Tag Archives: Nicole K.

Contributor to Adults with Allergies

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.

The Best (and Worst) Food Allergy Jokes

As with most humour, there is the potential to offend your audience. As someone who has lived with anaphylaxis my whole life, I often find comfort in my ability to laugh things off or look at the brighter side in life. I understand wholeheartedly that this is a serious condition with potentially life-threatening consequences. If any of these jokes are distasteful and offensive to you, I apologize. They are, in my opinion, the best (and worst) food allergy jokes out there!

Two happy woman friends laughingDid you hear about the Frenchman who could only count to seven?
-He had a huit allergy

What does an allergic person have in common with bees?
-They both have hives!

Did you hear about the convict who had allergies?
-He broke out

Why didn’t the child with allergies play the board game Clue?
It contained Mustard!

Why did the chicken cross the road?
-To avoid his allergen

What did the night owl say to his pal the early riser?
-I’m allergic to mornings.

Teacher: Where’s your homework?
Student: I’m allergic to homework.

1: Knock, knock.
2: Who’s there?
1: Auntie
2: Ben who?
1: Anti-Histamine

1: Knock, knock.
2: Who’s there?
1: May
2: May who?
1: May contain trace amounts of ‘nuts’

What was the cause of the tech-guru’s most recent seafood reaction?
-Her new shell-phone!

– Nicole K.

Allergies at the Club/Bar: Top 3 Tips

#1-Never Drink on An Empty Stomach
Ensure you eat an allergen friendly meal before heading out the club or bar. You never know if there will be an allergy-safe option to munch on in the bar and if you do plan on drinking, you might not be in the best state of mind to inform wait staff of your food allergy. Also, if you plan on staying at the club until closing time… your options for some grub will be significantly reduced and you may not be able to find a safe option.

#2- Stick to Allergy Safe Drinks
Broken-down-golf cart, Baby Guinness, White Freezie, Bazooka Joe, Cherry Cheesecake; they all sound fun don’t they!? Despite tempting names and specials on shots or specialty drinks, it is always best to stick to drinks that you know. If you feel you are still of sound mind, you can always ask the bartender about the ingredients. Keep in mind to ask about garnishes, and the tumblers used to mix drinks—you don’t want to risk cross-contamination.

Group of happy friends dancing at night party

#3- Check Ingredients; Do Some Research
Allergens can be present in alcohol and it’s important to be educated on current Canadian labelling laws. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency regarding alcoholic beverages:  “…if added allergens, gluten sources and sulphites at level of 10 ppm or more are present, they must to be declared. The new labelling requirements do not apply to standardized beer, ale, stout, porter or malt liquor products. These products will be dealt with once further consultations and discussions can be held by Health Canada.”  Learn more about alcohol labelling.

Therefore, in order for you to check out ingredients of some liquor (like beer for example), you may need to contact companies directly. Don’t assume that because one company makes allergen safe liquor, that all types of that liquor are safe. You should check with each brand as different methods may be used to blend and distill their alcoholic product.

– Nicole K.

Fun Food (and Other) Allergy Trivia

Fact One
Top 3 Canadian Cities for Environmental allergies:
1) Edmonton (cats/mold)
2) Toronto (Ragweed)
3) Vancouver (Tree pollen)

(Reader’s Digest Best Health, 2016)

http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/allergies/the-worst-canadian-cities-for-allergies/

Fact Two

Latex is an allergen that has become increasingly more prevalent over recent years. Did you know that the following products can contain latex?

Adhesives, asphalt, toy dolls, balloons, pens, bath mats, bath plugs, books, cameras, binoculars, TV and video equipment, cars, carpets and underlay, champagne corks, chewing gum, computers, confectionery wrappers, contraceptives, conveyor belts, cosmetics, disposable diapers, decorating products, escalator handrails, envelopes, erasers, food storage bags, garden hoses, hot water bottles, inflatable dinghies, mobile phones, stamps,rubber bands, footwear, cling wrap, racquet handles, stickers, postage stamps,  swim goggles, swimsuits, toothbrush, toothpaste, vaccines, computer mouse pads, motorcycle/bike handle grips, and pen grips and tires (Daily Mail U.K., 2014, and Onespot Allergy, 2011).

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2566577/Ive-died-80-TIMES-Woman-40-severe-allergies-risks-death-time-leaves-house.html

Fact Three

One in every 13 kids in the U.S. has a food allergy, which equals about two kids in every classroom. If all of the kids with a food allergy lived in one state, it would be the 19thlargest state (by population) in the U.S. (FARE Inc., 2015).

https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats

Fact Four
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, African American children were less likely to outgrow their allergy than white children and boys were more likely to outgrow their allergy than girls (2013).

https://blog.foodallergy.org/2013/09/13/who-is-likely-to-outgrow-a-food-allergy/#_ga=1.236233345.1260891111.1461550536

Fact Five

A cluster of bananas is called a ‘hand’, and a single banana is called a ‘finger’. (Daven Hiskey, 2010).

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/commercial-banana-plants-are-perfect-clones-of-one-another/

Thoughtful attractive businesswoman looking into the camera with a contemplative expression with her eyeglasses in her hand, head and shoulders portrait over grey background

Fact Six
In the late 1800’s ketchup was used as a tonic to cure people of their ailments (John, Brownlee, 2013).

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673352/how-500-years-of-weird-condiment-history-designed-the-heinz-ketchup-bottle

Fact Seven
Peanuts are not tree-nuts but rather a legume. They grow underground and are edible seeds enclosed in a pod. (Peanut Institute, 2009).

http://www.peanut-institute.org/peanut-facts/

Fact Eight
Click this link to find out the favourite pizza toppings of 10 countries!
http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/fresh-ideas/dinner-food-facts/favorite-pizza-toppings-in-10-countries.htm

Fact Nine
Apples are in the rose sub-family. (Thomas Elpel, 2015).

http://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/Plant_Families/Rosaceae.htm

Fact Ten
Did you know… The average ear of corn has 500 to 1000 kernels, arranged in an even number of rows, typically 16. (Twin Garden Farms).

http://www.twingardenfarms.com/sweet-corn-facts/

Nicole K.

Parenting a Child with Allergies

 

5-6 years old boy with his parents isolated on white

Parenting Goal:

The goal should always be to have your child become independent in managing their allergies. Of course, when they are younger, they will need more guidance in how this can be done. This is where modeling appropriate behaviour for your child comes in handy (e.g. reading ingredients, carrying auto-injector, etc.).

Tip #1- Be Assertive, not anxious

It is important that you teach your child how to speak up in a confident and polite manner. Encouraging children to speak up for themselves is crucial; they should be comfortable discussing ingredients, the location of their auto-injector, and any symptoms they may experience. Have them start speaking up in familiar settings for practice. In the future, this will help them advocate for their needs in novel situations.

Although the threat of an anaphylactic reaction is a scary thing, try not to use ‘scare’ tactics with your child. Scaring them could lead to anxiety concerns with your child. This applies to caregivers as well! Try your best to remain calm and in control (even in potential emergency situations). Your child should understand the risks of having allergies, but feel confident and capable of managing the risks rather than frightened and overwhelmed.

Tip #2 Foster Independence

We all know the cliché saying, “live and learn.” Yes, we learn through life experiences (even the negative ones). If given a choice, I’m sure that any loving caregiver would choose to have their child avoid unpleasant or stressful situations. However, being overprotective, or a ‘helicopter’ parent doesn’t necessarily help children—especially those with allergies. As stated previously, the ultimate goal is to have your child become independent in managing their allergy. This means that you can slowly have your child assume certain responsibilities when you feel they are ready.  An example of this would be carrying an auto-injector. As an infant/toddler/preschooler this task would most likely be the responsibility of a parent. However, as school year age approaches, parents have to consider alternative arrangements for this. Remember, there is no real ‘correct’ answer about when a child should start to carry their auto-injector independently. You know your child the best so factor in their personality, maturity level, and age. Some tips for having your child remember and carry their auto-injector themselves:

– Have your child choose a safe, secure spot to keep it (e.g. fanny pack, purse, backpack).

– Help them develop a strategy to remind them to bring it (e.g. post-it note on the front door).

– Give them oral reminders. Remember, you don’t want them to become reliant. Like the old expression says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Meaning of course, you are better off to teach your child how to manage their allergies than to just manage their allergies for them. The key is for them to develop routines that will promote life-long risk-management and effective problem-solving skills.

I would highly recommend checking out the following links for more info!

Managing Anxiety and Feeling in Control
http://www.allergysupportcentre.ca/managing-anxiety.html

Emotional Impact

Emotional Impact

Emotional Health for Parents of Children with Food Allergies
Emotional Health for Parents of Children with Food Allergies

Emotional and Social Issues
http://www.foodallergy.org/emotional-and-social-issues

Nicole K.

Overcoming My Guilt After an Allergic Reaction

Concept of accusation guilty shy person girl. Sad embarrassed upset woman in glasses looking down many fingers pointing at her isolated grey wall background. Human face expression emotion feeling

I think it is common to feel guilt during or after an allergic reaction. I have had allergic reactions that have interrupted special occasions, family BBQ’s, and holidays. My worst anaphylactic reaction to date actually occurred on Christmas morning! I felt a little bad about ‘ruining’ a special moment, but of course if it was up to me, I definitely would have opted out of an allergic reaction altogether.

Additionally, I’ve felt guilty just about having a reaction. My mind automatically enters the ‘should’ve, could’ve’, would’ve mode. It’s important to reflect on each situation individually to see if there are any areas where you could change your management strategy to be more successful. Living life often involves making mistakes, which is important because it is how we learn. Even if a mistake is made (e.g. assuming ingredients were safe) hopefully you won’t repeat that behavior in the future. Of course, keep in mind that allergic reactions can also just happen on a fluke—even if you are very vigilant. Remember that allergic reactions do happen, and that always being prepared is what is most important. I like to think of this quote when I begin to feel guilty about having had a reaction:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Nicole K.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Travelling is Do-able

Back view of a couple on a hiking path taking a break and looking at the view

I was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at a very young age. Growing up I had always wanted to travel, specifically to Egypt so I could dig up mummies! I am at-risk for anaphylaxis to all seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, peas, and beans. As I got older, I thought that travelling to the dunes of Egypt might not be in the cards for me—perhaps it was too risky. I always thought that the varying cuisines, array of languages and cultural differences would make it impossible. Over time, however, I have learned that travelling is in fact a manageable task! Sure, the above mentioned factors may make it more challenging, however, I learned to cope with the risks because seeing different parts of the world was important to me! It takes a certain level of forethought, but if you plan accordingly, trips can be safe, and eye opening!

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling throughout the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia), United States (Florida, Louisiana, Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania) and Europe (Prague, Italy, France, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia). In some of these places, many of the foods I am allergic to were common among their well-known cultural dishes. For example, in New Orleans, seafood is used in many dishes like Jambalaya, a Creole dish, that is similar to other rice and meat dishes, combining various meat/seafood and vegetables. It’s been said that this dish originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans when the Spanish attempted to make paella with available ingredients in the New World. Also, pralines (known notoriously to contain nuts) were a huge confectionery item sold in numerous gift shops! The French brought this sweet treat to New Orleans as pecan trees and sugar cane were plentiful! Eventually, cream was added and almonds substituted pecans forming what is now known as the American South praline.  Surprisingly, I found that many restaurants in New Orleans used peanut oil! Despite the prevalence of my allergens, I had an amazing time visiting New Orleans. It really is a very vibrant, and unique city. The streets themselves seem to be alive—energy exudes a constant buzz and feel-good vibe. Something was always happening. And even in the moments when a wave of calm swept over the city, it seemed momentary—signifying a celebration dying down, or a new one just getting started!

I’m grateful that I had the courage to go. It wasn’t easy, but I definitely won’t ever let me allergies hold me back from seeing a new place. As long as I get travel insurance, carry auto-injectors, pack extra food, and communicate, then I know I am go to go! Who knows… maybe Egypt is still a possibility!

Nicole K.

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. 

Allergies and Anxiety

Worried Couple

In my years of working in advocacy with the allergic community, I have noticed that the topic of anxiety comes up quite frequently. It seems as though most allergic people I’ve met have experienced a bit of a challenge with anxiety at one point or another. My major bout with anxiety occurred during my grade 12 grad trip abroad. I had an allergic reaction that included the following symptoms: itchy mouth, throat, hives, and tightness in the chest. I ended up being okay.

Luckily, my reaction wasn’t that severe. I took an antihistamine and felt a lot better. The worst part for me was that I had asked all the right questions and took the necessary precautions. I realized that I was not really in control of the situation at all. That is what rattled me the most! Unfortunately, this happened on the second night of my trip.  For the next five days, I hardly ate anything except for some of the snack foods I had packed myself. I ended up losing quite a bit of weight in the next few days. Even after arriving home to Canada, I found myself very on edge around meal times. I would check ingredient labels incessantly. I was afraid that everything in my house was in some way cross-contaminated and started eating less and less. I began having panic attacks which was a really scary thing for me. The symptoms are similar to anaphylaxis—a sense of impending doom, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and dizziness. My sister was a great support to me and always helped talk me through my panic attacks.

I basically came to the realization that I can never control everything when it comes to my allergies. I can only do what I can to minimize the risk of a reaction and be prepared to handle a reaction when needed (this includes carrying my auto-injector and purchasing traveler’s insurance in advance, knowing the emergency number in the country you are staying etc.).  With this knowledge in mind, my anxiety is much better. I have not had a panic attack in years and I am able to logically assess risk in stressful situations. Since that graduation trip, I have backpacked through Europe and gone on two Cruises through the Caribbean with no further incidents. I don’t want my allergies to hold me back in life. I embrace new experiences with an open-mind and find comfort in knowing that I am always prepared.

Nicole K. 

A Night at the Movies with Allergies

Stage
Here are my top six tips:

  • Bring your own snacks. Generally, this practice is frowned upon. Concessions at the theatre help greatly to generate income for all parties involved at the movies. However, if you have severe allergies to numerous items, this is probably the best option for you to consider.
  • Ask questions. If you do want to try theatre popcorn, or other snacks, be sure to ask questions about food preparation. Ask, for example, what kind of oil the venue uses. Ask if they have separate fryers for various food items. If someone appears unsure about an answer, always double-check with the manager. Or just order something else. It is better to be safe than sorry!
  • Check ingredient labels. Some snacks at the movies come pre-packaged. Even if it is an item that you’ve had numerous times, just re-read the ingredients as a safety measure. If you are having a hard time seeing in the dark, use your cell-phone for light. Better yet, check it before you even get into the theatre.
  • Be an advocate for yourself. If someone decides to sit right next to you. with your top allergen, speak-up. It is okay to voice your concerns to someone in a polite manner. Usually people will be willing to move or come-up with an agreeable solution. This has happened to me a few times. Generally, I will move to find another spot if I feel uncomfortable around a stranger eating my allergen. This rule can apply to friends and family also!
  • Handy to have hand-sanitizer/disinfectant wipes. If you’re worried about cross-contamination on the seats and cup holders, wipe them down as soon as you pick your seats.
  • Carry your auto-injector. Have it on you and be prepared to use it. If someone is with you, make sure they know how to use it if necessary.

How do you stay safe at the movies with your allergies?

Nicole K.