Changing Ingredients and the Importance of Checking Even Your Daily Staples

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It’s hard for me to pinpoint the age that I started to read. All I remember is that I was a swift reader upon entering the first grade. I do equate this to the fact that I had probably been reading ingredient labels well before your average fairytale (although I read those too)!

This act is as normal to me as opening a package. Whenever I eat, cook, or do anything involving a food item, a glance at the ingredients list  is just a part of the process. I am glad this has become a habit.

I remember one day when I was totally craving a fix of chocolate! I grabbed one of my favourite candy bars and, while waiting in line, took a look at the ingredients list. I questioned: “May contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts!?! Since when!?”

I remember having this incredibly bitter inner dialogue before reluctantly placing it back onto the shelf. A part of me was extremely disappointed, but another part  of me was relieved. If I hadn’t  checked the label, who knows what could have happened! I am lucky that the act of reading ingredients has become such an ingrained habit.

After reiterating the importance of checking labels, I must admit that there have been times that I have forgotten. I made a grave mistake once but I was very lucky with how the events played out. My most serious allergic reaction to date happened after eating a food before reading the ingredients. It was a food that I had eaten numerous times before. However, the “Holiday” version of this snack contained hazelnuts. I had wrongfully assumed the food was safe and landed myself in the hospital and on an IV on Christmas morning. The whole situation could have easily been avoided had I done the simple task of reading the label.

It is very important to always check the label. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve eaten that food, how much you trust the company, or whether or not it is an item that is unlikely to have come in contact with your allergen.

Please, check the label every single time. Have any of you had similar experiences with ingredients lists? Please comment below!

Nicole

Allergies as Disability: The Pros and Cons

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Often, when people find out I am allergic to peanuts, they say: “How do you live without peanut butter?!”  My response is:  “Well, it’s kind of a life-threatening allergy. So…”

Allergies are more of a win than a burden for me. Yes, it can be an annoyance to manage my allergies when I am going to eat out, go to people’s houses for dinner or have business lunches and dinners. That being said, I am pretty satisfied with the idea that I am always endlessly conscious of what I am eating.

I am used to reading labels, asking about ingredients and knowing everything that is in my food. In efforts towards choosing healthy lifestyle options, this is an easy cross-over for me. I have no new habits to form when reviewing foods. Along the same lines, one of the cons in having allergies means having to put out the extra cash for specific foods because of the foods I can or cannot eat.

The idea of labelling people with allergies as having a disability has been brought up in various sectors of society. I feel this would be an interesting concept. I am not sure how that would change lifestyles or benefits (medical) for people with allergies; but it would be nice to have a similar qualification for a tax deduction based on the extra costs that can be associated with purchasing allergen free foods, for example. Another pro of having people with allergies be labeled with “a disability” is the potential for it to create more black and white legislation towards issues like dealing with allergies on airplanes and allergen free areas at sporting venues (to name but a few possibilities).

There are some potential conflations that may come with being labeled with a “disability.” Unfortunately, people may have a hard time identifying something as a disability when it sits outside more traditional physical or mental issues. Allergies are comprised of neither of those, at least in a straightforward sense. So I can understand the frustrations people with allergies might have if others were to equate their disability with having a physical or mental rather than as a stand alone category. As a person with allergies, I have to manage my allergies daily so I do not consume things that will put my life at risk. So I remain unsure how having myself recognized as a person with an allergic disability versus person with allergies would change daily management.

Personally, I am okay with having allergies. Would life be easier without them? Yes. But I have them and, if there are ways that we can lessen the burden financially and socially for people with allergies, I am personally all for that.

Joanna

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

 

 

Knowing Your Nearest Hospital


Do you look up the hospital(s) nearest where you will be staying when you’re planning a trip to another city or country? I always do. When you are in a new place, a few minutes spent trying to look it up could mean a delay in getting care and potentially make your situation worse. I always print out the address and phone number and/or enter it into my phone for easy access. My worst fear would be having an anaphylactic reaction without myself or my peers being aware of the location of a nearby hospital. When in more remote locations, it is important to know how far you will be from the nearest hospital; it may, in fact, be significantly faster to have a friend or family member drive you there rather than wait for an ambulance depending upon where the nearest hospital is located. Where I grew up, it could take the ambulance up to 30 minutes to get to our house from the time we called. So my parents would always drive in an emergency situation. Consider where the nearest hospitals are if you are moving to a new area of town for school or work. I like to know where they are and wouldn’t want to live more than 30 minutes away from a hospital. For me it is important to be close to a hospital because I know that, even if you are as careful as possible, cross-contaminations, undeclared ingredients or preservatives can trigger a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. It has happened to me before. I feel much safer knowing that we have a plan if an anaphylactic reaction were to happen at home. A few years back, I had a fellowship at an Oceanographic Institution. Our team was planning field studies in a very remote area. I was unaware just how remote the area we’d be staying was until my supervisor advised me that, if there was an emergency, I would have to be airlifted by helicopter to the nearest hospital. That raised some red flags right away. My supervisor asked if I still felt comfortable going on the trip with this information in mind. I said, yes! I was not letting that get in my way. My preparation for the trip and extreme precautions throughout our stay were directly impacted by the fact that there was no hospital nearby. Upon arrival, myself and a few of my colleagues cleaned and scrubbed the kitchen until all surfaces had been cleaned (including the fridge, microwave and oven). I made all the food from scratch in our motel suite (which had a full kitchen), and I never ate out. When my colleagues went out for dinner, I joined them; but didn’t eat or drink anything as they used peanut oil to cook.  I was, ultimately, worried that even the water glasses may have some residue left on them if not cleaned properly. Knowing that the hospital was so far away, I knew I had to be on my “A-game” at all times. I equipped myself with extra epinephrine auto-injectors and a lot of antihistamines. It is all in the planning process. You plan the food you will be taking with you, restaurants you feel safe going to, and ensure you know the location of the nearest hospital. These should all be parts of your pre-trip planning. Have you ever had an experience where knowing the nearest hospital was especially helpful for you? How did knowing where the nearest hospital was help you?

Erika

Eating Out With Allergies: Asking the Right Questions

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Rule #1: There are never too many questions you can ask about food you are about to consume. That was the number one lesson my parents instilled in me about eating out.

I have been allergic to peanuts since I was 16 months old. My parents started teaching me very young to be vocal about my allergies regardless of where I was. To this day, I have no idea how they let me go to kindergarten by myself, knowing I could unknowingly put my allergen into my mouth. Yet, here I am, turning 28 next month and have yet to have an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts since I was 16 months old. It might seem crazy. But I am insanely vigilant to avoid risks when at all possible.

I suggest following the follow basic precautions when choosing to dine out (or eating with family and friends):

1) Carry your auto-injector: Always, always, always carry your auto-injector. This cannot be stressed enough. There are so many sad stories about individuals who did not have their auto-injector with them to treat a reaction.

2) Call before you go: After checking the menu online, call the restaurant and ask to speak with someone from the kitchen. Find out if they use your allergen in the kitchen. If so, ask what dishes. If they do say ‘yes’, I always ask how they deal with cross-contamination and if they can use fresh utensils and ingredients when preparing my food. Just the other day, I had a chef actually thank me for calling to ask before coming. He mentioned that he wished more people would do that.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak up: I usually scan the menu as soon as I get to the restaurant and pick out an option to eat. When my dining companions and I order drinks, I ask my server to check my selected meal with the kitchen in regards to my allergies. This way, I do not feel awkward making my friends or family wait when checking about my allergies. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable dining at the establishment you chose, it is okay to say no to eating there.

4) Plan ahead: I always carry snacks and plan where I am going to eat as best possible. If I cannot plan that for various reasons, then I try to select a restaurant specializing in a food type that I generally can eat (for me that’s Italian and Greek).

5) Alternate planning: If you plan to cook a meal with friends, this does not mitigate the odds of cross-contamination. Always mention your allergies and take whatever precautions you need to in order to stay safe; I get that this can feel like a burden. But your friends will understand.

Eating out with allergies does not need to hamper your fun. As with managing every other avenue of life with allergies, be smart!

Joanna

Risky Business—When to Say No to Foods

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It is my personal view that having food allergies is a 24/7 responsibility. The main person responsible for your own personal safety is you.  This is in no way a negative thing; but it can pose some added challenges in different everyday situations.  When opportunities to experiment with eating foods that you are unsure of arise, and if there is ever any doubt as to the safeness of the food, I find it is best to just say no.

Now I realize ‘just saying no’ is much more easily said than done.  One of the best examples I can think of is saying no to foods that ‘may contain’ different allergens.  Personally, I have peanut, tree nut, wheat, and egg allergies. I commonly find that many different food labels will ‘may contain’ one of these allergens. And, I will admit, at times I feeling frustrated with how this can limit food choices.  It’s important to take a step back when contemplating trying these ‘may contain’ items.  One must evaluate if the risk is actually worth the severe reaction that could be brought on.  I also find it helpful to determine if there are any other safe alternatives to what food I was looking to buy or any better safe food replacements.  One way of doing this is seeking out options at health food stores which have a lot of different great food alternatives for people with dietary restrictions; however, it still is important to make sure whatever item you are looking at is still safe—many may still contain various allergens.

I personally find eating out can be another situation when it can be difficult to ‘just say no’ to different foods.  When eating out with large groups, it can be easy to find yourself in a situation where friends might want to share and sample various dishes at the table. But this can be risky if you have food allergies.  When ordering your own meal, it’s important to inform the kitchen of your allergies and the importance of avoiding cross contamination. The same precautions, however, will not be taken with any of the other meals being served to that table aside from your own. It may be tempting to try someone else’s meal. Yet I find it best to always reevaluate the risk and acknowledge how having an allergic reaction during a night out would be a lot worst than missing out on a sample of food.

I find that always comparing the risks and (for lack of a better word) inconveniences of having an allergic reaction are helpful in making the decision to say ‘no’ to risky food choices.  A specific example I have of this includes when I was travelling to Europe for the first time.  My first day was in London, England. I will admit, while I was enjoying all the sight seeing and normal joys of travelling, when it came to find a place for lunch I found myself being overly cautious picking a safe food to eat. The last thing I wanted was to have an allergic reaction on my first day of holidays in a foreign country. I also found it hard since I was travelling with friends and they were very interested in experimenting with new foods at foreign restaurants I wasn’t familiar with.  I have travelled abroad since and each time I make sure to do research ahead of time on safe food choices abroad. I also never run short of safe snacks, which I bring along, that make it easier to avoid risky foods without having to go hungry! In the end, while it may be tempting at the time to experiment with different foods, it’s also important to take a very careful look at the risks that are involved and realize it’s okay to ‘just say no’.

Caitlyn

By Food Allergy Canada