Say Yes! Guest Blogger – Sloane Miller

Allergic Girl photo by Kenneth Chen

By Sloane Miller, MSW, LMSW
Allergicgirl.com

Two years ago I went on a blind date. The date wasn’t a romantic match; but he told me about musical improv-improvisational comedy created in a musical theater form. I had never done anything like improvisational comedy before; but I knew I loved to sing and I loved musical theater. So, a few months later, I signed up for my first class. Being silly, on stage, with a group of strangers was pretty terrifying. But there was a small part of me that also found it exhilarating. The more I practiced, the more classes I took, the more the terror was replaced by joy.

The core premise of improv is to say “Yes, and” to your partner. It does not simply involve being spontaneous. It involved saying ‘yes’ to everything presented to you in a theatrical scene (which hopefully will open up the scene to something potentially funny or brilliant or clever, goofy or simply bring the scene to the next place.

Sloane Improv
Having fun at improv!

As someone who grew up with food allergies, asthma, allergies and eczema, my childhood was filled with a lot of “Yes, but.” “Yes, I’d love to come over for a play date, BUT I can’t because you have dogs and I’ll have asthma issues and allergy issues.” Or, “Yes, I’d love to have a piece of that German Chocolate Cake. BUT it has tree nuts and I’m allergic.” Or, “Yes, I’d love to go outside and ride our bikes. BUT I’ll have asthma and allergy issues.”  Once I left home for college, as a young adult, I set out to discover how to expand my horizons while remaining safe. That is to say, how to add more ‘yeses’ to my life despite the ‘buts’.

Throughout my adult life, especially these last eight years of being a food allergy counselor author and speaker, that has been my task: how to add more ‘yes’ to a life that has some definite ‘buts’ and ‘nos’.

The facts of food allergies and anaphylaxis are clear. Food allergies are real and serious. Have a plan, know your triggers. and know what to do in case of an emergency. Carry your emergency medications on your person at all times as anaphylaxis is a swift and severe reaction that can be fatal. Epinephrine auto-injectors are the first line of defense in a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Those facts are real and cannot be ignored; and those facts can feel like the biggest ‘Nos’ to having a life. No, you can’t eat that cookie without reading the label. Or, No you can’t just have a bit of that cake without asking what’s in it. Or, No you can’t leave your bag or purse with your medications at home when you hang with friends. And, especially: No, you can’t kiss someone who just ate your allergen.

So, how does anyone expand one’s horizons (say yes to fun, connection, joy, expansion, intimacy) while remaining safe (saying no to allergic triggers) especially when food and food-related events seem to be the focus at home, with family, with friends, at college, at work, traveling and/or on romantic dates?

Put simply, by knowing this. Life is more than food and who you are as a person is bigger than simply someone with food allergies. Finding your ‘YES’ as an adult is about exploring, uncovering, and developing who you are as a person, your interests, your passions, your creative outlets, your drives, your spirituality, your athleticism, your focus, and your skills.

So, where will you find your next ‘YES’?

Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW

Food Allergy Counselor
http://allergicgirl.com/
Author of Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies (Wiley, 2011)

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

 

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We are really happy that you’ve found our blog and hope it can be a valuable resource for you. We try to cover topics that are unique to allergic adults, such as allergies in the workplace, relationships, travel and more! All with the focus on YOU – an allergic adult. We have an active team of writers who will be providing stories, tips, and advice on various topics through their own experiences managing allergies.

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Food Dependent, Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis 

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Being a young adult with allergies, I have grown up learning all the ins-and- outs of my allergies and how to manage them.  Since the age of one, I have been identified as being allergic to wheat, eggs, nuts, and have also had other allergies that I’ve been fortunate enough to grow out of. Like others who have grown up with allergies, I became proficient in knowing what each of my allergic reactions were like, the severity of each reaction, and what works for managing and staying safe with my allergies.  Over the years, I have become quite comfortable with my abilities to manage avoiding food allergens. And, while I’ve had the occasional reaction to wheat or eggs, I have been fortunate never to come in contact with nuts—which put me at risk for anaphylaxis. That being said, I recently had a different kind of allergic reaction which I was unprepared for, and knew very little about.  This allergic reaction is something known as ‘food dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis’ or FDEIA.    Some of us may be aware of the ability of exercise to exacerbate medical conditions such as asthma; but this can also be true for food allergens or foods we are not even normally allergic to.  FDEIA is defined as a rare, unpredictable syndrome characterized by anaphylaxis associated with the ingestion of a food and the occurrence of exercise.

I won’t go too in depth. But I want to share part of my experiences with an exacerbated allergic reaction related to exercise.  Currently I go to school and live in Kingston.  My living arrangements involve housing with a great group of girls who have all been extremely accommodating towards my allergies.  My one housemate had done some baking one afternoon and was kind enough to make her baking ‘allergy friendly’ for me.  She had finished making her goods before I was about to go for a run. And, being assured it was free of my allergens, I indulged in her baking before starting my exercise.  Briefly into my run, I noticed a slight ‘tickle in my throat’ and the idea crossed my mind that my body could be mildly reacting to something.  I then made the poor decision to keep going (thinking that the tickle in my throat couldn’t really be a reaction).  I then noticed my breathing was becoming a bit more labored and uncomfortable.  I again made a poor judgment call and attributed this to just being a normal shortness of breath from the progression of my run.  I can’t stress enough how things quickly escalated from there.  My breathing became extremely labored, my eyes started swelling, and my body became extremely itchy on its extremities.  I also began experiencing a variety of uncomfortable GI symptoms and started to become progressively light headed—which was,  likely, from my blood pressure dropping.  This was an extremely dangerous situation to be in.  I had always been a very confident and regular runner and, in this situation, had no medicine or phone with me. I will admit that, at that point, carrying an auto-injector was never part of my usual running routine.   In this case, I still marvel at how fortunate I was that, while this was occurring, I was able to get help and receive medical attention.

What was extremely eye opening to me in this situation, and what I really want to share, was how long it took me to fully recognize that I was actually experiencing a severe life threatening allergic reaction.  With my allergies, on a day-to-day basis, I felt quite confident in my ability to identify allergy risks and when a reaction was starting. In this situation, however, I didn’t identify the progression of this reaction early enough.  It never crossed my mind that I was at risk for experiencing a severe allergy attack until it had progressed to such that level.  It was only after I was treated for this reaction that I was told about Food Dependent, Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis that things really became clear.  It was found my personal reaction was triggered by spelt (as species of wheat which my housemate thought was gluten free but in fact was not).  While having spelt would cause me to have an allergic reaction, it normally would never have caused such the severe reaction I subsequently experienced that day.  Exercise itself has also been found to be capable of inducing anaphylaxis (known as Exercise-induced Anaphylaxis) or ,with FDEIA, it can be related to a combination of food consumption and exercising.  As mentioned earlier, with FDEA, it has been found that both foods someone is aware they are allergic to, and sometimes even foods that don’t normally cause an allergic reaction, can trigger FDEA.  Research has been done on these topics and, while there is still a need for more, it is an interesting subject to look into and educate yourself about. It is important, as individuals who have managed our allergies for some time, to still be aware of different reactions and risks with allergies that can occur, and to always work to stay educated and safe.

Caitlyn 

Explaining Allergies to Your Roommates

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For the better part of the last eight years, like many of us, I’ve lived with roommates. As someone at risk for anaphylaxis, stemming from allergies to various nuts, I am very careful about both choosing my roommates and about being very forward when it comes to explaining my allergies and the precautions that need to be taken to ensure that I feel safe in my own home. The following will detail some measures I have taken to stay safe over the years.

I have been fortunate to live with roommates who have been both long-time friends and family over the years. These individuals are familiar with my allergies and have been in various situations with me (at restaurants and traveling for hockey and vacationing abroad). Nonetheless, one must be particularly careful to not have a false sense of security simply because those you live with are familiar with your allergies and the precautions required for you to stay safe. Put simply, all it takes is one mistake on your part or the part of a roommate. I find that a simple chat when you first move into a new place, and some friendly reminders as time goes on, goes a long way.

Cooking and doing dishes when you have roommates can be a challenge at the best of times. I’ve found that having all my own personal pots, pans, utensils, and plates and bowls to be very smart way to ensure that no cross-contamination occurs. Additionally, while I’ve had dishwashers at every place I have lived, I hand-wash every one of my dishes. That is to say, not all dishwashers are equally effective when it comes to cleaning your dishes. Nor can you always count on your roommates to avoid consuming food products that have even “may contain” warnings on the labels. At the end of the day, it is your responsibility to look out for your own safety. And I’ve found that following these courses of action to take stressing about cross-contamination out of the equation.

Something as simple as brushing your teeth, if you share a bathroom, can be a potentially dangerous situation. But, again, if you stick to a safe method, it can make a world of difference. I’ve found that keeping my toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash in my own kit, a travel kit to be specific, prevents me from worrying about my toothbrush touching those of my roommates, worrying about someone using my toothpaste or worrying about someone using my mouthwash (guests included). Additionally, always make sure your roommates and guests know where your auto-injector are at all times.

While no method can completely overcome simple human error, on your part of the part of your roommates, these have been the methods that have works for me over the years. What methods have worked for you and what additional methods might you suggest? 

Aaron S. 

Dating and Allergies – A Practical Approach

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In two weeks, my partner and I will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary! Being in a serious, long-term relationship, I no longer worry as much about my allergies when I am with him. When we go out to the restaurant, he’s also watching the kitchen staff and wondering whether or not the waiter/waitress truly understands how serious my allergies are. He’s always got my back! When we are planning “date night,” we call restaurants ahead of time or make plans that don’t revolve around eating out.

Dating with food allergies can seem terrifying for many people. When I was a teenager, I outright refused to date because I was too scared of trusting a boy with my life. I felt that waiting until I met someone I thought I could trust, and who completely understood the severity of my allergies, was the right thing for me to do. I always took out my auto-injector on the first date and explained how it worked, when I would need it, etcetera. Doing this made me feel safer. Having said that, everyone is different. Dating is supposed to be fun and you should therefore do things you feel safe doing.

Talking about food allergies and the auto-injector:

Explaining your allergies, the severity of them, and showing dates how to use your (epinephrine) auto-injector is very important. It is ultimately up to you as to when you want to talk to them about it and show someone you are dating your injector. Personally I feel that, because food allergies are life-threatening, it is extremely important that others know right away what “the deal” is. This is not intended to scare them; but it is intended to show them that you are confident with your allergies, know how to manage them, and that you know what to do if something were to happen. Most people will feel better knowing what to do if something were to happen (especially if you reassure them that you take extra precautions and know how to manage them).

What to do on a date:

If you have food allergies, or perhaps your girlfriend or boyfriend has food allergies, you might be wondering what to do on a date. How do you make the date safe? Here are a few ideas. Not included below is the obvious food date (breakfast, lunch or dinner). If you are going to meet for food, then make sure you go to a place you feel safe. If you feel like trying a new place, call them ahead of time and make sure you feel safe with their menu and their precautions with your allergies.

  • Picnic – Bring safe food and spend the afternoon at the park, by the lake, or on the beach
  • Tea/coffee- Tea/coffee dates are always fun. Try new cafes in the area!
  • Mini-Golf – Who doesn’t like mini-golf! J
  • Go-karts – Speed! And no food! Or you could always bring your own snacks.
  • Wine tasting – Another fun one. You could always bring a few safe snacks for yourself.
  • Bike rides – You could even head for a picnic! Or go for a nice ride together. Maybe even rent a tandem bike for fun!
  • Aquariums, Museums, Art Galleries.

There are so many things you could do without even going to a restaurant or getting food. Get creative. Rent a canoe or a paddle board and get out on the water! There are a lot of safe choices out there! Don’t let your allergies impact the fun you have on your dates! If he/she really likes you, your food allergies won’t stand in the way of that! Be yourself. Make the date a safe one so you don’t have to stress about having a reaction and can relax and enjoy the time with your date.

Erika

Allergies and Reasonable Expectations for Airlines

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My sister is currently employed as a flight attendant with a Canadian-based airline company. I recently made a point of sitting with her and discussing what expectations are reasonable for both airline staff and passengers when it comes to allergies in the air.

On more than one occasion, passengers with food allergies have put my sister in an awkward position. For example, a parent informs her of her child’s allergies and attempts to take the meal that is being offered. My sister reiterates that she does not know whether or not the flight meals have come into contact with allergens as they are prepared by a different service on the ground. Here are some reasonable expectations that crew and airline staff have of those travelling with allergies:

1)  Bring Your Own Food/Snacks- As much as we would like to be accommodated and included in the airline meal service, bringing your own food is always the safest bet.

2)  Carry Your Medication- Some airlines may have their own epinephrine on the flight; but you should always be responsible and carry your auto-injector with you at all times.

3)  Stock Up on Disinfectant- Wanting to wipe down the armrests, food trays and any other surfaces of the airline is totally reasonable. Despite the cleaning crews’ diligent work, germs are still present. Most airline staff are very understanding of this; however, most do not have any type of disinfectant wipes / sanitizer present. B.Y.O.S- Bring your own sanitizer.

4)  Be Understanding and Polite- Most airline staff will do what they can to help you. It is important to be understanding of their limitations too! The more patient and polite you are to them, the more likely it is that they will provide you with amazing service.

As for airlines in general, most of their duties are regulated and the policies change from company to company. However, here are some things that I think would be reasonable to expect of airline staff when travelling.

1)  Aware- I would appreciate it if staff had some form of familiarity with allergies. They don’t have to be an expert on the topic; but it would be nice if the staff were at least competent enough to assist a passenger allergies.

2)  Announcement– I think it is a pretty reasonable request for airline staff to make an announcement informing passengers to refrain from eating your allergen.  Although it is hard to expect that everyone on board will abide by the request; but it definitely helps raise awareness among the aircraft passengers and reduces the chances of you coming into contact with your allergens.

3)  Understanding- Airline staff should understand where allergic-folk are coming from. No I’m not a flight risk. And I’m really not trying to be difficult! I am just trying to ensure that I’m safe in my sparingly small space at 40,000 feet in the air! Reassuring an allergic passenger is always a plus.

4)  Offer- We know that you don’t have a restaurant on-board; but if the menu options are a ‘no-go’ for us, we do appreciate an offer for an alternative. Chances are, we have our own food packed. But it does mean a lot to hear airline staff make safe suggestions.

What have your experiences with Airlines and your allergies been like? Comment below!

Nicole

By Food Allergy Canada