Tag Archives: Allergies in Popular Culture

A Guide to A Safe Halloween: An Adult with Allergies

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Halloween is just around the corner (literally today actually) and that means a weekend of costumes, candy, and fun! Regardless of who you become for Halloween, you need to keep your allergies in mind to stay safe. Here are a few tips to have a safe and happy Halloween!

  1. Candy: In the last few years it has become much more manageable to find Halloween candy that is safe when you have allergies. Specifically when it comes to peanuts and nuts, many candy companies market their products with peanut/ nut-free symbols. There are still however many brands of treats that either contain nuts or may contain traces. Therefore its is very important to check the label every time. If a product does not have a label on the individual items, your safest option is to avoid it (just say no).
  1. Halloween Parties: Parties with friends can be a great way to spend your Halloween night. Talking to the host before the party can make your night easier by ensuring the environment will be safe for you. Bringing your own food can also make you feel more comfortable and take some worry away so you can have a relaxing night.
  1. Bars: If you’re making a trip to a bar for Halloween, keep in mind those ‘common sense’ rules of drinking. Knowing your limit is extra important when you have food allergies. When you loose control you can make decisions that you normally would not regarding consuming foods or beverages that may not be safe. When your at a bar, you have to be careful when ordering mixed drinks considering that various places will use different mixes (some of which may contain your allergens).

Regardless of where you go, always remember to bring your auto-injector with you. Halloween can be a blast as long as you remember to take care of yourself and your allergies. Happy Halloween!

Sara S.

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.

A Night at the Movies with Allergies

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Here are my top six tips:

  • Bring your own snacks. Generally, this practice is frowned upon. Concessions at the theatre help greatly to generate income for all parties involved at the movies. However, if you have severe allergies to numerous items, this is probably the best option for you to consider.
  • Ask questions. If you do want to try theatre popcorn, or other snacks, be sure to ask questions about food preparation. Ask, for example, what kind of oil the venue uses. Ask if they have separate fryers for various food items. If someone appears unsure about an answer, always double-check with the manager. Or just order something else. It is better to be safe than sorry!
  • Check ingredient labels. Some snacks at the movies come pre-packaged. Even if it is an item that you’ve had numerous times, just re-read the ingredients as a safety measure. If you are having a hard time seeing in the dark, use your cell-phone for light. Better yet, check it before you even get into the theatre.
  • Be an advocate for yourself. If someone decides to sit right next to you. with your top allergen, speak-up. It is okay to voice your concerns to someone in a polite manner. Usually people will be willing to move or come-up with an agreeable solution. This has happened to me a few times. Generally, I will move to find another spot if I feel uncomfortable around a stranger eating my allergen. This rule can apply to friends and family also!
  • Handy to have hand-sanitizer/disinfectant wipes. If you’re worried about cross-contamination on the seats and cup holders, wipe them down as soon as you pick your seats.
  • Carry your auto-injector. Have it on you and be prepared to use it. If someone is with you, make sure they know how to use it if necessary.

How do you stay safe at the movies with your allergies?

Nicole K.

Guest Post – Taylor – Dating with Allergies

Enjoying each other's companyMy name is Taylor and I am a second year student studying Commerce at Queen’s University. I have serious allergies to peanuts, nuts, and fish. I am lucky that I have never suffered an anaphylactic reaction (or, as a result, had to be injected with my auto-injector).

In August 2012, I started dating my first boyfriend. We had been close friends prior. So he understood the severity of my allergies. I still needed to inform him that he could not eat any of the foods that I was allergic to on a day that he was planning to kiss me. In the beginning of our relationship, this took some getting used to because he loved to eat nuts and fish.

Growing up, I always thought that dating would be extremely difficult because of my allergies. I remember reading stories about the difficulties that teenagers experienced when dating. For example, I recall reading about a girl who was allergic to nuts. She saw the boy that she liked take a handful of almonds. If she had not seen him do so, she would have kissed him that night and would have potentially had an anaphylactic reaction.

Having experienced a relationship has taught me that dating with allergies is not as hard as I once anticipated. Yes, it is more difficult for me than for a person without allergies. But it is something that can be overcome. My boyfriend grew to learn how careful he needed to be with food when he was seeing me. He did not completely eliminate my allergens from his diet. But he would not eat foods that contained them when we had plans to get together. He was very respectful when we went out for dinner because he knew that I was selective when choosing a restaurant. When I went to his house for family dinners, I also needed to be very careful that his mother did not cook any food with my allergens. She was very respectful and careful when cooking. I appreciated that she took the time to ensure that I could partake in meals with the family!

Overall I realize that, although dating with allergies can be more difficult for me than for others, my allergies will not hold me back. I will inform all future boyfriends about the precautions to take regarding food and I am hopeful that they will respect my allergies.

Taylor R.

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Common Misconceptions about Food Allergies

Wooden Man in Labyrinth with Map Having lived with multiple allergies my whole life, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation. Some people think that peanuts are nuts, but almonds aren’t. Others believe that allergies can be cured by hypnotism or that food allergies are really just a myth invented by “Big Pharma” to make money. Out of all the misconceptions I’ve heard, there are a few tenacious ones that keep popping up:

1 – Immunotherapy is a cure for food allergies

Immunotherapy is a process that desensitizes a person to their allergen by giving them small amounts of it over a long period of time. It’s done in a hospital under very controlled circumstances because, as you would expect, feeding someone their allergen can be dangerous. The goal of immunotherapy isn’t to “cure” someone of their allergy but, rather, to allow them to tolerate a larger amount than they originally could. It’s still a pretty experimental process and it isn’t offered everywhere. It also isn’t suitable for everyone; and the results haven’t been shown to be permanent.

2 – You have allergies because your mom was overprotective of you as a child

There are several theories regarding the cause of allergies, one of which is the “hygiene hypothesis.” For some reason, this theory is particularly popular in the comments section on YouTube and news sites; and it is often presented as fact. It pretty much says that, if you’re not exposed to enough germs as a kid, your immune system will get messed up and you’ll end up with allergies. This is just one of many theories, because no one knows the real cause of food allergies. Other possible reasons include the presence of GMOs in our foods, changes in our diets, genetics, the environment, and many more. At the end of the day, we don’t know why more and more people are developing allergies.

3 – If you’re only “a little” allergic to something, you don’t need an auto-injector

I’ve watched friends eat things they were allergic to because their only symptoms were a little bit of an itchy throat. These friends also never carried auto-injectors with them because they had never had a severe allergic reaction before. It’s important to point out that, even if you usually have a small reaction to something, it could one day turn into a big reaction. If that happens, an auto-injector could be life saving.

This was just a short list of some false statements I’ve heard regarding food allergies. It’s important to try and educate people, when they have gaps in their knowledge, about food allergies because public awareness is an important part of keeping people with allergies safe. For reliable information, Anaphylaxis Canada is a great resource.

Talia

Allergies in Film and Television Part 3: Translation to the Real World

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To add to the “Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities” series, I’ve decided to write a follow-up post describing some of the impacts these depictions have in the real world and how we, as informed adults, can change this.

Let me start with a quick example from my life. Last September I moved to a new city to pursue a Master’s degree; so I had to meet all new friends and teach them how to properly administer my auto-injector. As a method of teaching, I gave my new friends an auto-injector trainer and asked them to show me how they thought it worked. A few of them thought the needle had to be driven into my chest, while others figured it probably needed to go into the arm or buttocks. After explaining that the proper location is on the side of the mid-thigh, I asked them why they thought about these other locations. One answer stood out to me as alarming: “I saw it in that movie last week.” The movie was Horrible Bosses when Charlie Day slams (and yes, I mean slams) an auto-injector into Kevin Spacey’s neck and chest repeatedly. Although a funny scene in a comedic movie, this depiction had a clear and potentially dangerous impression on someone who could end up trying the same tactics on me or somebody else in need.

It becomes more concerning when you realize that I’m in my mid-20’s and people half my age have likely seen this movie and thought the exact same thing as my friend. This is just one example of how depictions in a movie can sneak into real-world situations. It’s a big risk using an auto-injector like this to treat an anaphylactic reaction since the mid-outer thigh has been found to be the most effective site for injection. And this could lead to a life-threatening situation that could have easily been avoided if the auto-injector was properly depicted in the film.

In the case above, I was able to correct some myths about food allergies and explain the proper use of an auto-injector. However, I’m sure there are still people who believe that auto-injectors need to be slammed into someone’s chest to save them. So what can we do as informed adults to reverse the myths seen on television and in movies? Simply put, we can educate and spread awareness. I like to bring trainer auto-injectors with me when meeting new people so that I can give them a hands-on learning experience. This is a simple way to not only teach others about your allergy, but it’s also a great ice-breaker! The more you educate people around you about the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, and the proper use of an auto-injector, the more prepared they will be to properly handle any anaphylactic situation they encounter in the future.

As an avid movie-goer and television show enthusiast, I also strongly encourage informing yourself about how food allergies are depicted in films and television shows. That way, when someone nearby starts talking about a movie or show that you know has an improper depiction of food allergies, you can jump in and steer them in the right direction with education! That way we all win.

Dylan B. 

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