Tag Archives: nut allergies

Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Buffets and Allergies: Staying Safe

vacation

If you’ve ever been to Vegas, or any other resort destination for that matter, you know that the buffet is an absolute staple. Usually these buffets tend to be “all you can eat” and very reasonably priced (which is always a bonus). Even though buffets can be very alluring, having allergies can limit your options. One of the biggest problems with all-you can-eat buffets is the fact that the chance of cross-contamination, whether it be in the preparation of the food or the utensils that handle the food, is very high. Through my own personal experiences travelling, I’ve compiled a few tips that you should keep in mind before heading-out to a buffet.

Step 1: Do your homework.

Before visiting a buffet, research the actual company online. See if they have an allergy policy in place – some restaurants are more sensitive to allergies than others in that they actually have policies to protect allergic customers. Regardless of whether or not you find anything online, the next step would be to call the actual restaurant (at the specific location you are planning to go to). When you call, make sure you speak to the general manager. General managers usually have a better understanding when it comes to the ramifications of your severe allergy; and they are usually more knowledgeable about the food products/ingredients used in the buffet preparation. Make sure you tell them about the risk of cross contamination and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment.

Step 2: Make a plan.

Depending on what answer the manager gives you, you have to use your judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable dining at the establishment. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t bother going. You will feel anxious the entire time and may end-up regretting your decision. If you do decide to dine-out, scout-out the buffet right when you get there. Buffets are usually segmented into different “sections” (ie. Desserts, Salads, Soups, etc…). By process of elimination, make a mental note about which segments to stay away from, depending upon your allergen (ie. Nuts, peanuts, etc…). In my case, I am severely allergic to tree nuts. So I usually stay away from the salad bar and the desert stand. Nuts are regularly used in salads and desserts.

Step 3: Choosing what to eat.

Once you have committed to areas of the buffet that you deem to be safe, start selecting your food. Even though you have physically marked these areas out as “safe zones” in your mind, always choose foods that you feel comfortable eating. Look-out for utensils that are used in more than one area, foods that people grab-at without utensils, or anything else that may pose a risk for cross-contamination.

The bottom line is that you have to feel safe wherever you eat – always use your judgement before deciding which restaurant to go to. I hope you will find these tips helpful when planning for your next buffet outing. These are all tips to help mitigate the allergy risks encountered at buffets. Use your best judgement when deciding to eat at a buffet. If it’s out of your comfort zone, simply don’t risk it and find another restaurant.

Saverio M.

Guest Post: Taylor – My Experience with Allergies at University

More files of this series and model on port. Made with professional make-up.

Hi, my name is Taylor and I am a second year student studying Commerce at Queen’s University. I have anaphylactic allergies to peanuts, nuts, and fish. I am lucky that I have never suffered an anaphylactic reaction or been injected with my auto-injector.

In September 2013, I entered my first year of university. It was the first time that I was completely independent. I was somewhat apprehensive to attend university; I knew few people in my program and at Queen’s in general. Not only did I have social and academic concerns, but I was also anxious about my food situation at school.

On move-in day, I arranged to meet with the cafeteria manager. He took us through a cafeteria and provided detailed explanations of the food preparation. At each station, there were signs listing ingredients and common allergens. I was told that, if I did not see peanuts, nuts, or fish written on those food signs, it would be safe for me to eat. He guaranteed that there would be no issues with cross-contamination. I was informed that the cafeteria chefs were trained and acutely aware of the severity of food allergies. I was also encouraged to ask staff members if I was concerned.

Following this meeting, I felt more at ease with the food situation. Throughout the year, I looked at the cafeteria websites to determine which cafeteria would be safest for me to eat at. I would also check the food signs prior to eating to ensure that my food had not come into contact with my allergens. Additionally, the cafeteria staff was able to inform me about food preparation to determine if cross-contamination was a concern.

On the weekends, I enjoyed venturing to downtown Kingston for dinner with friends. Due to my allergies, I usually ate at Italian, American or Greek restaurants. I would call in advance to ensure that the kitchen could accommodate my allergies. This would make me feel more comfortable and in control. I could often get a good sense of whether or not the restaurant took allergies seriously. There was one occasion in which I was invited to a party at a sushi restaurant. My call to the restaurant confirmed that there would likely be cross contamination with fish. I ate before I left and I simply ordered a drink and an unexciting bowl of plain rice. Although my food selection wasn’t great, I was safe and didn’t miss out on the social aspect of the evening. Being social is important. It is also important to plan ahead so that you are not tempted to eat something that is questionable.

As I enter my second year of university, I can confidently say that I have gained a new sense of confidence when it comes to my food allergies. I will continue to plan in advance and always seek clarification when I am unsure of cross-contamination.

Taylor

Road-trips and Allergies

wheat field(large)

Allergies and road-trips = the potential of being far away from a hospital and immediate medical attention for equally possible long durations of time. This definitely makes the list of “things that make me uncomfortable and slightly stressed while away from home.” I’ve had a decent amount of experience to live through this stressor—mostly thanks to my parents. We have travelled in our tent trailer since I was about 5 years old as we road-tripped all across Canada.

I’ve had to manage anaphylaxis since I was 16 months old (okay, my parents did for the first while…); and my parents brought me up to always be conscious about what I was ingesting, cross-contamination, and about the management of possible allergic reactions. (To this day, I cannot imagine the stress involved in leaving me as a 6 year old at kindergarten and to my own devices!) My road-trip experience growing up looked mostly like this. For 2-3 weeks each summer, I would travel via mini-van and tent-trailer with my brother, parents, and dog to somewhere in Canada. We travelled to the east coast, west coast, prairies, and northern territories… suffice it to say that I learned quite a bit about Canadian culture. I also learned a few staples about road-tripping with allergies. Here they are (in no specific order):

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan! 

It is so important to have your own food that is safe for you to eat. One of the reasons that my family went camping so much is because we could easily manage what we were eating and know it was safe for me. Stock up on all ingredients you will need to have and take them with you.

  • Auto-injector, plus a spare!!!

I cannot stress this enough. I always carry two auto-injectors with me. On a recent trip I took, when I was unsure about medical care, I took more than two. You can never be too careful. As for any other medications you may possibly need—bring them. Check that all of your prescriptions are up to date and you have extras if you think you may need them.

  • Extra safe snacks:

It’s easy for friends to stop off and pick up a snack here or there; but it is not always that easy for those of us with allergies or food sensitivities. Carrying your extra snacks or treats with you can make it so much easier, and more fun, to be able to share similar experiences and not feel left out. As much as possible, I want to limit feeling like a burden to my friends and family because my allergies limit where and what I can eat. So I always make sure I have some kind of snack with me. They want to stop off at a cafe? Cool! I’ll grab a tea and have a snack that I brought. They can enjoy their latte and cake or whatever they get. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

  • Can you bring food? 

I was recently at a music festival where they had a policy that no food was allowed to be brought in unless you had allergies. Check to see if this is a factor for any of the stops you are making on your road trip! Also, make sure you see if you need any kinds of letters from your doctor about needing auto-injectors or any other drugs that are to be kept with you. I have been hassled about this before. Leave my auto-injectors with the security staff at the front gates? Yea, right…not happening!

  • Map medical facilities:

This is something I have been more vigilant about doing since I have been older as opposed to when I was younger. I look at where I am staying and figure out where nearby medical facilities are. It puts me at ease to know what I have accessible to me and how readily available I am to medical care should an emergency happen. If I am not staying in a city (i.e. camping), I know what the easiest route back to where medical care is and, if I am remote, I know what my options are in terms of who to contact for help (i.e. park rangers) if we need immediate assistance.

  • Tell your friends about your allergies:

This is another point I cannot stress enough! It is so important to communicate your allergies/food sensitivities to the people you are travelling with. I find it to be a less than fun feeling when we’re in the car and I see that chocolate bar or bag of trail mix that has peanuts in it (one of my allergens); and I think “oh no, I can’t be near that… It is never fun to feel like the ‘buzz kill’.  Tell your friends/travel companions beforehand to avoid this situation!

  • Medic Alert: 

I do not remember a time in my life when I haven’t had my MedicAlert bracelet (actually, I only remember the times when I do not have it because I lost it!). A MedicAlert is something that is so important to have. Even in the recent first aid course I did, it is part of the training to look to see if there is medical identification jewellery on the person. This jewellery can speak for you when you can’t when, for example, you have passed out or are in a panic and forgot to say certain things. Specifically, my MedicAlert advises that I am allergic to penicillin. This is important if I have an allergic reaction. The medical responders will easily be able to identify that I cannot have that drug. For the small cost that it is, having a MedicAlert is like a safety blanket that is always with you; and there are a lot of styles it comes in now. Being ‘fashion forward’ isn’t an issue anymore!

Those are my top suggestions for embarking on a road trip when you have allergies. There are definitely multiple other considerations that should be made before going on a trip; don’t limit yourself. Do you have any tips that have been useful? Share in the comments!

Happy travels!

Joanna C.

Food Allergies and the Transition to University Life

University Students laptop
If you have a food allergy, the transition to university can be a pretty daunting experience. In high school, you were likely surrounded by people who had known you well for many years and teachers who knew your name. In university, the chances of this happening again are quite slim. Most classes contain 400+ students and, unless you manage to schedule time to meet with your professors multiple times, they likely won’t know your name let alone your food allergy. So what’s the good news? The good news is that you prepared for this ahead of time and are ready for the new challenge of independence! In case you’re still in the preparation phase, I’ve put together a few things to think about and look for within your new environment.

Let’s start with the dorm life. Many first year dorms or residences contain a lot of shared bedrooms where the room is shared with a roommate. Every school is different so be sure to scope out possible residence options when you apply to that school. Also, be sure to educate your roommate (if you have one) and all new friends about your food allergies and the proper administration of your auto-injector. You are definitely going to eat in your room, which means your roommate will also eat there. With this in mind, your safety is paramount. If your roommate doesn’t understand the severity of your food allergy, speak with the residence life staff and ask them to help you explain it. Also, don’t be afraid to make special room requests when applying or even after being accepted to a university. You can ask to be placed in an allergy-friendly room or ask for a solo room to ensure your safety.

Next up, cafeteria food. If you are living in a residence with no shared kitchen, you will likely be eating a lot of campus food. Treat this experience as you would going to a local restaurant. Explain the severity of your food allergy to the food staff and ask if they serve any food that may contain your allergen(s). Then ask to speak with a manager or supervisor to ensure you will be looked after for that day and every day in the next year. Ask if the staff know what cross-contamination means and whether or not there is any risk of this with their food. Lastly, stick with your gut feeling. If you feel uneasy about eating at a particular cafeteria or restaurant, move on! There are plenty of other options on campus to fill your stomach.

Another thing to look into for your university is anaphylaxis policies. These can be quite difficult to navigate and find. Even if your school does have policies for food allergies, they are likely to appear on a continuum from either very diverse to cover every food allergy to very specific where less-severe allergies may be overlooked. These are worth taking the time to look into as it may inform a lot of your food choices on campus. If you find that food allergy policies do not exist at your university, you might want to join a university council or speak with a campus political leader to try to put a new policy in place. These people are working to make the student experience more positive; so don’t be afraid to ask! They will almost always do everything they can to help.

Last but not least, parties. By now, you’ve likely been exposed to parties and have learned a few things about managing your food allergy in a party atmosphere. However, at university and college, alcoholic drinks tend to make an appearance. This may be a new obstacle for you and, if it is, remember to keep a level head. If you notice that a drinking game has people sharing cups, it is a good idea to avoid playing that game since you don’t know what these people ate earlier in the day. It could have been your food allergen! Also, stick to drinks you know to be safe for you. There are many different types of alcoholic beverages out there and some contain almond extract, hazelnut, dairy, etcetera. So stay aware and stay safe.

This may seem like a lot to look out for when also trying to manage the new challenges of course work; but remember that you are independent and are ready to conquer university!

Dylan B.

Allergies in Film and Television Part 3: Translation to the Real World

Stage

To add to the “Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities” series, I’ve decided to write a follow-up post describing some of the impacts these depictions have in the real world and how we, as informed adults, can change this.

Let me start with a quick example from my life. Last September I moved to a new city to pursue a Master’s degree; so I had to meet all new friends and teach them how to properly administer my auto-injector. As a method of teaching, I gave my new friends an auto-injector trainer and asked them to show me how they thought it worked. A few of them thought the needle had to be driven into my chest, while others figured it probably needed to go into the arm or buttocks. After explaining that the proper location is on the side of the mid-thigh, I asked them why they thought about these other locations. One answer stood out to me as alarming: “I saw it in that movie last week.” The movie was Horrible Bosses when Charlie Day slams (and yes, I mean slams) an auto-injector into Kevin Spacey’s neck and chest repeatedly. Although a funny scene in a comedic movie, this depiction had a clear and potentially dangerous impression on someone who could end up trying the same tactics on me or somebody else in need.

It becomes more concerning when you realize that I’m in my mid-20’s and people half my age have likely seen this movie and thought the exact same thing as my friend. This is just one example of how depictions in a movie can sneak into real-world situations. It’s a big risk using an auto-injector like this to treat an anaphylactic reaction since the mid-outer thigh has been found to be the most effective site for injection. And this could lead to a life-threatening situation that could have easily been avoided if the auto-injector was properly depicted in the film.

In the case above, I was able to correct some myths about food allergies and explain the proper use of an auto-injector. However, I’m sure there are still people who believe that auto-injectors need to be slammed into someone’s chest to save them. So what can we do as informed adults to reverse the myths seen on television and in movies? Simply put, we can educate and spread awareness. I like to bring trainer auto-injectors with me when meeting new people so that I can give them a hands-on learning experience. This is a simple way to not only teach others about your allergy, but it’s also a great ice-breaker! The more you educate people around you about the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, and the proper use of an auto-injector, the more prepared they will be to properly handle any anaphylactic situation they encounter in the future.

As an avid movie-goer and television show enthusiast, I also strongly encourage informing yourself about how food allergies are depicted in films and television shows. That way, when someone nearby starts talking about a movie or show that you know has an improper depiction of food allergies, you can jump in and steer them in the right direction with education! That way we all win.

Dylan B.