Teaching Others How To Use Your Auto-injector

Live_Main Auto Injector

Note: These recommendations apply only to the EpiPen® brand of auto-injector and are not substitutions for learning how to use one from a qualified professional.

Teaching your friends and family about how to use your auto-injector is essential when you are at-risk for Anaphylaxis. If you are ever in a situation where you are unable to administer your auto-injector on your own, it is important that whoever you are with knows how to help you. For that reason, I always make sure that people who I spend a lot of time with know about my allergies, where I keep my auto-injector, and what to do if I have an allergic reaction.

When I teach someone about using an auto-injector, I take it out and let the person hold it to ensure that they understand visually. I personally use the auto-injector and try to keep my instructions as simple as possible using two steps:

1. Hold the auto-injector with the orange tip pointing downwards and remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight off.

2. Firmly push the orange tip of the pen into the middle of the outside of the individuals thigh and hold for several seconds after hearing a click.

I always instruct the individual that the auto-injector can inject through pants and to immediately call 911 after using the auto-injector.

To ensure that the person understands, you can ask them to explain your instructions back to you. By teaching others about your auto-injector, both you and your friends can feel more comfortable about your allergies.

Sara S.

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Temptation and Allergies

Wooden Pier

The spring/summer holiday season is now upon you! The weather is nice, school is done for the year, and you are eager to get out and explore the world.  Usually, when travelling, some feel the need to break out of their daily routines, to let loose, and to let all of the daily “constraints” go. Given that living with allergies does require attention and focus, you may also be tempted to break out of your “allergy-safe” routines. The bottom line is that your health is your most important asset. But having an allergy-safe routine does not need to be a chore. Nor does it have to hamper your enjoyment. Below, I have listed some common “holiday temptations” and ways you can counter each temptation.

Temptation 1: Eating Airplane Food

You are sitting on a plane with your family and friends. You are excited about your vacation and all of the adventures you are about to experience. Because of your excitement, you forgot to pack your own “safe” food for your flight. Your flight is a four-hour-long trek to the Caribbean. So you figure that you can hold-out for that time. Two hours in, everyone around you, including your friends and family are eating airplane food. The food is not all that appetizing. But you start to feel hungry and start seriously thinking about “risking it.”

Compromise:

After having traveled for a number of years with allergies, my biggest piece of advice would be to never eat airplane food. Always bring your own meals. Aside from the fact that most airlines in North America have stopped serving meals on domestic and Caribbean flights, airplane food is not safe. All meals are processed in a central plant, so controlling for specific allergens becomes nearly impossible for the airline. Before you leave, pack a bag of your favorite snacks. Have it with you just in case you get hungry.

Temptation 2: Eating Hotel Food

You have just gotten off a long flight overseas. You are tired and jet-lagged. It is around 9 pm and you are starving. The most convenient option for you at the moment is the hotel restaurant that is currently serving dinner. You are too tired to cook your own food and you find the restaurant alternative tempting. It is fast and easy after all.

Compromise:

Restaurant food can be a toss-up. There are different variables that you have to take into account before eating anything at a restaurant. When travelling, one of the biggest “variables” is the language barrier. When eating at a restaurant, you must communicate the severity of your allergy to restaurant staff and, ideally, the chef. If you communicate with the staff, but you feel as though they do not understanding the severity of your allergy, do not order from that restaurant. One alternative would be to pack ready-made, canned foods with you. If you want food that is quick and easy, this is the safest and easiest alternative.

Temptation 3: All-day excursions

When travelling abroad, one great way to immerse yourself in a new culture is to take part in all-day excursions and tours. One aspect of these excursions that is commonly over-looked is that meals are provided during the tour. The tours usually start early in the morning (7am) and end in the early afternoon or evening. The tours will usually bring you to local restaurants to experience traditional cuisines. You may be tempted to partake in these meals.

Compromise

Planning is always key. The day before the excursion, call the tour operator and see if a meal will be provided. Next, ask the tour operator if they have an allergy policy in place or if others with allergies have taken the tour in the past. Regardless of your answer, always pack your own food with you. Pack something simple like a sandwich, some chips, a safe granola bar, etcetera just in case you need it. When at the restaurant, speak to the staff. Similar to the note above, if you don’t feel as though the staff understands the severity if your allergy, don’t risk it. Eat the food you brought with you.

Also note, that your auto-injector must be kept with you at all times, especially when travelling abroad! This is key to your safety!

Hopefully you find these tips useful. Travelling can be a lot of fun! With the proper planning and precautions, your holidays can be both fun and safe.

Saverio M.

Allergies and Anxiety

Live_Main_Travel

It can be tough growing up with potentially fatal allergies. There just are no two ways about it. When you are in elementary school, usually your parents, teachers, and school staff members have your back and make sure that you are okay. And, when you aren’t in school, your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings look out for you as well. The transition to beginning to deal with your allergies on your own can also be a scary time in the life of someone with serious allergies.

But, because it is something that your parents and others have been preparing you for for years, it isn’t something that you should look at as terrifying. Often, when you reach junior high, your parents will give you a little bit more freedom. And this includes the freedom to begin to take care of and manage different situations in which you might come into contact with your allergen(s). But, as you remember, you knew that you had the tools to do all of this for yourself. You also knew that your parents were there if you ever needed them.

When you get into high school and, more so, university, the expectation is that you should be able to handle managing your allergies for yourself. Here are a few tips to always remember and keep you alert and prepared for all situations. One, and this can’t be emphasized enough, always take your auto-injector with you no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that you will be eating. Bring it anyway and have it on you not just nearby. Second, make sure someone with you knows how to properly administer your auto-injector should something happen. Last, but by no means least, if you think you are having a reaction, use your auto-injector. You are better safe than sorry!!

Aaron S.

 

Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies

Waitress

When talking to other people about my allergies, a common topic that comes up is how hard it must be to eat out at restaurants.  For the most part, however, I have had nothing but positive experiences when it comes to eating out. I will admit that there have been some less than positive incidents, for example where it was not detected that the menu item I ordered contained food allergens. And only once did a restaurant refuse to serve me because of my allergies. While these are not positive events, they for the most part are preventable by having my own routine for how I inform servers about my allergies along with the responsibility I expect to see from the restaurant for serving someone with allergies.

The expectations I have when eating at a restaurant include always making sure I get confirmation that the chef is going to be informed about my allergies and that whatever I ordered is going to be prepared in an area where no cross-contamination will occur.  When I order food, I also expect waiters or waitresses to be investigative to ensure that the meal I am ordering is actually free of any possible allergens. One of the incidents where I had an allergic reaction in a restaurant occurred because the waitress misread the ingredient label for a veggie burger, which actually contained egg.  Therefore, I always prefer when a restaurant has a binder that contains a list of what ingredients are in what menu items. Since this is not always possible at every restaurant, I also find that it is a good sign when a waiter/waitress comes back to the table to verify ingredients with me— as this signals they actually have been looking into the food I have ordered.

Overall it is my hope that restaurants will be very accommodating when serving someone with allergies since they want to encourage business but also don’t want to trigger an allergic reaction in one of their patrons.  The incident where a restaurant refused to serve me occurred at a restaurant in Toronto. This restaurant had all of their food shipped in from an outside supplier and could not verify all the ingredients in their food and then could not guarantee any food items were definitely allergen free.  This was obviously a frustrating incident. But it was the right call since no food item could fully assured to be safe. Some incidents where restaurants get ‘brownie’ points for their service in regards to managing food allergies include when the chef comes out and personally talks to me about menu options and what is safe for me.

This exceeds my expectations for eating out and completely reassures me that my meal will be safe. Furthermore, the more flexible a restaurant is with altering their menu options to make safe meal choices also puts a restaurant in my good books.  This gesture is obviously much more work for a restaurant kitchen but is a testament to their commitment to providing an allergy- safe restaurant experience for their guests. It is a shared partnership between myself and the restaurant I eat out at to ensure that the food I eat is allergy friendly. For the most part, however, I must commend restaurants for the steps they take to make my experiences eating out safe and enjoyable. What have your experiences been like eating out at restaurants with allergies?

Caitlyn P. 

The Odd, The Strange, And The Weird

Full length of young men and woman holding a billboard

We’ve all had strange or odd questions asked of us. But something about having a food allergy brings out the truly odd, strange, and downright weird questions from people. Mind you, I’ve never shied away from helping people around me or those who inquire to understand food allergies better. In fact, I applaud most for taking time and asking a question so they can have a better understanding of the severity of living with a food allergy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get some really weird questions. Over the years, I’ve heard three main questions asked again and again and, each time, it still strikes me as very, very, odd.

Here are the three strangest questions I’ve been asked and the responses I’ve crafted over the years:

  • Are they Contagious?

This one is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve been asked this question since I entered Kindergarten. At first, this question used to hurt my feelings. It almost made me feel like I shouldn’t be around others. It’s taken me awhile to overcome this stigma and come up with a response that is isn’t spiteful but informative.

Response: No, of course not. A food allergy is a bad reaction to certain foods your body rejects. It is not like a cold that can be caught by having contact with someone. My food allergy affects only me; but you can help keep me safe by not eating or bringing my allergens around me.

  • I can’t see it?

Another favorite… Just because someone can’t see an aliment or sickness, it does not mean that it does not exist. I, much like many others, have been pestered about the realness of my food allergies since I was old enough to explain them. Instead of getting angry I’ve found that the best way explain food allergies is to be understanding and helpful.

Response: Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Food allergies are a very serious matter and, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a big deal. If I were to come into contact with my allergen then it will become very visually apparent and we don’t want that do we? By me staying away from my allergen, I am able to keep it under control and avoid having a reaction.

  • Can you eat this? How about this? Or that?

The endless stream of foods being paraded in front of you each accompanied with its own “Can you eat this?” There’s no easy way to deal with this and it’s easy to get frustrated or hurt. A response for this can be tactful and informative but mostly I choose to be direct.

Response: I’m not sure. I’d have to know more about its production and ingredients. I’ll let you know what I can eat, don’t worry.

We have to remember that, if people are inquiring about our food allergies, they care and want to know more and we can help them better understand. Having some answers to common questions or extremely odd questions in your back pocket can help you better cope with any situation and help them learn a little more about a serious subject.

I’m curious to hear your odd questions about food allergies! So please feel free to share.

Arianne K.

Cruising with allergies

Woman in Pool

Going on vacation should be a relaxing experience. But having allergies can sometimes make it stressful. This is particularly true if you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language because it becomes more difficult to get information about your food. An alternative to a traditional vacation is going on a cruise. This can make travelling with allergies a lot more comfortable.

If you decide to cruise with an American company, you can be assured that all the staff members on the ship speak English. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they know all about allergies. But it does make it easier to communicate with them. It’s really important to be precise when talking about food allergies to staff whose first language isn’t English. For example, a staff member might know you’re allergic to nuts, but not realize that almonds are nuts.  They also might not know the distinction between seafood and fish. It’s best to keep things simple and clear so that there are no misunderstandings or confusion.

When you’re booking your cruise, there’s usually a section where you can write any dietary restrictions so that the staff is informed before you get on the ship. Since dinner is usually served in a dining room with a host and a waiter for your table, they will already know about your allergies and are prepared. On some ships, there’s even a special section of the kitchen reserved for making meals for allergic guests. Sometimes you can even speak to the head chef who will sit down with you and pick out safe foods for the duration of your cruise. This doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. So it’s important to always double-check your food.

On many cruises, you have the option of a sit-down meal or a buffet. Buffets can be tricky because, when guests serve themselves, they can use the same tongs for different foods and cross-contaminate them. You can avoid some of this by being the first one in line. But that might mean waking up very early for breakfast. If you feel like sleeping in, there are usually packaged foods like mini boxes of cereal or yogurt cups that have ingredients listed on them. These are great to take with you off the ship when you explore the city and can save you if you end up at a local restaurant that you don’t feel safe eating at.

Overall, cruising is a great experience and makes for a fun vacation. Although you may feel safe with a well-informed staff that understands your allergies, it’s important to always double-check your food. There are hundreds of guests on a ship and the wait staff tends to be overworked. So don’t feel bad about reminding the waiter a hundred times about your allergies. If anything should happen to you, there’s always a doctor on board and, if they can’t handle the situation, they can send a helicopter to take you to a hospital that’s better equipped.

Talia A. 

Five Allergy-Friendly Date Night Ideas

young couple having fun in the kitchen

When it comes to planning a date night, ideas have a tendency to cloud my brain. I’ve thought of so many unique date night activities at random times but when asked, “what do you want to do?” flat out by a girl, my brain often likes to jumble them all up at once. Coffee or beer is an easy option. Flying a kite might be fun. Going to see a movie is always a good move. Food is an easy option too. But what about my food allergies? Being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to keep food allergy-friendly date night ideas in my back pocket or I risk setting myself (and my date) up for a night of no activities. For a food and drink junkie like me, it’s hard to envision a date night that doesn’t involve food in one way or another. So here’s a countdown of my five favourite allergy-friendly date nights (or days) and how I planned them to help you out if you ever get stuck. Keep in mind that a couple of these dates haven’t actually happened yet. But my blueprint plan is still all laid-out and waiting for that special someone.

  • Day trip to Toronto Island (or the beach or a nice big park). For this one, try to go somewhere that is spacious and beautiful with lots of open space. I find that fresh air on a date helps wash away any stress I may have and really keeps me happy. When I went to Toronto Island, I packed my own picnic lunch in a backpack. Food was never discussed with my date since I love giving surprises and the picnic lunch was the main surprise. By packing my own food, I had full control of what foods I would eat and what foods my date would eat. I asked her ahead of time what kinds of food she liked so she wouldn’t be disappointed by my surprise. Then I made sure I prepared some of those foods with little tweaks to ensure that they were allergen-free. I also clearly explained to my date the severity of my allergy and how to properly administer my auto-injector before date night. The important word there is before date night. Introducing my food allergy early is something I try to do as I find it keeps things more comfortable for both of us on date night. The last thing I did while planning this particular date was visit the area to make sure that there were no surprises (like a peanut café or a beach full of nut shells). If there are ever surprises, I would have to re-adjust my plans and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
  • Take a pottery class together. This is literally on my bucket list of dates-to-do. Taking a class like this is great because you get the chance to talk but you also work on something together that you can take home as a memory. Plus it just looks fun. The other bonus? Pottery class doesn’t have much risk for food allergy reactions. That being said, if you choose to do this, make sure you call the pottery people ahead of time to get a rundown of the process. Ask questions like, does everyone wash their hands before handling the clay? Do you have a vending machine on site? Think about any risks you can think of and ask if they may be present. Then just plan ahead and have some fun!
  • Homemade cooking/baking. For this one, the ball was completely in my court for planning. First, I brainstormed ideas about what my date and I wanted to make (oreo chocolate cheesecake brownies, of course!). Next, I looked up recipes. At this stage, I try to find allergy-friendly recipes but they don’t have to be. When I stumble upon a recipe that sounds undeniably delicious but contains my allergen, I immediately look up alternatives on the internet (Google is a huge help). Next, I went to the grocery store and picked up all the necessary ingredients and read each ingredient list carefully to ensure that nothing even “may contained” my allergen. With these steps meticulously complete, I was able to relax on date night and the final product was delicious!
  • Attend a baseball game (or other sporting event). This one was tricky since peanuts are everywhere at the ball park (or any sporting event for that matter). To plan, I called the venue ahead of time to ask if they had any allergy-safe sections for that match-up. Sometimes a venue will host a game where an entire section is peanut/nut free in the stands. So I try to keep my eyes out for those and plan my date night around them. When they told me they didn’t, I went to plan B: caution. I packed two auto-injectors, just in case. I made sure both my date and I had a hearty allergen-free meal before the game so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy food at the game. This was a relief for both my wallet and me. That being said, we were both snackers at events like this so we snuck in a pack of candy I knew was safe. When we decided to snack, we both washed our hands at the washroom and made sure not to touch anything before eating the candy. As for drinks, we stuck with bottled water! Simple planning for a great date.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon. This one will likely never ever happen but I can dream. Planning a movie date night is simple and can be really fun. Put a bunch of movie names in a hat, then pull one out and watch it. I like to add in silly movies that I’ve never heard of because it adds to the fun of pulling one out of the hat. To make it more engaging, make it a themed movie hat night and only add movie titles into the hat that fit the theme (for example, Leslie Neilson night). I asked my date to bring the hat and volunteered to think of snack ideas. Again, this kept me in control of what we both ate, just in case my date let my allergy slip her mind. By this point in our relationship, she was already quite familiar with my allergy but it never hurts to remind them not to eat your allergen within 24-48 hours of seeing you. Then just kick back, maybe cuddle, and enjoy the movie!

Sometimes date night is extravagant and other times it’s really simple. Just remember to plan ahead, always bring your auto-injector, and enjoy the little moments. Happy date night!

Dylan B.

By Food Allergy Canada