Tag Archives: Anaphylaxis

Back to School and Allergies

College student backpack

Heading back to school can be a fun and exciting time! Getting to see your friends again, purchasing new school supplies, and meeting your new teachers are just some things to look forward to. On the other hand, going back to school may be overwhelming, especially when having to manage a severe allergy.

I know because I’ve been there…As I enter my final year of undergraduate studies at university, I’ve taken some time to reflect-back upon my elementary and high-school days. I was diagnosed with anaphylaxis back in 2004, at the age of 10. I remember feeling overwhelmed as I contemplated the potential challenges I would face in my future. What will my friends think? Will I ever be able to eat-out? How and when should I notify others about my allergy? For the most part, I’ve been fortunate enough to have supportive friends who understand the implications of severe allergies. Although some may not be as understanding as others, taking a proactive approach in managing your allergies should help alleviate or minimize any problems that you may encounter. Here are some tips that I have found helpful in terms of managing allergies at school!

1. Understand that you are not the only one with allergies at your school: In most cases, you will not be the only student in your school (or class) with anaphylaxis. I remember going through school and there being at least one other student with an allergy (if not anaphylaxis). You are not alone!

2. Bringing-up your allergies at the appropriate time: When making new friendships, it’s often difficult to gauge when the appropriate time to discuss your allergies may be. The appropriate time and place will depend on the individual and the nature of your relationship. In any case, always make sure to notify your friends about your allergy before eating-out at a restaurant. Never feel peer-pressured to go to a restaurant and “risk it.” Take a step back, remember that your health is your most important asset, and tell those around you about your allergy. It would also be wise to show them your medic-alert bracelet and where you store your auto-injector.

3. No trading lunches! When I was in school (particularly elementary school) I remember always being tempted by others to trade lunches or try different foods. Don’t! You don’t know who has handled the food and whether or not there is risk of cross-contamination. Again, never feel ‘peer-pressured’ into trying food either.

4. Seek-out allergen-friendly snacks: Luckily, a lot of positive change has transpired since 2004. Organizations such as Food Allergy Canada have done a fantastic job of spreading awareness about anaphylaxis. As a result, a lot of corporations have taken steps to produce and market allergen-free snacks. Many big-box grocery stores supply peanut-free, nut-free, and gluten-free snacks – some specifically designed for school. Seek these out!

Hopefully, you’ll find some of these suggestions helpful. No matter what age you are, going back to school can be overwhelming. Making a plan beforehand can help alleviate some of your stress moving forward.

Saverio M.

Cruises And Allergies Take Two: Another Personal Account!

sunset

Traveling with allergies can be a daunting thought. There are many variables that are further out of your control when you are not in your own environment. However, if you plan appropriately, you can still have a great and rewarding vacation.

I have had food allergies since I was one year old and have still had the opportunity to travel internationally. I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean due to the language barrier, although, recently traveling on a cruise ship opened this door. Cruise ships can allow you to travel to a multitude of places with food allergies if you take the necessary precautions.

Here are some things that I have learned about traveling on cruise ships that have made for an easier vacation.

Before you go:

Call the cruise line. It is important to call the cruise line that you plan to travel with. Like airlines, their policies will vary. Ask about the medical facilities on board the ship. I was surprised to learn about the capacity of care the cruise ship that I recently traveled on was capable of. My ship had a doctor and three nurses on board. They essentially had a mini emergency room, which I was told was capable of intubation and administering the medications necessary in the case of an anaphylactic reaction.

Also, ask about the dining facilities. Most cruise ships will have a buffet in addition to a formal dining room where your allergies can best be accommodated. Booking your cruise over the phone can allow for a note to be made on your file identifying your food allergies.

Pack Safe Snacks.  Although there is an abundance of food onboard, bringing safe snacks can be helpful. Between meal times, the main dining room may be closed, leaving you with the buffet as your only option. For times like these, having snacks from home can make your life easier.

Onboard the Ship:

 Arranging Meals. When you first get onboard, it is a good idea to make reservations for your meal at the main dining room. There are multiple options for how you choose to schedule your meals in the main dining rooms. An option allowing you to sit at the same table each night with the same staff will allow for consistency and an easier dining experience. When you first go for supper, you can request to speak to the head waiter, who is typically best able to handle your meals. My waiter would have me pick my meals the night before so that the kitchen could take extra time for preparation. I found the dining staff to be very helpful and cautious about my allergies. The staff all spoke fluent English so there was no language barrier.

Buffet Meals. As I mentioned before, at certain times of the day, the main dining facilities may be closed leaving the buffet as your only option. The staff members at the buffet were very accommodating with my allergies. Getting food directly from the buffet is not safe due to the risk for cross-contamination. When I talked to the staff at the buffet, they were able to prepare a fresh meal for me.

Eating on Shore. I was not comfortable to eat off of the boat. I felt that they were able to manage my needs best on board. Depending upon where you are traveling, there can be major language barriers inhibiting your ability to inform the restaurant about your allergies. I always ensured that I had enough to eat to last me until I would be back to the boat. Bringing snacks from home is one way to know what you are consuming when off the boat.

Cruising can be a great way to travel for both an action packed or relaxing vacation. Explore your options to find a vacation that you will feel comfortable with.

Sara  S.

Movie Nights at Home: The Snacker’s Guide

Woman Masked

I recently hosted a Hobbit movie marathon at my house with a few of my Middle-Earth-loving friends. For those unfamiliar with The Hobbit trilogy, it’s essentially three awesome fantasy adventure films based on a single short children’s novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some people say three movies was excessive. I disagree. But that argument can be saved for another time.

A very essential part of this marathon day, and any movie night at home for that matter, is FOOD! If you’re like me, snacks are a big part of the movie watching experience. However, with a food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to be careful what I eat and what the people around me eat. For this reason, I like to involve myself in the snack planning. That way, I can enjoy the movie more as I will be more confident that everything will be safe to eat. As a side note, before I share some of my snack ideas, be sure to clean the surfaces where you will be sitting. If it’s at a friend’s house, offer to clean the couch and nearby tables to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Also, politely ask everyone to wash their hands before handling any food. It’s really not a big deal to ask and your friends will appreciate your diligence.

Here are a few ideas for allergy-friendly snacks for a movie night at home. Please keep in mind your own food allergies while reading through this list and adjust according to your food preferences and requirements.

1) Popcorn. This is a staple food for most movie watchers. I like to buy unpopped kernels so that I can prepare them how I like. If I’m feeling adventurous after popping them, I’ll sprinkle cinnamon on top. Or sometimes butter and salt. If you like spicy foods, chili powder is also a fun popcorn topping. You could also try coconut oil for something different. The possibilities are really endless with popcorn!

2) Veggies and dip. This one takes a little more planning. I like to make sure that I buy the veggies and prepare them myself so that I am confident that there is no cross-contamination risk when chopping them up. As for dip, store bought dips are great. But sometimes I prefer to make my own. Adding spices to a mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt base can make for great dips. Then simply serve and enjoy!

3) Chips. I’m a big chip fan. However, if you are allergic to wheat or any other chip ingredient, the good news is that some companies have found innovative ways to make chips. For example, using beans instead of wheat (very, very tasty!!). You can also make your own using other ingredients. There are hundreds of simple recipes and instructions online or in books describing how to make chips out of bananas, kale, apples, potatoes… pretty much anything! These are great for impressing your friends with something homemade and tasty.

4) Candy. This one is tough to make at home. But I’m sure there are recipes out there somewhere on how to do so. If not, just be sure to read the ingredients twice to ensure that your allergen(s) are not present.

5) Pizza. This is another great food for movie night at home. Just be sure to read ingredients and/or inform the pizza maker about the severity of your allergies. If you feel uneasy about ordering or buying oven-ready pizzas, it’s really simple to make your own. Use a tortilla or a bagel, top it with your favourite ingredients, bake, and share!

6) Other. I will leave this other section for you to fill in with your own ideas. Be creative and safe!

Also, feel free to post comments about your allergy-friendly snack ideas for movie nights at home. I’d love to hear them!

 Dylan B.

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.

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.

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.