Tag Archives: Allergy Awareness

Explaining my Food Allergy Through Snappy Comebacks

I have a severe allergy to cow’s milk protein and was diagnosed at a very young age. Overall, I find that life with a food allergy isn’t so bad, it’s just who I am. Occasionally, people unfamiliar with allergies have a hard time understanding how I can actually “live without cheese,” which in truth is quite an ironic statement, since eating cheese could actually threaten my life.

Explaining a serious food allergy can be tricky, especially in my case, since lactose intolerance is also common, and often referred to as an “allergy.”

woman in glasses with sensitive toothache painOccasionally, I will get some funny, annoying or just plain strange responses when I explain my allergy, or when I politely decline food. Below are a few examples with my likely response in italics.

“So, you can’t eat it, like, ever?” –As much as I’d love a day off from the threat of anaphylaxis… no I can’t eat it ever.

“How do you find anything to eat?” – There are many foods in the world, I can usually find something.

“Are you sure you can’t just try a little bit?” – Yes I’m sure.

Don’t eat anything! I don’t want to have to call 911!” – Well, me neither.

Do you love eating dairy, even though you’re allergic?” – I can’t eat dairy and considering I spend my time trying NOT to eat it, I definitely don’t love it.

Will you be mad if I eat this in front of you?” – Of course not!

“I feel SO bad for you!!” – Really, it’s fine. I’m okay with not eating a butter tart right now.

But I used organic milk/butter/cheese, maybe it won’t affect you?” – It may be fancy, but I still can’t have it.

While some of these sound a little ignorant, I believe everyone meant well.  Lots of people find my diet interesting and have a lot of questions. And I actually don’t mind discussing it. I think most people with an allergy would agree that living with a life-threatening allergy really is just a way of life. Many people don’t have allergies themselves, or deal with family members with allergies, so it’s true, they really just don’t know what it’s like. I think that in general, if we are honest and open about our allergies, people are quite accepting.

Sometimes I get asked: “Do you wish you weren’t allergic?” Well yes, I wish I could grab a menu and blindly try something new. I wish I could accept my neighbour’s baking without giving her the third degree on ingredients. I wish I could share foods with my kids more. I wish I could kiss my husband after his morning cereal. But, that’s not how it works for me, and that’s the way it is. So my answer is always “yes, I wish I didn’t have to live with allergies, but it’s okay, I’m used to it.”

– Morgan

Flashback: How I Managed my Teenage Years with Food Allergies

Although it seems like many moons ago that I was teenager, it in fact has only been four years. Being a teenager is not only a period of significant growth and changes in your life but is also a crucial time for managing food allergies. It has been shown through various studies that teens are the age group that take the most risks when it comes to their food allergies. Therefore, developing a strong management strategy to carry throughout your teenage years is very important.

I think that the main factor that helped me manage my allergies in my teen years was the fact that I had a good foundation of management from when I was younger. I have always thought that it is crucial for parents to set a good example when a child is young and allow the child to gain independence as quickly as possible when it comes to them self-advocating about their allergies. By having a routine of always having my auto-injector on me, being able to speak to restaurant staff, and telling my friends about my allergies, the new challenges that came with being a teenager were a lot easier to handle.

Young Woman Standing in Sunset Light, Looking at Camera. Hair Fluttering in the Windi. Selective Focus, Bokeh Lights.

I think one of the biggest changes was moving from elementary school, which is often a very controlled typically “nut-free” environment, to high school where those regulations typically are not in place. I had to be aware of my surroundings in the cafeteria and be confident enough to tell those I was eating with about my food allergies if they had a food containing an allergen of mine. This was something I found difficult at first as I did not go into high school knowing many people. However, after a while it became much easier. I also made sure that my friends knew about my allergies as well so that if they noticed someone else with my allergen they spoke up for me too.

When in our teenage years we often start to go out without parental supervision and start attending parties. Always remembering to have my auto-injector on me was really important as I didn’t have one of my parents to remind me or to bring a back-up one for me. I made sure that I had one in a purse, one in my backpack, and an extra in the house so that I was always covered and it made it harder to forget. When attending parties, I was extra careful to make sure I had one on-hand as there was often food around and people would be sharing cups or accidentally take a sip of yours. This also taught me to be very aware of my surroundings when at parties to make sure that my cup was always with me and that I avoided any food that I couldn’t eat.

Overall, my teenage years went quite smoothly socially, academically, and when managing my allergies. It is important to take good habits from childhood forward into this time and keep them in place as you enter into adulthood.

– Lindsay S.

When a Boy with a Food Allergy Walked into my Life: Girlfriend Edition

Chocolate covered almonds, peanut butter sandwiches, and M & M’s are a few of my favourite things to eat! For me, going a day without peanuts, tree nuts, or almonds was as rare as a black swan. I have been very lucky in my life to have no food allergies. On top of that, my family and my closest friends are also allergy-free. Needless to say, you can imagine how much my life flipped the moment I found out my major crush (who is now my boyfriend) informed me of his life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. This was also a relief for me, as I understood why we didn’t share a kiss after our first date.

The first time we kissed, and several times after, I noticed a trend. The question “have you consumed any nuts today?” along with an interrogation of my diet, was something I quickly got accustomed to. I’ve never been questioned before kissing someone, so that was a totally new experience for me. Talk about feeling pressured! This wasn’t a typical question that had a range of answers, it was either yes or no. I had to be 100% sure or else my boyfriend’s life was at stake. I became very well acquainted with ingredient labels on all products. This helped me to feel confident to ensure I was nut-free and kissable on days when I was visiting my boyfriend.

Woman trying to kiss a man and he is rejecting her outdoor in a park
Before kissing someone, ensure they have not eaten your allergen!

I began making a list of personal items that may contain peanuts and tree nuts, or could have been contaminated at some point (with the amount of peanuts and tree nuts in my life, you can imagine how long this list was). If there’s one thing my friends know about me, it’s that I love my chap stick. In all honesty, I use it hourly! So I chose to assume all previously used one were contaminated and bought new ones. I then marked the new ones with permanent marker to indicate that they were nut-free and safe from cross-contamination. As I used my old personal items that potentially came into contact with nuts, I eventually replaced them with nut-free products that would be safe around my boyfriend. After all, if things go well with this guy, my future will be surrounded by a nut-free environment so I might as well get used to that sooner rather than later.

I currently live at home and figured it would be important for my parents to be informed of my boyfriend’s food allergies. To help my parents have a better understanding, I named a couple of examples of tree nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. It was a good thing I did, as my dad later questioned me about almonds. This gave me an opportunity to educate my parents further and since I had their attention, I brought up the topic of cross-contamination, such as clean nut-free counter tops when my boyfriend is visiting. My parents were put to the test over the holidays when they invited him over for Christmas dinner.

I made sure I went over the ingredients with my parents to certify everything was nut-free and I reminded my parents to stay away from items such as previously opened butters that could have been contaminated. I am happy to say that the dinner was delicious, and my boyfriend was able to enjoy an allergen-free turkey dinner.

Couple shopping in a supermarket

I thought the holidays was a big test, but that was nothing compared to the vegan pot luck get together my friends and I choose to organize. Vegan dinners tend to contain a lot of tree nuts due to their high protein content. As mentioned earlier, none of my close friends have any food allergies. During the planning phase, my friends and I went over who was making what dish. To tone down the anxiety my boyfriend may feel that night, I picked a main dish so the both of us could be confident knowing there is at least one thing we could eat, after all, kisses were on the line and going an entire day with my boyfriend and not being allowed to kiss him, seemed torturous! Next, I became the nut police, or at least that’s what my friends called me. I made sure each person was aware of the extent of my boyfriend’s allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. A couple days before the big day, I started giving some tips on reading labels, and foods/areas to avoid (such as pre-made salads) at the grocery store. I reminded my friends to pay close attention to their ingredients, and if they made a mistake, and accidentally contaminated their meal with nuts, to be aware of that so that I could inform my boyfriend of which foods to avoid. Not only was my boyfriend able to feel relaxed during our get together, but my friends also chose to support the new change in my life, and learned more about accommodating food allergies.

I had no idea the impact his food allergy would have on my life, but I found the transition to be much easier, especially when kisses are up for grabs.

– Cindy B

100 Posts of Adult Food Allergy Awareness!

Hello blog-world! As blog editor for Adults with Allergies, I am very happy to announce that this is our 100th blog post! On behalf of our writing team, I’d like to personally thank you for taking the time to visit our webpage and read a blog or two. If you are currently following our blog, thank you so much! If you are not yet a follower, please follow us as we have quite a few really awesome blog topics that will be posted soon and we want to make sure you won’t miss them!

Drawing sparks on a black background

As part of our constant drive to make the Adults with Allergies blog better, we would like to hear from you. I can look at site statistics about what blog topics had the most views, but that doesn’t tell me enough about what you, the reader, want to hear more about. No matter how trivial or silly you think your suggestion is, please comment below or send us a private comment through the “contact” tab above. This will really help us target food allergy blog topics that interest you.

Once again, thank you so much for checking us out! Please follow our blog, read through our new hot topics, comment, start discussions, and keep being awesome!

– Dylan B.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Travelling is Do-able

Back view of a couple on a hiking path taking a break and looking at the view

I was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at a very young age. Growing up I had always wanted to travel, specifically to Egypt so I could dig up mummies! I am at-risk for anaphylaxis to all seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, peas, and beans. As I got older, I thought that travelling to the dunes of Egypt might not be in the cards for me—perhaps it was too risky. I always thought that the varying cuisines, array of languages and cultural differences would make it impossible. Over time, however, I have learned that travelling is in fact a manageable task! Sure, the above mentioned factors may make it more challenging, however, I learned to cope with the risks because seeing different parts of the world was important to me! It takes a certain level of forethought, but if you plan accordingly, trips can be safe, and eye opening!

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling throughout the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia), United States (Florida, Louisiana, Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania) and Europe (Prague, Italy, France, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia). In some of these places, many of the foods I am allergic to were common among their well-known cultural dishes. For example, in New Orleans, seafood is used in many dishes like Jambalaya, a Creole dish, that is similar to other rice and meat dishes, combining various meat/seafood and vegetables. It’s been said that this dish originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans when the Spanish attempted to make paella with available ingredients in the New World. Also, pralines (known notoriously to contain nuts) were a huge confectionery item sold in numerous gift shops! The French brought this sweet treat to New Orleans as pecan trees and sugar cane were plentiful! Eventually, cream was added and almonds substituted pecans forming what is now known as the American South praline.  Surprisingly, I found that many restaurants in New Orleans used peanut oil! Despite the prevalence of my allergens, I had an amazing time visiting New Orleans. It really is a very vibrant, and unique city. The streets themselves seem to be alive—energy exudes a constant buzz and feel-good vibe. Something was always happening. And even in the moments when a wave of calm swept over the city, it seemed momentary—signifying a celebration dying down, or a new one just getting started!

I’m grateful that I had the courage to go. It wasn’t easy, but I definitely won’t ever let me allergies hold me back from seeing a new place. As long as I get travel insurance, carry auto-injectors, pack extra food, and communicate, then I know I am go to go! Who knows… maybe Egypt is still a possibility!

Nicole K.

Explaining Food Allergies to Kids

Birthday Party

When I was growing up my parents would go to exhaustive lengths to ensure anyone who babysat me knew the full extent of my allergies, how to avoid triggers, and what to do incase I had contact with a potential allergen.  As I got older, I switched roles and soon found that I was the babysitter now explaining to the children I was looking after why I couldn’t prepare them things like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With the rate of childhood food allergies on the rise, it is becoming important to not over simplify or downplay your allergies when talking to children. Rather it is important to make sure they are told, in an age appropriate manner, what allergies are and the seriousness of an allergic reaction. From my perspective, there are two benefits that can result from taking the time to explain food allergies to children. The first obvious benefit is that a child is more likely to act appropriately around you with regards to your allergies. The second, larger benefit is the fact that, the more exposure to and education about allergies they receive, the more likely they are to understand the concept of food allergies in general.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind and assess when explaining food allergies to children is the actual age of the child and what they will be able to comprehend in terms of information and detail.  You don’t need to go assessing where the child falls on Piaget’s Scale of Cognitive Development, but gain a sense of what is appropriate for them to learn based on things they already know. When talking to a child about food allergies, engage them in the conversation, ask them questions to assess their ability to understand what you are explaining and, if you have the time and are really creative, feel free to get interactive and even make a game about the information they are learning! Okay. So not every time you explain your allergies to a child will involve a game about say ‘matching food allergies with symptoms’. But try to always get to know the child you’re talking to and see what’s the best way you can relate to them and help them with understanding this important topic.

In terms about what information to address, again this will involve assessing why you are bringing this topic up with the child and what they will most benefit from learning. If this is a child’s first exposure to someone with allergies, the obvious conversation to start with is what allergies are. For a younger child, the most important piece to get across is the emphasis that some foods are very harmful if eaten or even touched by people with allergies. As a child gets older, they will be able to understand and even be interested in a more in-depth explanation of allergies. This can involve going on to explain the body’s immune system and how it can overreact and identify certain food items as allergens. If a child is exposed to someone, such as a playmate with severe allergies, it then might also be worth explaining about the treatment involved when someone is having an allergic reaction. The explanation can again vary but could involve emphasis on notifying an adult or someone who is able to activate EMS and provide immediate treatment with an auto-injector or, if appropriate, the child could be educated about the process of using an auto injector. 

With food allergies on the rise, it is never too early to start educating children about what allergies are and how to act around those who do have allergies. And who better to start the conversation than a young adult who has grown up and has had the experience first hand!

Caitlyn P.

Nepal, Austria, Greece & Keeping on Track with Food Allergies

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This spring was quite busy to say the least. As I prepared to finish my Bachelor of Nursing Science degree, write my nursing licensing exam, and begin the search to find a “real person” job, I also found myself in the midst of planning a volunteer trip to Nepal for the beginning of June. I’ve volunteered abroad before and am quite interested in global health so I was very committed to the idea of taking some time to go on a volunteer trip before taking on ‘adult responsibilities’ in the ‘adult world’. Before I knew it, after I organized my trip to Nepal, I also tacked on a week of visiting relatives in Austria and then arranged a one week tour of the Greek Islands. Could you say that I had a bit of a panic attack thinking that after I got my first nursing job I wouldn’t have any free time to travel again? Absolutely. Was this a slight overreaction? Perhaps…but no regrets, right? Anyway, along with the challenges of organizing three very different trips there is always the challenge of taking appropriate precautions with regards to food allergies.

In the weeks leading up to my trip departure I did basic research on the cultures I would be visiting and what sorts of food I would likely encounter. In Nepal, their cuisine takes influence from India as well as China with their main meal being Dhaal Bhat (rice &lentils). With my allergies being to wheat, eggs, and nuts I was a-ok with that. I was familiar with Austrian cuisine since my grandparents would always cook Austrian meals growing up. That being said, before even booking my trip I knew their love of schnitzel doesn’t work with my wheat allergy and sausage would also pose a challenge. What I did have going my way was the fact that, when in Austria, I would be meeting with my cousins who luckily could speak German and would be able to help me find suitable food options.

Finally, the mediterranean diet would for the most part agree with my food limitations of wheat, eggs, and nuts. But it would still pose some risks in terms of cross contamination. After getting an idea of what foods I would encounter while travelling, I also did the routine task of contacting airlines and informing them of my food allergies. I will admit I did not pick my airline based on which ones were allergy friendly. Instead I looked at which ones offered the best deal. I then had to find out that some airlines such as Turkish Airlines did not accommodate allergies in anyway such as even offering a gluten free meal option to passengers. This at least tipped me off to be well prepared with snacks for my air travels.

Other preparations before I left for my trip included making sure that I had not only one auto-injector to take with me but in fact several stored in different bags so I had backup options in case one needed to be used or perhaps accidentally got lost. I also packed anti-histamine medication which I use for less severe allergic reactions and a few inhalers in case I had one of my in-frequent asthma attacks. Having travelled by myself to other countries before, something that I always like to bring is allergy cards. You can order these online through companies like Select Wisely.

These allergy cards are neat because you can have these pocket- sized laminate cards made to state your allergies as well as other phrases such as ‘I am having an allergic reaction please get me to an English speaking hospital’ in virtually any language. I naturally ordered a fresh batch of these allergy cards in Nepali, German and Greek. But the roadblock I encountered was that, although I ordered these cards five weeks before my departure date, because they were coming from the USA they didn’t actually arrive before I left. The real kicker is I flew out on a Saturday and my allergy cards arrived the Monday after! Oh well, c’est la vie! I found that a useful and convenient alternative for communicating my allergies was downloading the google translate app on my smartphone. By downloading this app I could use very simple language to communicate my food allergies and inability to eat certain foods and type this into the app. I then saved the phrases that were produced so I could easily bring them up when ordering food.

So after months of planning and prepping for my trip it was finally time for departure. For my time In Nepal, I was living in Kathmandu and the work I was doing involved volunteering with the largest women’s health NGO in Nepal. I got connected with this group through a volunteer liaison organization that provided room and board for those coming to the country to volunteer. This provided some obvious perks such as not having to find my own accommodations as well we had all of our meals provided for us by an in-house cook. I knew in Nepal it was customary to eat rice at most meals (usually at least two meals a day), but when I had my food allergies explained to the cook I could see her eyes bulge as I am sure she began to ask herself ‘what else can I make for this girl besides rice, rice, and more rice!?’

I will admit.. I ate ALOT of rice when I was in Nepal. Breakfast usually contained of fruit and some form of rice, rice donuts, fried potatoes or even fried rice noodles (I believe the cook was trying to get creative as I could not eat things like toast or egg). Lunch typically involved fried rice prepared with some fried vegetables and potatoes or beaten rice (another form of rice quite popular in nepal…usually fried). Dinner again usually consisted of dhal bhat (rice and lentils) with curried vegetables. If you want a true picture of Nepali cuisine don’t just use my blog as a source they DO eat food beyond rice including their famous stuffed dumplings called Mo-Mos as well as various noodle dishes but as I definitely experienced rice is their main staple grain.

While my day-to-day meals were always allergy friendly I did eat out from time to time and had to be careful with ordering my meals. It was tempting not to eat out in Nepal since for $3-4 american could get you a LARGE meal of your choosing. In terms of ordering safe, I always try to stick to foods I can identify as likely being allergen free and then reconfirming when placing my order. In Nepal this involved ordering a lot of curries and traditional plates of dhal bhat that came with curried vegetables, pickled vegetables, your choice of meat as well as potatoes. It was here that I would bring out my phone and show waiters my pre-typed allergy message. The organization I worked for was stationed in Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) and I was surprised how many people in Nepal could speak or understand some English. That being said, allergies are next to non-existent in Nepal so while some educated Nepali people know of allergies this is not something they encounter regularly like we do in North America. Therefore it was important to always re-evaluate the waiters understanding while placing my order and even confirming again when the order arrived.

While I found it easy to avoid food allergens when eating out, I actually found it harder to avoid allergens at my place of work. The volunteer organization that I worked for had its main branch located in Kathmandu. However, due to the recent earthquakes that struck Nepal, we were going out to areas around the Kathmandu valley and working in health camps. Regardless of whether we were at the main branch or out in the field, lunch was always provided for the staff (something commonly done in many places of work in Nepal). These would be simple lunches of Mo-Mos (dumplings) or packets of dried noodles which are extremely popular in Nepal (yes, exactly like the ones you ate in grade school). That being said most days I could not eat any of these lunches and instead brought my own.

Some of the staff did not speak English so, when I politely declined their offer to have some of their food, it was hard not to feel completely rude. After a couple of these offers, during which I received strange looks for not wanting their food, I brought my phone with me to work so I could communicate to everyone that it wasn’t that I didn’t like their food but literally could not eat it. They definitely understood and even on my last day of work made me a special lunch with only foods I could eat— just one small example of the incredible kindness and hospitality of the Nepali people. I am thankful to say I did not have an allergic reaction while in Nepal and in fact was more successful at avoiding my food allergens than avoiding drinking untreated well water…but that is an accident and a story for another time!

After the trip of a lifetime to Nepal, I flew to Austria for a week. Here I will admit I was fortunate that, for about 2/3 of my travels, I was with cousins who could help with translating food allergies when ordering or helped with reading ingredient lists. While on my own I still didn’t find it too difficult to order food and communicate my allergies. I attribute most of this to the fact that I was in tourist centres like Vienna and Salzburg where it wasn’t hard to find those who spoke English. When it came to buying food at stores, when in doubt, I simply would look for a friendly stranger who spoke English and could help me translate what the package said. I had the google translate app ready to go but found I didn’t need to use it often at all. Again I was fortunate that Austria proved to be a trip that was reaction free!

For my final stop in Greece, I found it slightly more difficult to order food than in Austria. I obviously didn’t have family right there to translate, as well I found English wasn’t quite as commonly spoken here. That being said, while travelling the Greek islands, many of the cities are tourist hot beds so you will find someone working in a restaurant that does speak some English.

Another thing I found was that sometimes the personality of servers in Greece were such that, depending their mood or how busy they were or maybe just how they were feeling that day, this would dictate their promptness for allowing you to order with a ‘special request’ (i.e. a allergy safe meal). Despite this I did appreciate that they always did pay attention to my actual concerns and were very good about making alterations as necessary so I could eat safely wherever I was.

Even on my last night in Greece I was dining with some people in Athens and after having one of the best dinners of my trip the waiter/owner of the restaurant brought everyone at our table a piece of a pastry. I graciously thanked the man but explained that this was also something I could not eat. He of course understood and then came back a few minutes later asking if I could eat watermelon. After I said I could, he came back with an entire chopped up watermelon for our entire group! One of the greatest experiences of my travels had to be seeing the generosity and thoughtfulness of people are all across the world!

Yes, it can definitely be extra work and an added responsibility when travelling with food allergies. But I am a firm believer that it is not something that should hold you back from allowing you to gain life- changing experiences and travelling around the world! There are so many other things to consider and precautions to take when travelling with food allergies. While I tried to take precautions that made sense to me, feel free to comment below with tips and tricks you use to stay safe while travelling!

Caitlyn P.