Tag Archives: Auto-injector

Tips and Tricks to Travelling with Allergies

From bag-checking and unexplained delays to getting lost in Paris’s extremely complicated transit system and your Airbnb © host cancelling your reservation 24 hours before you’re set to arrive, travelling can be a huge hassle. If you’re living with an allergy, travelling can raise health concerns that other people would never have to even think about before boarding a plane or packing for an adventure. Your allergies, however, shouldn’t prevent you from travelling. You can take steps to minimize your risk of having an allergic reaction while on your once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Before travelling, regardless of whether you’re going just south of the Canadian border or you are flying 12 hours across the Atlantic, you need to be prepared. Preparing in advance before travelling will make a positive difference in your allergy travel experience. Here are some allergy travel tips and tricks that you can follow to minimize risks:

1) Do your research beforehand – Find out about potential encounters with allergens at your destination before you leave. This can prevent potentially adverse reactions. If you’re allergic to peanuts, find out which local dishes could potentially contain them or could be cooked nearby. For example, the research I did before I travelled to Italy taught me that peanut oil is one-third the price of any other type of oil. This makes restaurants and bars much more likely to use peanut oil just to cut costs and save money. Knowing this, I knew that eating out in Italy would be particularly challenging for myself.

2) Get a kitchen when travellingAirbnb © saved me in Costa Rica in dodging fish and shellfish. Not only was getting a place with a kitchen a better alternative for me and my allergies, but my friends and I also saved a ton of money by cooking in our apartment. I also had much more peace of mind when I was cooking my own meals. The best part about cooking while travelling: finding a good grocery store! Going into town and grocery shopping with the locals is one of the coolest experiences because you’re literally engrossed in the everyday culture.

3) Pack protein bars & snacks Believe it or not, my carry-on bag is reserved almost exclusively for packing snacks/protein bars for my trip. Bringing your own snacks gives you options if you feel like you need a quick midday snack without hassle. Snacks are also great for when you return from a long day of travelling or hanging by the pool and you feel like munching on something comforting from home. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve craved my favourite chips and chocolate bars when relaxing on the beach.

4) Check epinephrine expiry dates – Bring multiple epinephrine auto-injectors when travelling. Check expiry dates well in advance leaving you time to get new ones before you depart. You do not want to travel with expired epinephrine auto-injectors!

5) Call your airline before your flight – Alert your airline before getting on a plane about your allergies. Some airlines hand out complimentary peanut/nut snacks to passengers while flying, so it’s important to alert the attendants of your allergies beforehand, and become familiar with their allergy policies in advance.

6) Alert others about your allergy – Always travel with a buddy and make sure your buddy is aware of your allergies before travelling with them. When I’m travelling with friends or family, I make sure every person I’m travelling with is trained on how to use my EpiPen®.

7) Translate common words for your allergy before dining out – Do you know how to say egg in Spanish? Peanut in Italian? Shellfish in French? Knowing the words for your allergens in the language of the country you’re travelling will make it easier to identify potential allergens on menus.

8) Bring allergy cards in the language of the country you are travelling to – If travelling somewhere where you can’t easily communicate and can’t speak the language, it’s important to bring allergy cards identifying your allergens in the language of the country your travelling to. Give this to your waiter as soon as you arrive at the restaurant, and the card will usually do a much better job at explaining your allergies than you could ever do. I’ve literally watched my waiters read my card with the widest eyes, and then ask me if they can keep it so that they can show all their managers and co-workers because it’s literally the wildest thing they’ve ever seen. Tip: bring multiple cards!

So there you have it folks, some tips and tricks to travelling as stress-free as possible with food allergies. Though these tips are supposed to minimize risks, accidents can still happen so it’s important to be prepared with a game plan in case you do have an allergic reaction. Write down the emergency number of the country you’re staying in and research the closest hospital. I want you to be as prepared as possible whether something does or does not happen. Happy travelling!

– Giulia C.

 

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Note to Self: Trust Yourself More. Note to Everyone Else: Trust Me Less!

Trust isn’t something that comes easily for those of us with food allergies. Once diagnosed with a severe food allergy, you learn to avoid your allergens at all costs. Ideally, we live with a certain amount of healthy paranoia- because if we’re not paying attention to what we’re eating and what else it has touched… then it’s possible we might accidentally ingest what we don’t intend. Sometimes at parties I feel like Gollum, hovering over the place setting that I just painstakingly re-washed and set with my food… Mine… My precioussssss!

The problem is that while I need that self-doubt around my food… I don’t need it when I’m actually having a serious reaction. One would expect that, having had well over a dozen serious allergic reactions in my adult life thus far, I’d be completely comfortable and confident in knowing what exactly is going on. Yet half the time, I doubt myself. I ignore my symptoms and pretend like nothing’s wrong in spite of feeling absolutely horrid.

I think that tendency to want to ignore my body might very well be encoded into my DNA… My paternal grandmother wrote in her diary that on a day she felt sick, she *only* made three shirts before breakfast. My mom realized a few years back that she was able to ignore her pain so well that it caused nausea. After I broke my back, I started to notice that my colleagues who knew me well would ask me if I was feeling alright about 30 minutes before I noticed the agony I was in. I suppose that has translated into my food allergies as well- I’ll notice that I’m itchy and hot, of course, but I make any excuse to classify that symptom as something normal. I don’t want to admit a reaction to myself until I can’t stop itching, or I start having difficulty breathing, or I find myself camped out in the bathroom. I NEED to learn to trust myself more. I know the signs and symptoms of a reaction. I just need to learn to touch base with myself and have the courage to admit (and accept) what’s going on!

On the flip side… I need you to trust me less. During most of my severe allergic reactions, I’ve been a complete and total idiot. I think it’s actually part of the reaction, but I just stop thinking rationally. This can look like strange behaviours on my part, like not calling for help on the work two-way radio after an asthma attack had me collapsing on the floor… or ignoring the EpiPen® in my waist belt to go and find a different one upstairs before actually following medical advice to administer it. It’s like I’m watching from far away. I know it’s illogical and dangerous behaviour, but I’m not usually able to counteract it.

So when I DO come to you and admit I’m having a reaction, or when you notice I’m behaving very oddly… I need you to doubt me. If I’m curled up in a ball, refusing to answer questions, or just saying “I don’t know” repeatedly when you ask if I’m alright? Those are REALLY good clues that I need your help. Ask clear, yes or no questions, and point out my symptoms to me. If I finally admit in a quiet voice that yes, I think I need to be checked out? That’s your cue to call 9-1-1 and get me checked out! It’s never a convenient time to go to the hospital, so you can expect that I will be hesitant. I might be trying to talk myself out of it even as I struggle to breathe, so take a deep breath. Be courageous. Be ready to help me give myself the auto-injector if I need it. Honestly, it doesn’t hurt and it really does make me feel better almost instantly!

Then again, if I’m rationally able to articulate why I don’t think this is a serious reaction, I’m probably fine, and you won’t need to chase me down the street with an auto-injector! (That’s my brother-in-law’s standard question to help figure out if my reaction is mild or not: “Should I chase you with your EpiPen®?” LOL yikes.)

– Janice H.

12 Reactions in 12 Months: What I Learned from 2016

From the news around the world, 2016 was a challenging year for many people. In my case, I developed more severe food allergies. It was like I’d gotten an extra, unwanted Christmas present that I just couldn’t return. Looking back, however, I can see how 2016 taught me a lot as well. Most of the lessons were learned the hard way… so I’m hoping that by sharing them, you can learn from my mistakes!

1) Take your allergens seriously!

Before 2016, I was prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector, but I didn’t always carry it with me. I avoided eating my allergens, but my housemates ate them, cooked with their flours, and I wasn’t at all careful about cross-contamination. If you’ve had allergies for a long time, you know how reckless that was… but being at-risk for anaphylaxis was all so new to me… and it’s hard to change old habits. That said, I wish I’d at least tried to change those habits before I was visiting the ER every 2-3 days in January 2016… I felt so stupid, coming in and explaining that my housemates had cooked with almond flour, and that I hadn’t washed the counter before preparing and eating my food. I have now learned to prepare my defensive strategy before using the kitchen. I have a placemat I use, I wash counters before I cook with them, and I always wash my hands immediately before eating. If I visit a friend, I re-wash dishes before I use them. I don’t trust dishwashers, as some leave caked-on food. My housemates take great care in washing dishes, so at least I can trust the dishes at home. They know that when they don’t wash things carefully… they might get woken up late at night with a surprise trip to the hospital!

2) Epinephrine auto-injectors aren’t painful!

So, I learned this a few years back during my first ever reaction… but I was sufficiently surprised that it bears repeating. Remember the best vaccine you’ve ever been given? Like where you asked if the nurse was going to give it to you and then they told you it was already done? That’s my experience with epinephrine auto-injectors. I freaked out SO MUCH the first time, I sobbed to the 911 operator “I know how to do this, but I can’t do this!!!” You see, I’d taken a decade of first aid courses, and they had told me that auto-injectors can work through jeans… and so I was imagining this giant needle that would hurt a LOT. What I have since realized is that thinking of an auto-injector as big isn’t quite right. It’s actually a very thin gauge of needle. Honestly, none of the 16 or so auto-injectors I’ve had to use have hurt. Blood pressure cuffs inflating, on the other hand, are very painful, especially if you’re texting with the same hand, so make sure to drop your phone and relax if someone’s taking your pressure!

3) Keep your epinephrine auto-injector where you can reach it, and let others know where it is!

In April 2016 I had the scariest reaction of my life. It started mild, as all my reactions do, and the serious symptoms were delayed, as many of my reactions are. Because I have chronic idiopathic hives as well as being at-risk for anaphylaxis, my allergist has given me permission to take over the counter antihistamines when I have specific mild symptoms. My hives went away, but I ignored the fact that I felt weird, and started getting ready for bed. I should have taken the epinephrine then. I took my regular night time medications instead, but as I went to swallow them they got stuck in my throat and I started coughing. Suddenly I couldn’t stop coughing, and all my symptoms came back. Dizziness, nausea, hives, redness, asthma, and I was coughing so hard I had to sit down. Coughing so hard I couldn’t get up to go get my EpiPen® in the belt that was a few meters away. Coughing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath or turn around to get the EpiPen® in the drawer about 2 inches behind me.

Thankfully, I was coughing so hard that I woke my housemates… who came downstairs, called 911, and handed me the EpiPen®. After that, I started keeping 4 epinephrine auto-injectors in the house: there is an EpiPen® next to my pillow, reachable from bed. There’s one in the belt around my waist. There’s one in my purse… and because all three of those are hard to access and easy to move, there is also one that doesn’t ever move, installed on a broom holder next to my door. Every person in the house knows where it is, so that if I react they can run and grab it. I’ve deliberately chosen not to live alone. My allergist and I are also working very hard to try and treat the chronic hives, because of course it is not recommended to take an over the counter antihistamine during a serious reaction!

4) Trust yourself, but don’t let others trust you during a reaction

One common thread during all of my serious reactions thus far? I don’t think straight. I don’t make rational decisions. I routinely ignore that nagging feeling that something is VERY wrong. I start behaving abnormally, illogically, and my answer to questions like “Are you ok? You look like you’re reacting to something” is consistently “I don’t know.” My family, and colleagues have mostly seen my reactions in person now… but it’s still one of the first things I go over if someone new joins our team at work, or if I’m eating out with friends. To give a few examples from 2016:

Near the beginning of January, I actually talked myself, my sister, and the paramedics out of giving me epinephrine… in spite of the fact that I knew something major was going on. To be fair, I was stable, and they were monitoring me… but when I was later triaged through urgent care and started re-reacting more severely, it was difficult to get the nurses’ attention. I did, and things moved very quickly, with epinephrine being administered there. Had I trusted myself in the first place, though, I could have saved myself 4 hours of misery.

The other experience where I was learning to tell others not to trust me during reactions came later. I was at work, and had a major asthma attack to some dry erase spray I was using. I collapsed, but decided against calling for help on my radio. I caught my breath, but when I told one of my colleagues what had just happened I again insisted that I was completely fine. Meanwhile I had developed hives and swelling and nausea but kept ignoring the symptoms and telling my colleagues that I didn’t know whether I was having a mild or severe reaction. Eventually the reaction progressed until I was physically unable to lift my auto-injector. Thankfully a different colleague noticed that I was about to pass out, and took action on my behalf.

My hope and prayer is that you’ll never have to go through those moments, where your logical brain is saying “I’m having a reaction, with the following symptoms, and need immediate medical assistance” but the anxiety added by the reaction results in you hiding the truth from others. You matter. Your reaction will be much more inconvenient the more it progresses. If you are experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, you are not wasting anyone’s time by getting their help. 

5) Cooking from scratch is not impossible

Two years ago, I met with a dietician to talk about how I could improve my diet. Back then I had 13 allergens. I insisted there was no way I could cut out anything further. She gave me some recipes, but I didn’t take a lot of time to try them. I had resigned myself to a fate of relying heavily on other companies to be able to cook for me at the time.

Then came 2016, and suddenly I was hit hard by the new reality of having to make everything from scratch, and even having to call every company about every possible ingredient. There’s a point, while you are waiting for re-testing, where you stop looking at what is unsafe, and you start making a list of safe foods. That was the most positive shift I made. I started making incredibly simple meals from scratch, so that it was easier to list all the ingredients of what I’d eaten that day. It wasn’t an easy shift, as I grieved the things I couldn’t eat and exhausted myself trying to find safe recipes. But it was incredibly encouraging, as each successful meal became a reason to celebrate. Each new safe ingredient source has me jumping with excitement, and I’ve really learned to enjoy cooking.

Cooking from scratch was a huge learning curve, and at first it took 24 hours a week to cook meals… but now my record stands at 5 meals made in 20 minutes (plus I ate one in that time too, and washed dishes). With only 43 things that I can eat, I have become much more willing to try eating things I might not otherwise have tried. That willingness has led to some accidental successes (like roasted kiwi, and candied organic banana peel), and some really epic failures (like grapefruit toffee). I’ve learned not to give up in the kitchen, and I wish I’d learned some of these skills before I had no choice but to use them.

If I can learn these things, however, I’m pretty confident anyone can. I’ve gone from being unable to cook eggs… and regularly “burning” water… to someone who’s made candy, soup, jams, and even some puff pastry. I still have a lot to learn, but YouTube© is an excellent resource… and the benefits of studying how to make your own food far outweigh the inconveniences at times.

All in all, I learned a lot in 2016, and I’m still learning. I suspect I will always be learning more about cooking from scratch, but I hope I can stop learning so much firsthand about reactions! I’m also hoping that by sharing this with you, you’ll save yourself the time of learning them on your own!

Here’s to fewer reactions in 2017!
-Janice H.

Top 10 Tips for Going to University/College with Food Allergies

Going away to school is a really exciting time for any student but for those at-risk for anaphylaxis, it can come along with a unique set of challenges. Since some college and university programs start in January, here are some tips to make the transition to this new part of your life as easy and as safe as possible!

Late night study, student desk in low light.

  1. Talk to food services

With the wide variety of dietary restrictions that students at university/college have, most food services have policies in place and are very accommodating to student needs. Go chat with the staff at food services at your school to discuss things such as ingredient lists, if they serve your allergen, cross-contamination risks, and how they can help you eat safely!

  1. Learn about your options for residence

For those that will be living on campus, like many students do in first year, you can get in touch with those who organize residence living. Often students with food allergies are able to get a single room more easily or even a room with a kitchen so they can cook their own meals!

  1. Tell your roommate in advance

If you chose to not live in a single room it is important to give your roommate(s) a heads up about your food allergies! You are usually given their contact information the summer before heading to school, so send them a quick email when introducing yourself to let them know about your allergies. You can discuss how you prefer to manage your allergies and come up with some friendly ground rules along with other general living guidelines for your time together.

  1. Tell your new friends

You will be making a ton of new friends when you get to university/college and none of them will know about your food allergies unless you tell them! It is easiest to just tell them right off the bat so that you don’t get stuck in any tricky situations and you can feel safe knowing you have people nearby who are aware of your situation.

  1. Talk to your residence advisor

Most schools will have a residence advisor who is an upper year student that lives on your floor and ensures everyone is safe and following residence rules. Usually during your orientation week, they will have a floor meeting for everyone to meet each other. It is a good idea to talk to your advisor prior to this meeting so they are aware of your allergies and so they can let everyone else know that someone on the floor has an allergy. This can save you some of the trouble of letting everyone know yourself! If you don’t want to be singled out as “the kid with allergies” you can even ask them not to identify you.

Shiny bright red miniature fridge

  1. Get your own snacks and a mini fridge

This is an essential for most students in residence but even more so for those with food allergies. Investing in a mini fridge is a great option to ensure that you have some safe foods as a go-to at all times! Go to the grocery store with some friends and get yourself breakfast foods, snacks, etc.

  1. Bring lots of auto-injectors

If you are going away to school somewhere that isn’t so close to your hometown it is likely that your family doctor, allergist, and pharmacy will all be inaccessible at times. Make sure that you have a good stock of auto-injectors (check the expiry date) with you so you can keep one in your backpack, one in your room, etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Having a food allergy may feel like it limits where you can go to eat, doing extra curricular activities, and making new friends but it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! Going away to school is the best time to get involved, try new activities, and meet new people. There is always a way to accommodate for your allergies in whatever you are doing to make sure you are living safely.

  1. Find others with allergies

When I went away to school there just so happened to be two other girls on my floor who had food allergies. Getting to know them made it a lot easier to live with my allergies at school as we could go get food together, talk about what places were safe to eat, and share tips with each other.

  1. Become truly independent

For most people going away to school is the first time they will be living on their own and away from parents. This will test your ability to be truly independent in managing your allergies as you won’t have your friends or family from home to be there for support. Take this time to learn how to live safely with your allergies all on your own!

– Lindsay S.

*Webinar: Managing food allergy in college/university

June 25 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT

Join us for a lively webinar led by a panel of post-secondary students with food allergies as they impart their tips and best practices for managing food allergy in college/university settings.

Register today!

Halloween as an Adult with Food Allergies

Jack O' Lantern on leaves in the woods

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, eat candy, and go out. I feel like it’s the one time of the year where you can let you inner child out and just simply “be” whatever you want. I feel like with allergies, though, Halloween can bring a whole storm of worries and concerns. When I was growing up and I went trick-or-treating, it would take forever to look through every single piece of candy in my bag and audit whether or not the candy was safe for me to eat. At the end of the night, I would have two piles; one pile of candy I could eat, and one pile of candy I couldn’t eat and would give to my neighbour. As an adult though, Halloween is so different. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year to go out. Don’t think that just because you’re not trick-or-treating anymore that you can let your guard down. Follow these tips to ensure a healthy happy Halloween this year:

  • Always carry your EpiPen® on you – just in case anything happens, you want to be prepared.
  • Only consume beverages and food where you know the ingredients – If you don’t know what’s in the green juice your friends are passing around, don’t drink it. Last Halloween, I went to a bar and ordered a vodka tonic. When I received the drink, it was blue. I told the bartender that he had given me the wrong order, but then he informed me that he had “spiced” up my drink by adding a blue liquor and gin to the vodka to make it more special. I’m allergic to gin. If I had decided to not ask questions and to just drink the beverage that was given to me, I would’ve put myself in a very scary situation.
  • Don’t drink too much! I always make sure that I never drink myself to the point of intoxication. When I see my friends after nights that we’ve gone out and tell me that they literally don’t remember the night, it scares me. What if that happened to me and I just happened to ingest an allergen not thinking about the consequences? It’s just not a situation you want to put yourself in.

Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and you can stay safe and still have fun with allergies. Now, I’m off to go figure out my Halloween costume this year and make my plans!

Happy Halloween,

– Giulia C.

A Girl’s Night Out

iStock_000063167753_SmallWhen you’re getting ready to go out for a night on the town with your girls, I don’t know about you, but my food allergies are the last thing that I want to think about. Regardless, they are always on my mind in order to keep myself safe. As long as you keep yourself in control you can still have fun with your friends and stay safe, even if you consume alcohol.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do is ensure that your friends who you will be with know about your food allergies. From spending enough time with me, the majority of my friends are well versed on what my food allergies are and what to do in the event that I have an allergic reaction. At some point, I have given them all the lesson on what would happen if I did have a reaction and how to use my EpiPen®.

The ongoing joke with my friends is my constant struggle to find a small purse that is big enough to hold my EpiPen®. When going out, I like to find an over the shoulder bag that is small enough that it will not get in my way, but large enough to hold my EpiPen®. Over the shoulder bags are also great because their size makes them harder to lose.

If you choose to drink alcohol on your night out, I feel that the most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe when you have food allergies is to keep yourself in control. It is easy to let peer pressure influence you to have a little too much to drink. When your judgement is impaired, the decisions you make regarding food may not be as well thought-out as they should be. For that reason, I always try to have a good meal before I go out so that I am not too hungry later if I find myself in a tricky food situation.

Another big thing to consider is the drinks that you consume. The content of allergens in some types of alcohol are much more obvious than others. Personally, I have peanut and tree nut allergies. I am well aware that liqueurs like Amaretto and Frangelico are tree nut-based. Unfortunately, some alcohols are not as obvious. I recently learned to my surprise that some brands of gin contain almonds! For that reason, it is a good idea to really look into the ingredients of liqueurs before going out. This can be challenging since many do not have an ingredients list on the bottles. Calling the company is the best way to accurately know if a product will be safe for you. To keep my life easy, I like to stick to a few drinks that I know will be safe. That way I do not need to question what will be safe and what is being mixed together.

With these things in mind I think it is very manageable to have a night out with your girls, regardless of your food allergies. Being prepared is the best way to stay safe, but always remember to have fun!

-Sara S.

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.