restaurant with a strong food allergy policy that you have eaten at before; a restaurant that you generally trust and feel safe eating at.

Reminder: If you do choose to hold your birthday at a restaurant, always call the restaurant in advance of the party day. This is an absolute must, even for restaurants on your “safe list.” Restaurants change their policies and menus all the time, so you should always be extra-cautious and call the restaurant staff in advance. It is also essential that you remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy (name your allergen) and what specific actions they should take in the event that you do have an allergic reaction. Always have your auto-injector with you, especially if you are dining-out. Make sure others know where you keep it.

Beautiful young woman celebrating birthday with friends at nightclub

Scenario 2: You are invited to a birthday party

In this case, you have less control over the details of the party. You can use my steps below as a broad guideline to handling this scenario:

  1. Call the party organizer in advance (your friend, colleague, family member, or significant other that is organizing the party), and confirm the restaurant name and location (note that different restaurant locations may have different food allergy policies, even within the same chain of restaurants).
  2. Call the restaurant well in-advance of the party (as soon as you get the location information) and inquire about their food allergy policy. Ask whether or not they have one, how they have handled food allergies in the past, and whether or not they can accommodate your specific allergies..
  3. Based-on the information you receive from the call, make a personal judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable eating at the establishment. Never feel pressured to eat at a restaurant by anyone, no matter what the occasion! Your health is much too important!
  4. If you decide to go ahead and eat-out, make sure you remind the wait staff at the restaurant (and the chef, if possible) that you have a severe food allergy, and that extra precautions should be taken in preparing your meal.
  5. As mentioned before, remind your friends that you have a severe food allergy, and let them know that you are carrying an auto-injector. Show them where you are carrying your auto-injector.

These are the steps that I most often revert to when planning, or when attending, a birthday party. The most important take-away from this post, is that severe allergies should never overshadow the fun and excitement out of birthday parties. By taking the proper precautions, and following some of my advice provided, you can face any birthday party (or special gathering) with confidence and ease.

– Saverio M.

Wine-ing about my Unusual Allergies – Lessons Learned from an Anaphylactic Reaction

Camping tent in the nice yellow dandelion field with mountains on background

My name is Fraser and I am a 26-year-old medical student. Last spring some friends and I planned to go camping in Gravenhurst, Ontario. While my friend Darryl and I were organizing our tents and sleeping bags, his mother offered us each a glass of wine. Our friend Pozz was picking us up so since we weren’t driving, we each indulged in a glass of wine.

I have life-threatening allergies to a long list of unusual allergens. I am allergic to all raw fruits, all raw vegetables, peanuts, tree nuts, raw salmon, and scallops. I grew into these allergies when I was about 18 or 19. I have had 10 anaphylactic reactions and each time, I have had to use my EpiPen®. I went to the hospital each time and on four occasions I needed another injection of epinephrine at the hospital. Thankfully, I have not stopped breathing during any of these reactions.

Darryl’s father handed us a small glass of white wine and we began pretending we were wine aficionados. I have enjoyed wine in the past, having a glass here and there. We swirled the wine around, spoke in British accents about the fruitful bouquet and the sparkling colours, pretending we knew the subtle differences between French and Italian wines. But, when I had a sip I could feel something wasn’t right. My throat was rapidly swelling up, I felt nauseous, and I began to feel dizzy. I had mistakenly left my EpiPen® in my car, so I ran out into the driveway, grabbed it, and administered it myself. Darryl came to the front door, saw what was happening, called for his father to dial 911, and came to help me. Within minutes, we had to administer another EpiPen® because the first had not yet provided effect. This was the first reaction that caused so much swelling in my throat that I was unable to breathe. The second EpiPen® took effect quickly. I was only unable to breathe for a few seconds. Soon, firemen and paramedics flooded the house and I was taken to the hospital.

I began breathing shortly after the second EpiPen® was administered, and my breathing stabilized in the ambulance. By the time I arrived to the hospital my symptoms were beginning to gradually recede. I was set up in a bed in the emergency department and was assessed by medical staff. My friend Darryl had accompanied me in the ambulance and my friend Pozz was on his way to meet us at the hospital. It was there that I began to feel something much different.

I felt guilty. I was going to be in the emergency department for a few hours to receive other medications and to ensure that I didn’t have a ‘bounce-back’ or “biphasic” allergic reaction. This is another reaction that can sometimes occur a few hours after the epinephrine wears off. By having to wait to make sure my symptoms were gone, I had delayed our camping trip. We were going to have to leave later in the evening, it was going to be dark by the time we arrived, we were going to have to set up our island camp site in the dark, my friends had to pay for parking at the hospital, my mother was called and she had to come down to the emergency department to see me, and I was taking up a valuable bed in the hospital. These were all thoughts going through my head. I don’t like being the centre of attention and having an anaphylactic reaction in the suburbs north of Toronto had brought several neighbours onto their porches to watch the commotion of firetrucks rushing with lights and sirens. I felt guilty that Darryl had to use his EpiPen® because mine hadn’t taken effect. I just felt guilty.

I spent four hours in the emergency room, and on the bright side, felt well enough to continue on the camping trip, and had a great weekend in Gravenhurst.

I think it’s very important for me to understand that having food allergies isn’t my fault. I don’t have food allergies because of poor lifestyle choices or because I didn’t study in school. I had enjoyed wine many times in the past and had no reason to believe that it would cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Feeling guilty might cause people to shy away from help when they think they might be having an anaphylactic reaction. While studying medicine I was chatting with an emergency room physician who has a life-threatening allergy to walnuts. He had a reaction at a social dinner and instead of signalling for help, he ran down to the washroom. Thankfully, someone found him, administered his EpiPen®, and averted what could have been a terrible allergic reaction. I am not weak or defective because I have food allergies and this is important for me to realize. I am not bound by my food allergies and after this scary reaction, I did not let my food allergies define me. They are just one of the aspects of my life that make me unique. For readers who feel guilty about your food allergies and your reactions, I want to assure you that this is a totally normal way to feel. You might feel like a hassle when you and a partner are making a special dinner and they have to remove several ingredients from the meal because of your food allergies. Or, you may not be able to accompany your friends to a restaurant or pub where peanut shells cover the floors. It is normal to feel this way. But, overcoming these feelings is important, because if you don’t, you will experience much more distress than you need.

Thank you for letting me share.

– Fraser K.

Overcoming My Guilt After an Allergic Reaction

Concept of accusation guilty shy person girl. Sad embarrassed upset woman in glasses looking down many fingers pointing at her isolated grey wall background. Human face expression emotion feeling

I think it is common to feel guilt during or after an allergic reaction. I have had allergic reactions that have interrupted special occasions, family BBQ’s, and holidays. My worst anaphylactic reaction to date actually occurred on Christmas morning! I felt a little bad about ‘ruining’ a special moment, but of course if it was up to me, I definitely would have opted out of an allergic reaction altogether.

Additionally, I’ve felt guilty just about having a reaction. My mind automatically enters the ‘should’ve, could’ve’, would’ve mode. It’s important to reflect on each situation individually to see if there are any areas where you could change your management strategy to be more successful. Living life often involves making mistakes, which is important because it is how we learn. Even if a mistake is made (e.g. assuming ingredients were safe) hopefully you won’t repeat that behavior in the future. Of course, keep in mind that allergic reactions can also just happen on a fluke—even if you are very vigilant. Remember that allergic reactions do happen, and that always being prepared is what is most important. I like to think of this quote when I begin to feel guilty about having had a reaction:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Nicole K.

St. Patrick’s Day with a Food Allergy

St. Patrick’s Day is always a fun holiday where people scramble to a1find anything they own that is green, eat pancakes all day, and may indulge in a few too many beers. In order to ensure that you have both a safe and fun day of the Irish here are my top 5 tips to celebrating if you are at-risk for anaphylaxis.

  1. Always carry your auto-injector!

This is a good tip for everyday life but it is especially important to ensure you have your auto-injector on you at all times on a day where you may be in unfamiliar bars or surrounded by new people. For the ladies, it is probably safer to keep your auto-injector on your body as opposed to a bag or purse which could easily get lost or even taken.

  1. Know what you are drinking

People tend to be very generous on St. Patty’s Day and may offer to share their drink or buy a round for everyone. It is important to know all of the ingredients and types of alcohol in the drinks you are consuming. There are many websites from bloggers and articles who have compiled lists of liquors and common allergens they contain. You can check out this blog http://www.nutmums.com/nut-free-alcohol/ and a previous AWA post on Alcohol and Allergies https://adultswithallergies.com/2014/04/16/alcohol-and-allergies/.

  1. Stick with your friends

It is easy to meet new people and stray from the group of friends you started out with on St. Patty’s Day but it is important to ensure that you always have someone nearby who is aware of your allergies. Having a person who has got your back throughout the day can be very helpful in case you drink a little too much or if you ever needed help with a reaction. Someone who knows where your auto-injector is, how to use it, and the steps to take in case of an emergency is key!

  1. Know your limit

As you may or may not know, consuming alcohol limits your inhibitions and increases risk-taking behavior. When it comes to those at-risk for anaphylaxis, risk taking is something that is best to avoid at all costs! Know what your limit is when it comes to alcohol consumption and try to alternate with non-alcoholic drinks throughout the day so that you can still be aware, make good choices, and stay hydrated.

  1. Have fun!

Although it is important to be careful when celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day you should never let your food allergies limit the amount of the fun you have or the experiences you take part in.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lindsay S.