Tag Archives: Health and Safety

A Food Allergy Camper’s Guide to…Camping!

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I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned camper; but I have definitely had my fair share of outdoor adventures and know how to handle my food allergy in the wild. The following is a collection of my best advice and tips for you to consider before setting out on your own big outdoor adventure.

  • Remember to pack extra auto-injectors with your first aid kit. Then, when you have your extra ones, pack another (just in case); and keep them on you at all times.
  • Train your group (if you’re travelling with one) about how to properly administer your auto-injector and make sure they feel confident with it before heading out.
  • FOOD! I would say this is the most important thing to remember to pack (not just because I love food). It is very important to pack food that you can feel safe eating when you go camping. If someone else in your group is in charge of buying the food, make sure they are well aware of the severity of your food allergy. If you are backpack camping in the wild, I would recommend accompanying that person or even volunteering to buy the food yourself. This will improve your safety and comfort when you hit the trails!
  • Wear your medical identification.
  • Pack appropriately. If you are aware that plants carrying your allergen are present in the area, it might be wise to pack long pants and shirts in case you go on a hike. This will help protect your skin from contact with your allergen.
  • Keep contact information with you or with your gear. It may also be useful to add some contact information for nearby establishments to get in contact should an emergency arise.
  • Bio-degradable soap. This is probably a step most people overlook when packing for a camping trip—especially when you have to travel light. Washing your hands with soap is the best way to rid your skin of allergens after contact. So, when the nearest hospital is nowhere close, this is an important item; and you should always wash before meals!
  • Have fun! Always keep safety in the back of your mind while camping; but remember that it is just as important to relax and have some fun!

Hopefully these tips help prepare you for your future adventures. Comment and tell me about your camping experiences. I definitely have a few great stories I’d love to share!

Dylan

 

Dining with Clients and Cayenne: Guest Post by Patricia J. Pawlak

Pat (dining with cayenne allergy)

 

I have been fortunate enough to have a career where I traveled the world and had to entertain. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting down with clients for a culinary experience, getting to know them, and knowing you may have to close a deal. In that situation, you want to stay focused and be charming. Nothing zaps the energy out of a dining experience more then having the focus of the evening on your food allergy. I dread the drama of it all and my clients enduring the waiter/ kitchen sprint because of my food allergies.

I have developed such an intolerance to all capsicum, i.e. cayenne, paprika and cumin, that my throat closes up, I start to shake and then, within 10/15 minutes, I actually projectile vomit. It comes on so quickly, violently and unexpectedly that, even during a lunch, I was rushed to the hospital projectiling (as I ruined my new red silk suit).

After several of these rushed trips to the ER, I finally went to an allergy specialist who diagnosed my malaise as the worst possible allergic reaction one can suffer and still survive.

Thanks to Emeril, and the influx of some certain cuisines, most restaurants have infused, charged, and drilled their menus with chili, cayenne, and paprika and made it impossible for me to dine in many restaurants. I have discovered that even the nicest restaurants now marinate all their meat, fish, and chicken dishes with some form of capsicum. That means even a chicken salad is off limits and watch those candied pecans; they have chili on them now.  For some reason, many restaurant salad dressings have cayenne or paprika—even a simple Caesar dressing.  Deserts, from cheesecake to tiramisu, are now spiked with cayenne.  I have even been served strawberries with a “surprise.” Thankfully, I asked what the surprise was or the restaurant would have been surprised! I have gone to restaurants and not been able to have any dish on the menu.

My strategy now is to check out a menu first before I suggest a restaurant for business.  I ignored my own advice last week; I went to a good sushi restaurant thinking that I would not have to bring up my food allergy in front of my clients. To my chagrin, I opened the menu and the first sushi listed was “Jalapeño Sushi” and, along down the line of the menu, most had heat. I had no other choice but to have the proverbial conversation to make sure what dishes I could eat.

The frustration lies not only in its increase of use but in its use in dishes that historically never had any form of heat.  Even when I order a dish that couldn’t possibly have cayenne, Fettuccini Alfredo, I have had it come with cayenne sprinkled all over.  I have asked for plain poached fish (“nothing on it, plain, please”) trying to be discreet. And the fish came covered in chili flakes. When I explained finally that I had an allergy, I was told “You don’t know what good is!” This is not about taste, this is about health and, in my opinion, our taste buds are being hijacked by all this heat!

I am meeting more and more people daily who are developing this allergy due to the proliferation of this spice.  Hopefully, chefs will begin to take notice and will begin to create more interesting dishes instead of just throwing in the heat.
Patricia

Allergy Testing: An Important Part of Your Diagnosis

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Any specific medical information that follows stems from the following article and is not intended to be taken as definitive or wholly sufficient information. Consult your physician or, in this case, an allergist regarding these topics:

James, T. (2002). Allergy testing.  American family physician. 

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0815/p621.html

 

When living with food allergies, the irritable symptoms that certain foods can produce serve as a prominent indicator for identifying what foods need to be avoided.   That being said, also undergoing allergy testing is important to be fully diagnosed with a food allergy and to initiate effective management of food allergies.  An official food allergy diagnosis is described as consisting of a medical history, physical examination, as well as an allergy test.  Allergy testing is also a way to legitimately distinguish between food allergies and food intolerances.  Food allergies and food intolerances can easily be confused.  In basic terms, a food allergy is a reaction that is triggered by the immune system to a food allergen while food intolerance is related to issues with other body systems, such as digestive problems, which also trigger unpleasant symptoms.  Allergy testing works to identify the body’s immune reaction to specific allergens.
While many of us have gone through a variety of allergy testing, we also may have been fortunate to outgrow allergies or, less-fortunately, developed allergies later in life.  Both of these occurrences are good reasons to seek out allergy testing as adults.  Tests available include IgE skin tests, challenge tests, and blood tests. IgE skin tests (or immediate type hypersensitivity skin tests) are the most common form of allergy testing. This test involves exposing the skin to a small amount of allergen through making a small indentation or ‘pricking’ the surface of the skin.  A reaction should occur within 20 minutes and appears as a small red swollen bump on the skin (also known as the ‘wheal and flare’). If a test is negative, and there is still a suspicion of a food allergen, an intradermal injection can be performed injecting a small amount of the allergen just under the surface of the skin. The physician will again observe for a small red bump to form.  Challenge testing for allergies involves eating a small amount of the suspected allergen.  As I’m sure you would agree, this is a form of testing that should ONLY be performed with your allergist present.  Finally, blood tests involve drawing blood and performing an IgE assay to determine the IgE antibody levels present in the blood that correspond for certain allergens.

If preparing to undergo allergy testing, it can be beneficial to know the benefits and drawbacks of each test compared to one another.  Skin tests can be preferable because they give the fastest result and are relatively less expensive than blood tests.  A drawback to these tests includes the obvious annoying itching that is produced with a positive test.  As well, this test may not be appropriate for those on certain medications such as medications with antihistamine properties that include anticholinergic medications, phenothiazine, and tricyclic antidepressants. Skin testing may also be contraindicated in those with certain skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis. The risk of undergoing a severe reaction with skin testing is extremely low with one retrospective study in the USA finding that, out of 18,331 participants whom underwent skin testing over a period of five years, only 6 developed mild systemic reactions (James T.). In terms of the sensitivity and specificity of skin testing, this has been shown to vary with food versus environmental allergens.  Another study conducted found that, when percutaneous skin testing for an allergen was done as part of a two-part allergy test that included a challenge test, the sensitivity of the test ranged from 76-98% with a specificity of 29-57% depending on the food being tested for(James T.). For those unfamiliar with these terms, Sensitivity represents the accuracy the allergy test correctly identifying someone who is in fact allergic. Specificity represents how often someone who doesn’t have an allergy is correctly identified as not having an allergy.  Intradermal tests were found to have a higher sensitivity, but also have a lower specificity.  When comparing this to blood tests, which allow for a laboratory test called an IgE assay to be performed, the IgE has found to be more specific but less sensitive than skin testing(James T.).  It is still more common for skin tests to be performed and blood tests to be more useful only when there is some contraindication to a skin test.  In terms of a challenge test, this is usually performed for one of two reasons: the finding of another allergy test was inconclusive or suspicious OR there is reason to suspect an individual has outgrown a certain allergy.  In some cases, a ‘double blind’ challenge test may occur where the individual eating the food and the medical professional are aware whether the individual is eating the suspected allergen or a placebo.  This is to avoid the possibility of a reaction being triggered based on the idea of eating risky food.  As previously mentioned, this test should only be done under STRICT medical supervision.

Whether you are interested in having an allergy test performed in the near future or not, it never hurts to educate yourself on the ins-and-outs of the testing you may undergo. And it is be better educated on managing as well as understanding your allergies!

 

Caitlyn P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Dependent, Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis 

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Being a young adult with allergies, I have grown up learning all the ins-and- outs of my allergies and how to manage them.  Since the age of one, I have been identified as being allergic to wheat, eggs, nuts, and have also had other allergies that I’ve been fortunate enough to grow out of. Like others who have grown up with allergies, I became proficient in knowing what each of my allergic reactions were like, the severity of each reaction, and what works for managing and staying safe with my allergies.  Over the years, I have become quite comfortable with my abilities to manage avoiding food allergens. And, while I’ve had the occasional reaction to wheat or eggs, I have been fortunate never to come in contact with nuts—which put me at risk for anaphylaxis. That being said, I recently had a different kind of allergic reaction which I was unprepared for, and knew very little about.  This allergic reaction is something known as ‘food dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis’ or FDEIA.    Some of us may be aware of the ability of exercise to exacerbate medical conditions such as asthma; but this can also be true for food allergens or foods we are not even normally allergic to.  FDEIA is defined as a rare, unpredictable syndrome characterized by anaphylaxis associated with the ingestion of a food and the occurrence of exercise.

I won’t go too in depth. But I want to share part of my experiences with an exacerbated allergic reaction related to exercise.  Currently I go to school and live in Kingston.  My living arrangements involve housing with a great group of girls who have all been extremely accommodating towards my allergies.  My one housemate had done some baking one afternoon and was kind enough to make her baking ‘allergy friendly’ for me.  She had finished making her goods before I was about to go for a run. And, being assured it was free of my allergens, I indulged in her baking before starting my exercise.  Briefly into my run, I noticed a slight ‘tickle in my throat’ and the idea crossed my mind that my body could be mildly reacting to something.  I then made the poor decision to keep going (thinking that the tickle in my throat couldn’t really be a reaction).  I then noticed my breathing was becoming a bit more labored and uncomfortable.  I again made a poor judgment call and attributed this to just being a normal shortness of breath from the progression of my run.  I can’t stress enough how things quickly escalated from there.  My breathing became extremely labored, my eyes started swelling, and my body became extremely itchy on its extremities.  I also began experiencing a variety of uncomfortable GI symptoms and started to become progressively light headed—which was,  likely, from my blood pressure dropping.  This was an extremely dangerous situation to be in.  I had always been a very confident and regular runner and, in this situation, had no medicine or phone with me. I will admit that, at that point, carrying an auto-injector was never part of my usual running routine.   In this case, I still marvel at how fortunate I was that, while this was occurring, I was able to get help and receive medical attention.

What was extremely eye opening to me in this situation, and what I really want to share, was how long it took me to fully recognize that I was actually experiencing a severe life threatening allergic reaction.  With my allergies, on a day-to-day basis, I felt quite confident in my ability to identify allergy risks and when a reaction was starting. In this situation, however, I didn’t identify the progression of this reaction early enough.  It never crossed my mind that I was at risk for experiencing a severe allergy attack until it had progressed to such that level.  It was only after I was treated for this reaction that I was told about Food Dependent, Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis that things really became clear.  It was found my personal reaction was triggered by spelt (as species of wheat which my housemate thought was gluten free but in fact was not).  While having spelt would cause me to have an allergic reaction, it normally would never have caused such the severe reaction I subsequently experienced that day.  Exercise itself has also been found to be capable of inducing anaphylaxis (known as Exercise-induced Anaphylaxis) or ,with FDEIA, it can be related to a combination of food consumption and exercising.  As mentioned earlier, with FDEA, it has been found that both foods someone is aware they are allergic to, and sometimes even foods that don’t normally cause an allergic reaction, can trigger FDEA.  Research has been done on these topics and, while there is still a need for more, it is an interesting subject to look into and educate yourself about. It is important, as individuals who have managed our allergies for some time, to still be aware of different reactions and risks with allergies that can occur, and to always work to stay educated and safe.

Caitlyn 

Changing Ingredients and the Importance of Checking Even Your Daily Staples

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It’s hard for me to pinpoint the age that I started to read. All I remember is that I was a swift reader upon entering the first grade. I do equate this to the fact that I had probably been reading ingredient labels well before your average fairytale (although I read those too)!

This act is as normal to me as opening a package. Whenever I eat, cook, or do anything involving a food item, a glance at the ingredients list  is just a part of the process. I am glad this has become a habit.

I remember one day when I was totally craving a fix of chocolate! I grabbed one of my favourite candy bars and, while waiting in line, took a look at the ingredients list. I questioned: “May contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts!?! Since when!?”

I remember having this incredibly bitter inner dialogue before reluctantly placing it back onto the shelf. A part of me was extremely disappointed, but another part  of me was relieved. If I hadn’t  checked the label, who knows what could have happened! I am lucky that the act of reading ingredients has become such an ingrained habit.

After reiterating the importance of checking labels, I must admit that there have been times that I have forgotten. I made a grave mistake once but I was very lucky with how the events played out. My most serious allergic reaction to date happened after eating a food before reading the ingredients. It was a food that I had eaten numerous times before. However, the “Holiday” version of this snack contained hazelnuts. I had wrongfully assumed the food was safe and landed myself in the hospital and on an IV on Christmas morning. The whole situation could have easily been avoided had I done the simple task of reading the label.

It is very important to always check the label. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve eaten that food, how much you trust the company, or whether or not it is an item that is unlikely to have come in contact with your allergen.

Please, check the label every single time. Have any of you had similar experiences with ingredients lists? Please comment below!

Nicole

Eating Out With Allergies: Asking the Right Questions

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Rule #1: There are never too many questions you can ask about food you are about to consume. That was the number one lesson my parents instilled in me about eating out.

I have been allergic to peanuts since I was 16 months old. My parents started teaching me very young to be vocal about my allergies regardless of where I was. To this day, I have no idea how they let me go to kindergarten by myself, knowing I could unknowingly put my allergen into my mouth. Yet, here I am, turning 28 next month and have yet to have an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts since I was 16 months old. It might seem crazy. But I am insanely vigilant to avoid risks when at all possible.

I suggest following the follow basic precautions when choosing to dine out (or eating with family and friends):

1) Carry your auto-injector: Always, always, always carry your auto-injector. This cannot be stressed enough. There are so many sad stories about individuals who did not have their auto-injector with them to treat a reaction.

2) Call before you go: After checking the menu online, call the restaurant and ask to speak with someone from the kitchen. Find out if they use your allergen in the kitchen. If so, ask what dishes. If they do say ‘yes’, I always ask how they deal with cross-contamination and if they can use fresh utensils and ingredients when preparing my food. Just the other day, I had a chef actually thank me for calling to ask before coming. He mentioned that he wished more people would do that.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak up: I usually scan the menu as soon as I get to the restaurant and pick out an option to eat. When my dining companions and I order drinks, I ask my server to check my selected meal with the kitchen in regards to my allergies. This way, I do not feel awkward making my friends or family wait when checking about my allergies. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable dining at the establishment you chose, it is okay to say no to eating there.

4) Plan ahead: I always carry snacks and plan where I am going to eat as best possible. If I cannot plan that for various reasons, then I try to select a restaurant specializing in a food type that I generally can eat (for me that’s Italian and Greek).

5) Alternate planning: If you plan to cook a meal with friends, this does not mitigate the odds of cross-contamination. Always mention your allergies and take whatever precautions you need to in order to stay safe; I get that this can feel like a burden. But your friends will understand.

Eating out with allergies does not need to hamper your fun. As with managing every other avenue of life with allergies, be smart!

Joanna

Alcohol and Allergies

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At some point or another, we’ve all found ourselves in an establishment where the drafts are cold and glasses are never empty. You could be staring down a glass of beer or casually enjoying a glass of wine. That being said, there are important things you should know when it comes to drinking alcohol when you have food allergies.

Some of the key tips discussed are ‘common sense’ whether you have a food allergy or not. Always know your limit and never play with the line between social drinking over consumption. When you are in control, your night can remain fun rather than hazy. Knowing when to say ‘enough is enough’ is the key to enjoying your night out not having any regrets. Never accept drinks from strangers and always make sure you watch your bartender make your drinks in a crowded bar.

Always be aware of your surroundings, know where you are, who you are drinking with, and always have an escape plan home. A safe, planned ride home goes a long way toward having an easy night with few worries.

Now, when you’re discussing food allergies and alcohol, you have to understand that there are two things to think about. Your allergens can be hiding in different liquors, cocktails, or you could have a very real alcohol allergy or intolerance. Regardless of what your ‘poison’ is, being aware of what you’re consuming is the first step toward understanding and taking control of your food allergies

Alcohol Allergy:

An alcohol allergy or intolerance is caused by the body’s inability to break down alcohol. Given that alcohol allergies are rare, the more likely culprits are the grains sulphites, and preservatives found in many wines, beers, and liquors. A simple way to determine if you have an alcohol allergy is to get tested. A skin-based prick test (much like the one for other allergens) is administered and the skins reaction is the key to determining the severity or existence of the allergy.

If you’re worried you may have an alcohol allergy the common symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Abdomen pain
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Itchy or inflamed skin
  • Hives
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Runny nose

Take into consideration what type of alcohol you’re consuming and how much if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Take this information to your allergist and discuss your options

Drinking with a preexisting Food Allergy:

If you have food allergies, you are likely already pretty good at expressing the seriousness of them. The precautions you should take are similar whether you’re out eating or partaking in a night of drinking. Take some time to research different alcohols and what their ingredients are; you will be surprised how many allergens are hiding in plain sight.

There are more options available now more than ever if you’re looking for alcohol that is gluten free. Some vodkas that are triple distilled are safe for gluten intolerance and numerous beer companies are releasing gluten-free beer. Check with the manufacturer directly to be sure.

After you’ve researched what alcohols are safe for your specific food allergies, you’re ready to sit down and enjoy a drink.  If you’re drinking at an establishment, consider a few things. Make sure you know the ingredients of your choice of mixed drink; you never know what could be hiding in that delicious looking beverage. If you happen to be somewhere that also has food, as always, make sure you inform your server and the bartender mixing your drink of your allergy. Stick to what you know and like. Experimenting and finding a new favorite drink is fine; but always make sure it is safe. Try and stay with one drink for the night. Mixing drinks is a recipe for a rough morning and, besides, it’s safer knowing exactly what you’re drinking. Of course, remember to bring your auto-injector with you on your night out.

A night shared with friends and/or family can be a memory you’ll treasure forever.  People come together for drinks and food. In order to embrace that feeling, and take in those memories, take precautions with your food allergies. Remembering a few simple guidelines, and taking time to research not only your allergens but your preferences, can help you enjoy your night out. So raise a glass to health and happiness and have a good night.

Cheers,

 

Arianne