Tag Archives: Explaining My Food Allergies Series

A Forced First Impression…Food Allergy Style

As a 26 year old, I have had to inform dozens, if not hundreds of people about my allergies thus far in my lifetime. This one story definitely stood out to me ahead of the rest.

Business Team Meeting Seminar Training ConceptI was sitting in a university lecture on the first day of class. It was an elective and there was someone in the class who I didn’t know very well from a different program. She put up her hand to inform the Professor and her fellow colleagues about her allergy to citrus including oranges and bananas. She went on to say that if these food items were brought to class and peeled it would cause her a serious migraine.

I was pretty impressed by how forward she was about her allergies. I generally inform my friends, and people sitting around me should they decide to start munching on one of my allergens. Nonetheless, there was no judgement in her proclamation, but rather I noted what she said and thought the class would carry on normally.

I had a few friends in the class with me and they began to nudge me and whispered the following in my ear, “you should say something about your allergies”, “yeah, you should speak up”. Again, as I previously said, I do try to keep my allergies on a need-to-know basis, especially since we are talking about a lecture hall full of people.

Well, obviously, my professor noticed that there was a bit of a kerfuffle and asked if everything was okay. My response was the following: “Well, I just wanted to add that I also have allergies. I am severely allergic to nuts. I don’t really see it being an issue in class unless someone eats nuts and then makes out with me. So, yeah. Let’s try and avoid that at all costs.”

There was an outbreak of nervous laughter and the professor was stunned. After a brief moment, he thanked me for sharing and carried on with the program. Can you say AWKWARD!? It was quite the way to make a first impression.

– Nicole K.

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

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Co-worker

Business People Meeting Conference Brainstorming Concept
Having open lines of communication with co-workers about your food allergy is important

I experienced my first anaphylactic reaction when I was an infant. By the time I entered the workforce I had more than two decades of experience taking care of my own safety. I was an expert, an anaphylaxis ninja, masterfully controlling my environment to ensure my safety.

This idea was shattered into tiny pieces one day when the office prankster saw me hard at work and used the back of my head as target practice. His projectile of choice was a handful of peanuts; the allergen I had reacted to.

In his defence he didn’t know his prank was dangerous. But for me this situation was a wake-up call; I was confronted with the fact that my track record hadn’t made me an expert, it made me complacent. I thought that it would have been awkward to inform my coworkers about my risk of anaphylaxis, but now I knew it was far more awkward to do so while picking a peanut out of my hair.

I realized that I needed to be proactive and explain anaphylaxis to my coworkers. Here are a few of my strategies for sharing food allergy information with coworkers:

  1. Go all the way to the top. If your company has a good Human Resources department go there, otherwise go to the highest manager you have access to. In my case, I went straight to the company president. I shared that I am at-risk for anaphylactic reactions and I educated him on what that meant. In all honesty I felt embarrassed, but the response to this was amazing. By the end of the day all the peanuts had been removed from the building and the cleaning staff were given special instructions to ensure every surface was cleaned. Most important of all was that now the management team knew what to do if anything happened.
  2. Next, go close to home. My company had 120 employees in two locations. I couldn’t tell everyone at once so I started within my department. This created a zone of safety with the cubicles nearest my own receiving the first education. Since these coworkers were actually eating food near my desk, they were critical to my safety. On top of this, they ended up being great advocates and helped me spread the word throughout the company.
  3. Be open to curiosity. Whenever someone had a question I went out of my way to educate them. I adopted the attitude that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Things that I took for granted were unknown to my coworkers so answering questions was a great way to make sure that the people around me were as anaphylaxis conscious as possible. For example, I got questions about smelling peanuts, symptoms I experienced in the past, how fast a reaction is, what they could do if I had a reaction and many others. These were great opportunities to educate people.
  4. Be direct and clear. It’s important to remember that anaphylaxis is serious business. I didn’t dwell on the darker side of food allergies but I did address them head on. After I explained what a reaction might look like I was honest, people have died from this, not often but it has happened. By approaching the subject directly I was able to get my message across and avoid other situations like the prankster episode. It turns out that my coworkers appreciated this method as it helped them understand the situation clearly.
  5. Teach people how to react to an allergic reaction. I always carry an auto-injector but during a previous reaction I learned that it can be hard to operate under pressure. When my hands were shaking I had my brother administer the injection for me. With that experience in mind I taught my coworkers how to use my auto-injector. I managed to get one of the trainers that has the needle removed and we practiced several times. Then we talked about the other steps such as calling an ambulance. Overall, it helped empower the people around me to feel like they could help if something went wrong.
  6. Continue to be proactive. My work was never over. This went for both my real work and my food allergy-awareness work. Food Allergies are a very important part of my life but just a fleeting thought for most people. Some people I had been working with for years would still forget about my food allergy from time to time. It’s your responsibility to stay safe so be proactive and continuously educate.

As people who are at-risk for anaphylactic reactions, we get used to talking to our friends, restaurant staff, and our families. But in many cases you spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else. It’s important to take matters into your own hands and talk to your coworkers about the risks associated with severe allergic reactions.

What about you? What strategies do you use to talk to your coworkers?

– Jason B.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Significant Other

Couple having intimate dinner of summer eveningExplaining your allergies to anyone can be a difficult task, especially when faced with a new person you have started dating. Although it might feel uncomfortable or be hard to do, it is really important that your significant other has a good understanding of your allergies and how to help you stay safe.

When I first start to date someone, I try to bring up my allergies as early as possible in a more low key way than making it into a really serious conversation. I find that an easy way to do this is the first time I go out to eat somewhere, I casually mention that I have food allergies and that there are some restrictions as to where I can eat. By doing this, I do not have to bring my allergies up out of the blue. Another advantage of mentioning them this way is that it can ensure that we will be eating somewhere that I know is safe for me.

Typically, I don’t launch into all of the details of my allergies when I first bring it up. Often times the other person will bring it up when we do go out to eat or when we talk next as it is something they have been curious about. This is when I go through the basics of my allergies: what am I allergic to, where I carry my auto injector, and the fact that my allergies are life threatening and something to be taken seriously. I try really hard not to scare the other person as my allergies aren’t something that should intimidate or scare them. The more confident you are in talking about your allergies the more comfortable your significant other will hopefully feel about them.

At some point a little later on, it is important to ensure your significant other knows where you keep your auto injector and how to use it. People are often really interested in seeing an auto injector up close and want to know how it works so this is a great opportunity to have a teaching moment with him or her.

As you continue on in your relationship more aspects of your food allergies will come up naturally. I’ve found that topics such as safety on dates, with drinking, and travelling have been very commonly brought up. As long as you feel safe as your relationship is progressing there is no need to tell your significant other every last detail about your food allergies and how to manage them on the first date. It will be much less overwhelming and easier for them to remember if they learn over time.

Dating someone with a food allergy can be a difficult task! Especially if your allergens are a main component of your significant other’s diet. It is important to remember that this can be a big adjustment for people and it will take time for them to become knowledgeable about how you manage your allergies. Make sure you are always open to answering questions that they might have and be accepting of mistakes that they might make along the way!

If the person you are dating is right for you they will be accommodating and understanding of your allergies!

Lindsay S.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To Children

Child scratching head with question mark on blackboard concept for confusion, brainstorming and choice

I am twenty-five and currently do not have any children of my own. However, as a school teacher, I interact with children on a daily basis. I have taught students in kindergarten all the way up to grade six. Obviously, my language and delivery may have changed slightly, but I never hesitated to talk to my students about my food allergies.

To me, it is important to have this dialogue with them as we spend a lot of time together. With my students, I discuss that my allergens have to stay outside of the classroom. This is my way of minimizing the risk of an allergic reaction. However, if a child brings snap peas as a snack, or a sesame seed bagel for lunch, I allow them to indulge outside in the schoolyard or in the lunchroom.

Another management strategy I teach children in my class is about hand washing. Generally speaking, this is a great discussion to have with children as it addresses good hygienic practices. I encourage my students to wash their hands before and after they eat. Before eating is obvious—it helps to eliminate germs entering your system. After eating is also important as it eliminates the presence of any known allergens since other students and staff in the school may be allergic to foods other than peanuts.

I also discuss the possibility of an emergency situation. The language I use varies depending on the age of students, but I try to stress the importance of notifying another adult as soon as possible. For example, running to another classroom, notifying someone via the P.A system, or just calling for help. With older grades, I discuss common signs and symptoms and the proper use of my EpiPen®. I have some resources, like books and videos, that I read or show to the class to further discuss this topic. I have held Q&A sessions with my students to ensure they get clarification on any information about food allergies.  Interestingly enough, these conversations can often be linked back to the Ontario Health Curriculum.

Some students come to class with a lot of prior knowledge about food allergies perhaps because a family member or friend has an allergy. Keep the age, maturity level, and exposure to this topic in mind when talking to children about allergies. I ensure that I adjust my vocabulary and message accordingly. Here are some sample phrases I’ve used before:

  • “I am allergic to [insert allergen] which means that if I eat these foods I can have a serious allergic reaction. My symptoms might include a rash or trouble breathing.”
  • “If I have an allergic reaction from eating [insert allergen], I may have to use my EpiPen® and go to a hospital for further treatment.”
  • “I hope you understand that [insert allergen] isn’t something that can come into the classroom because I don’t want to risk having an allergic reaction.”
  • “I noticed that you ate a snack with [insert allergen] at recess. Could you please go wash your hands?”
  • “If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, can you please notify another teacher? What are some ways you could notify another teacher?”

Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the Ontario Curriculum (Grade 1 section):

  • “Students will apply their knowledge of essential safety practices to take an active role in their own safety at school (e.g., inform teacher of allergies, be aware of food safety issues, play in supervised areas, follow safe routines for travelling to and from school)
    Teacher prompt: “What are some things that students may be allergic to?”
    Student: “They may be allergic to nuts and other foods, bee stings, or medicine.”
    Teacher: “What can we do to make the classroom as safe as possible?”
    Student: “We should not bring anything that might have nuts in it to school. People with allergies who need to use medicine if they have a reaction should carry their medicine [epinephrine auto-injector] with them. We should know who has an allergy and what the signs of an allergic reaction are, and we should get an adult to help if someone is having a reaction.” (Ontario Curriculum, 2015).

Nicole K. 

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: At a Restaurant

Some people find it daunting eating out at restaurants when living with a food allergy. Having had food allergies for as long as I can remember, I have become quite comfortable talking to servers and explaining my situation to them. As a child, my parents took the responsibility of conveying the message of my food allergies. However, once I became older it became important for me to be able to do this myself and to know when a restaurant is safe to eat at, as I would eventually be on my own without my parents at my side all of the time.

When I am deciding what to order at a restaurant, I tend to pick two items. That way if there is an issue with my top choice, the server can look into the second item before coming back. I have the same routine way of telling the servers about my food allergies every time I eat out, which keeps things simple.

I start off by saying that I have a few food allergies to let the kitchen know about and I tell the server my list of food allergies. I have a number of food allergies so I say them slowly so that they can be written down. I always confirm the list with the server. Then I tell them what I am interested in having and ask that they check with the kitchen that it will be safe. If I notice on the menu that there is something that contains one of my allergens that would most likely be cooked on the same grill or food preparation station, I ask about having my food cooked in a separate area. I emphasize that my food allergies are severe and that cross-contamination could cause a severe reaction. There have been situations in which I felt that the server did not understand the severity of my allergies and therefore asked to speak to a manager who was better able to handle the situation.

Overall, I feel that due to the rising prevalence of allergies, it has become much easier to convey the message of explaining my food allergies. Many chain restaurants often have allergy menus now, which outline the common allergensiStock_000068035835_XXXLarge.jpg that can be found in their dishes. This allows you to make a more informed decision about what to eat. The greatest difficulties I have faced have been with language
barriers. Within Canada, I generally do not have many issues, but in those cases, talking to a manager has always made things much easier and more clear. I do not let my allergies stop me from being able to go to restaurants with friends and family. I recognize situations where I might be limited, but know that if I cannot eat at a certain place, there will always be somewhere else I can go to get food.

-Sara S.