Tag Archives: Michelle D

How Both of my Parents Contributed to Me Being Safe and Normal Growing Up with Food Allergies

Thanks to my parents, I didn’t feel much different from others despite growing up with a food allergy. I had to take on more of a responsibility and be more cautious than others, but I was lucky enough to live a safe and normal childhood with the support and guidance of my mom and dad. Here is a list of ways both of my parents contributed to me feeling safe and normal growing up with food allergies.

  1. They educated themselves, me and those around me:

My parents educated themselves through support groups such as TAEG (Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group) to get the information and knowledge they needed to make sure I was living safely despite the dangers of my allergy. After educating themselves through their attendance at informational meetings on allergies, they passed on their new knowledge and taught me how to be responsible, cautious, and vocal about my allergies. I was very lucky to have such an amazing support system. Not only did they educate me, but they also made sure to educate those around me including my friends, my teachers, and my extended family. My allergies made me feel special in a positive way rather than in a negative way. My family and friends set safe food aside for me and always took the time to make sure I never felt left out.

  1. Safety at school:

My mother was extremely involved at my elementary school through volunteering and participating in council meetings. She helped plan events like school fairs to make sure they were allergy safe and inclusive of all allergic students and family members. She also helped organize hot lunches that were allergy safe. In addition, my mom always volunteered to be a parent organizer and supervisor on my school trips to ensure I could attend and be safe on trips to the zoo and museums, and so I wouldn’t miss out on the fun opportunity with classmates.

  1. Safety at birthday parties:

My mom attended all birthday parties that I was invited to. She would talk to the parents to see where they got the pizza, snacks, and cake. She was there to read all ingredients and to make sure I would be safe while having fun and enjoying time with my friends or family. If I couldn’t have the cake at a birthday party, my mom was always prepared and one step ahead as she always had a safe snack packed for me to enjoy at cake time.

  1. Safety at restaurants:

Growing up my parents communicated my allergies for me. At restaurants, they showed me how to communicate my allergies to the wait staff, manager, and chef. They also taught me how to look through the menu to find the safest option. When I was older, they handed the task over to me and made sure I could practice explaining my allergies with the comfort of knowing they were there to help if needed.

Despite having food allergies, I felt like a normal kid while growing up. My parents enrolled me in numerous extra-curricular activities and allowed me to go on overnight trips without them. They helped me learn how to not allow my allergies to hold me back from doing anything or going anywhere, to communicate my allergies, and to live life to the fullest despite having food allergies. Thanks mom and dad!

– Michelle D.

That Time my Friends Realized the Seriousness of my Food Allergies

One summer afternoon a few years back, my family and I were invited to our family friend’s house for one of our many summer barbeques. I especially love going to their place because they are amazing hostesses, and I always feel comfortable eating at their house. Teresa, the mother, always goes the extra mile to make sure I can eat all the food she prepares and that I’m not missing out on anything – even the dessert!

One of the many side dishes was a delicious summery looking salad which included mixed greens, fruit, and dried cranberries. I always get excited to eat an ingredient-rich salad that’s safe for me, since I typically don’t order salads when eating out due too potential cross-contamination with tree nuts. Toward the end of eating my delicious plate of food I began to feel something in my throat that I have never felt before. My throat felt like something was scratching it, as if a piece of something was stuck. My family and friends immediately noticed that I was repeatedly coughing and attended to me, watching my every move, ready to use my EpiPen®. I explained what I was feeling and we all began to look at the plates in front of us. Teresa, who prepared the salad, immediately ran to the pantry to grab the package of cranberries she included in the salad. We read the ingredients and that was it. It said may contain traces of tree nuts. Luckily, I wasn’t having difficulty breathing, I didn’t have hives, and I wasn’t feeling any other symptoms. My symptoms did not progress over the next few minutes, and I felt back to normal after about ten minutes. This was a scenario where I should have used my EpiPen®, but looking back I realize how difficult it is to decide in the midst of a reaction.

This was a moment of realization for all of us. The scared and worried look on my friends’ faces said it all. They couldn’t believe that as much as a tiny particle of my allergen, a trace amount, caused me to have a reaction. Teresa was so shocked that she forgot to check the ingredients on the package, since she is always sure to never use bulk ingredients when she cooks for me. Accidents happen and this was a lesson for all of us.

Fortunately, this was the only reaction I have experienced after the initial reaction I had when I was two years old and I have never had to use my EpiPen®. Not only was it a moment of realization for my friends, but it was also a reminder for me to always triple check the ingredients of the food I’m eating no matter who is serving it to me.

– Michelle D.

My Dream for a Standardized Allergy-Friendly Menu

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order
Dining out with friends and family is always something I look forward to. Having to worry about my food allergy, however, takes some fun out of it, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. I always get a sense of relief when I find a restaurant that is allergy-friendly and has a detailed spreadsheet listing allergen information for their menu items across the board. I often dream about what it would be like if there was a standardized allergy-friendly menu at every restaurant I went to.  Here are a few reasons why a standardized allergy-friendly menu would benefit those of us with food allergies:

It would reduce the anxious feelings that often come with dining out. Having a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the burden I sometimes feel when discussing and planning a night out with friends. For example, I often find myself saying to them, “sorry, we can’t check out that restaurant because I think there are nuts in many dishes” or “I didn’t feel comfortable there last time.” Also, it would eliminate the constant back-and-forth of asking about ingredient info with the wait and kitchen staff. I would still notify them about my allergies so they know it’s severe, and to be cautious of cross-contamination.

It would make the planning process quicker and easier. Knowing a restaurant has a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the amount of time I spend researching restaurants before choosing or agreeing to dine there.

menuIt would make me feel more comfortable and safe when dining out. It would show me that the restaurant’s dishes have been dissected to highlight what allergens are within. My hope would be that these recipes would never change, which is another reason why it’s important to still mention your allergies. An allergy-friendly menu doesn’t necessarily mean that the food service staff are completely allergy aware, which is why I would still double check that they have strict kitchen protocols for accommodating allergic diners beyond providing ingredient information.

It would highlight safe options on the menu for my allergies. Having a detailed outline of potential allergens and ingredients for each dish served would not only give me a clear list of safe items, but it would also provide me with options I would have never thought I could have. Knowing I would find a standardized allergy-friendly menu at any restaurant I went to would also allow me to discover restaurants that I never thought I could eat at before.

Fortunately, the restaurant industry in Canada is well aware of the seriousness of food allergies, but there is much room to improve. There are a fair number of food chains that have a standardized menu and provide an allergen information sheet, but it isn’t required across restaurants nation-wide. It would be a dream to be able to check out a new restaurant knowing that when I get there, they would provide me with a menu of safe dining options to leave me worry-free.

– Michelle D.

Travelling Across the Pond to England and Ireland with a Food Allergy

Hello mates! This summer I travelled across the pond to the beautiful, historically rich countries of England and Ireland, where I spent two weeks sightseeing with my family. As they were English-speaking countries, travelling with a food allergy was much easier since there was no language barrier to overcome when communicating my allergies. That being said, I still needed to take precautions, starting with flights and accommodations.

Silhouette of passenger in an airport lounge waiting for flight aircraft

Beforehand, I called the airline to advise them that I would be travelling with them and they kindly noted my allergies and set up a buffer zone, which allowed me to feel comfortable and safe over the duration of the flight. I truly appreciate that airlines are putting more procedures in place and are taking precautions to accommodate allergic-individuals. I recommend that you too check the different airline policies prior to booking. I also made sure to pack lots of food and snacks for the flight as well as extra snacks for the remainder of my trip, such as granola bars and individually packed oatmeal. Most importantly, I packed four Epi-Pens®. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, especially when you are overseas.

When it came to accommodations, I stayed in a “flat” as the British say, or an apartment-style room that contained a full kitchen. I also made sure to choose a flat that had a grocery store nearby so I would have easy accessibility to pick up essentials. I was greatly surprised to see that they pre-package all their fresh produce in addition to breads and other snacks. I was also surprised to see that all packaged food had extremely clear and detailed ingredient labels with priority allergens bolded. This definitely made me feel comfortable that the foods were safe, as they also clearly outlined which foods were not suitable for individuals with certain allergies. When travelling, I stick with making breakfast in the room and packing a lunch, so that I only have to worry about eating out once a day for dinner. Not only is this safer, but it’s also healthier, more cost-efficient, and less time-consuming! When it comes to eating out for dinner, I like to ask for the menu and look through the items, seeing if there is an option on the menu that’s allergy-safe. I soon learned that the menus at restaurants also made allergens easily seen as they used a universal coding system. Nevertheless, I still made sure to explain my allergies and the notion of cross-contamination to the servers and restaurant managers. I found that most restaurants and food service staff were aware of severe allergies, cross-contamination, dietary restrictions, and the precautions they need to take to ensure the safety of their customers. If I felt uneasy about a restaurant, my family and I simply relocated to another that we felt more comfortable with.

View of a vintage restaurant menu on a rustic wood background

Additionally, there are a few interesting things I encountered on this trip. While in the UK, I learned that traditionally, fish and chips are fried using peanut oil. Make sure to always ask the server what oil they use in their fryer before trying this traditional British dish. Also, while visiting popular tourist spots such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge, I noticed a lot of stands of the street selling roasted tree nuts. These stands were not enclosed, allowing the nuts to fall onto the surrounding area. My family and I made sure to keep an eye out for these stands to make sure I was a safe distance away from them. Also, be mindful of fellow tourists around you who may be eating the nuts and disposing the shells around them. This could lead to an unwanted cross-contamination scenario.

Furthermore, if you’re a coffee-enthusiast (like me), you’re aware of the increasing popularity of almond milk. I always make sure to ask the barista if they use almond milk before ordering, and let them know about my allergy and ask about potential cross-contamination. I was happy to find two coffee chains I could rely on, as they did not have almond milk on their menu: Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger. I also learned that Caffè Nero had a wide variety of pre-packed sandwiches with ingredient labels outlining the priority allergens in bold, just like the products in the grocery store. It was nice to be able to grab and treat myself to a peanut and tree nut-safe sandwich on-the-go. Having these allergy-friendly chains at my disposal was very convenient as I was guaranteed to find a location near any major tourist attraction.

Overall, travelling to England and Ireland with an allergy was very manageable, and I would definitely recommend adding them to your travel-list!

– Michelle D.

Five Food Allergy Myths I Learned at the Food Allergy Canada Community Conference

Speaker at Business Conference with Public Presentations. Audience at the conference hall. Entrepreneurship club. Rear view. Horisontal composition. Background blur.

As an individual who has been living with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts since I was two, I have heard many misconceptions about food allergies over the years. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the Food Allergy Canada Community Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Throughout the day I listened to speakers share their experiences about living with food allergies, as well as fascinating information from doctors in food allergy research. A presentation by Dr. Sandy Kapur, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University, stood out to me as he spoke about common food allergy misconceptions and research that “de-bunks” these myths. Here are five food allergy myths that I learned from Dr. Kapur:

  1. “Hives and food allergy always go together”

This isn’t always the case. In fact, about 15-20% of anaphylactic cases do not have any symptoms on the skin. I also learned that if someone has hives and they persist for over 6 weeks, this symptom is likely not caused by food. In children, viral infections are one of the most common cases of hives, and there are numerous physical causes for hives as well.

http://www.foodallergy.org/file/anaphylaxis-webinar-slides.pdf

http://www.eaaci.org/attachments/853_Expert_Opinion_Zuberbier.pdf

  1. “All children with egg or milk allergy should avoid the food strictly”

Interestingly, 80% of children with an egg or milk allergy can tolerate the baked form. These children also have a higher chance of out growing their allergy. It is suggested that regular ingestion of baked egg or milk can help overcome the allergy.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4727327/

  1. “Reactions to peanut are often caused by inhaled exposure”

Food proteins cause allergic reactions. The odour of peanut butter does not contain proteins. Inhalation of peanut particles can cause symptoms, but anaphylaxis is unlikely. When an individual with peanut allergy feels ill from smell, it is due to aversion. Rashes are caused by skin contact, not from inhalation of particles.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12847496

  1. “Patients with food allergy have a high risk of reacting to insect stings”

If you have a food allergy it is likely that you also have one or more of asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis. Having a food allergy does not increase the risk of reacting to insect stings since venom, along with drug allergies, are different and not related to food allergies.

http://www.allergysa.org/Content/Journals/March2004/abc%20of%20allergology.pdf

Hornet on a hand sting in the skin

 

  1. “I feel like my child is a ‘ticking time bomb’ and will have a fatal anaphylactic reaction anytime”

Death from a food allergy is not common. When it does occur, it’s a tragedy and in most cases it is preventable by immediate use of epinephrine and calling for an ambulance. Lastly, food allergy related anxiety is common in parents, children, and individuals with allergies. Fear is understandable; we just need to find the right balance.

https://www.foodallergy.org/anaphylaxis

If you believed one or more of these myths, don’t worry – so did I! It’s important that we are always seeking to learn more about food allergies and have the knowledge to spread information of awareness to those around us.

– Michelle D.