Tag Archives: nut allergies

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

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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. 

Always Packing: Carrying Your Auto-Injector  

Live_Main Auto Injector

It all started with a fanny-pack. It was a bright blue, yellow zippered, Tigger-themed fanny-pack to be exact. From the time I was five, to about twelve years old, this was the most important accessory I had. Why? It was the vehicle for carrying my auto-injector (my safety net and my security blanket).  Back in the 90’s, my bright blue fanny-pack was my ‘go-to’ item; but I quickly outgrew it and needed to find some other way to carry my auto-injector. Luckily, being a girl, I would eventually grow into carrying a purse with me everywhere. But, during my high school days, I hit those awkward preteen/ teen years. I was too young to carry a purse and too old for a fanny pack. I no longer had a permanent desk to put it in or one specific teacher to hold onto it for me. My locker was too far away and I wasn’t allowed to take a book bag with me everywhere. I needed to find another option to discretely and effectively transport my auto-injector while in school. Lucky for me, I had access to many carriers and tricks to help conceal my auto injector and keep it on me at all times.

I purchased a much smaller, stylish black case that I was able to put in my pencil case. But I also made sure I had one in my book bag in my locker at all times. Getting through those high school years was tough. Most people yearn to fit in. And I was much the same. So I refrained from telling many people about my auto-injector in my pencil case. The people I made aware were my teachers and a few close friends. Now I realize the importance of telling people about the location of my auto-injector and how to use it in case of an emergency.

As I grew up, I became more comfortable with my auto-injector and with my food allergies. I was able to find new ways to carry it around discretely. Being a girl, I was lucky to have the excuse of always having a purse with me. The problem I soon arrived at involved different sized purses and singular-sized auto-injectors. From small little clutches to extremely large purses, I was either fighting to find it or struggling to put it in. Luckily I’ve found a few tricks and discovered, through my male friends, that they also had some unique and creative ways to carry around their auto-injectors.  For me, I’ve always felt it is easier to carry my auto-injector in the side pocket of my purse. It’s easy to grab if there is an emergency and it’s easy to find if I can’t tell someone. There will be no more routing around in the deep caverns of my purse. With the new advancements in auto-injectors, it’s easier to carry them in pant pockets or in those pesky little clutches and purses I mentioned earlier. Some new auto-injectors are as small as a business card with a little width. They can be easily placed in most little bags. As for my male counterparts, carrying an auto-injector can be a little trickier as far as not drawing major attention. One the best ways I’ve seen them carried is in an ankle holster (a lá James Bond) that fits neatly under most pants. Those new auto-injectors I mentioned above are smaller and able to fit in most pockets discretely. There is also many companies offering carrying cases for various activities like belts for outdoor/upbeat activities from Waist Buddy (http://www.omaxcare.com/WaistBuddy.html) or the versatile brand Allergy Pack ( http://www.allergypack.com/) that offer many different styles to carry one or multiple auto-injectors. They even make carrying cases for asthma inhalers.

It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what kind of purse you’re sporting or what pants you may be in. It is always important to have your auto-injector with you when you go out.  It can be cumbersome and it can be awkward; but nothing is worse than needing it in an emergency and not having it. So remember to keep it with you. Tell someone you have it with you and where it is located. Think of it as the best and most practical fashion accessory you have; it also just so happens to go with any outfit.

Arianne K.

 

Food Substitutes for Common Allergies

Cake Temptation

One of the most common responses I get from people when I tell them about my allergies is typically: “What do you even eat!?” I always find this funny to respond to; but I always reply with something along the lines of: “oh trust me, I eat.” I will admit that being allergic to wheat, eggs, and nuts can pose some limitations; though I realize not necessarily as many as others encounter with other allergies. There are, however, numerous food substitutions for allergens that allow you to not have a diet that is lacking important nutrients or yummy food options.

When trying to find replacements, in your cooking and baking, for common allergens, there are some commonly used options that are growing in popularity and can be found at many grocery and health food stores. Wheat flour is a very common in cooking and baking. This poses a challenge to those who have wheat allergies or gluten intolerances.  Numerous wheat-free flours are commonly available now for use. The challenge is getting an appropriate consistency with wheat free flour that best resembles regular wheat flour.  A combination of wheat- free flours is usually recommended to produce the best results when baking.  Different varieties of wheat-free flours include: white rice and brown rice flour, oat flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, and garbanzo (chick pea) flour.  Along with replacing wheat flour in cooking, there are many wheat-free products available in grocery stores and health food stores that include: breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, pizza doughs, etcetera. It is even more common to find gluten-free restaurant options and, with a little more searching, to find even restaurants and bakeries dedicated to being gluten free.

Dairy is another common allergen that is in many different foods. There are various possibilities for substitutions. For milk, there are a variety of dairy-free milks that are available. These include: soy, rice, hemp, almond, and coconut milk.  That being said, someone with nut allergies should exercise caution with almond and coconut milks depending upon their specific allergies.  For substituting butter, margarine may be an option for some; but many other foods are being used for butter in recipes which are considered to be ‘healthier options’.  This includes using coconut oil, applesauce, avocado, and canola oil in your baking in lieu of butter.  For substituting items such as yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese, dairy-free versions can be found at many health food stores and will often be made from a soy base.  Along with this, soy cheese and other vegan dairy-free cheeses are commonly sold; but these do not melt the same as regular cheese and, therefore, do not work in recipes where this is required.  Nutritional yeast is an item found in health food stores and it is a popular ingredient used in recipes requiring melted cheese (such as ‘mac and cheese’).

In terms of ice cream replacements, sorbet is a chilled dessert that doesn’t contain dairy. However, other dairy-free ice cream options are available—such as ice cream made with rice or coconut milk.

Egg can be a tricky allergen to replace in foods where it is the core ingredient; this is in dishes such as omelets and scrambled eggs.  Eggs are, however, key in baking either as a binder or leavening agent. But you can have various substitutes available that can also serve this purpose.  It is very common to find, in health food stores and some grocery stores, packaged egg replacer. This is a powder that, when mixed with milk, can be used specifically as a replacement for eggs in baking. Other egg substitutes that serve the ‘binding’ purpose in baking include: a half cup of mashed banana, ¼ cup of applesauce, 3-1/2 tablespoon gelatin blend or a ‘flax seed egg’ (1 tablespoon flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water, set for one minute).  For using eggs as a leavening agent, a good substitute can be combining 1- ½ table spoons of vegetable oil with 1-1/2 table spoons water and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Also see a blog post by Arianne which specifically talks about focusing on replacing eggs!

Peanut and nut allergies are extremely common and can make eating some Asian foods such as Thai a ‘no-go’. These allergies also get rid of the possibility of having that classic ‘go-to peanut butter-jelly sandwich’.  Some alternatives include a variety of ‘seed butters’ available that are made out of seeds such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Soynut butter and peabutter are also common items now also found in grocery and health food stores.  Seeds can also be a great ingredient to use in salads and other dishes for a ‘nutty-like’ addition.

Soy is a tricky allergen to avoid. As you might have noticed, it is commonly used as a ‘go-to’ for other allergen substitutes.  That being said, more and more soy-free options are becoming available.  With items such as vegan cheese gaining in popularity, it is possible to find a soy-free version for those also allergic to dairy.  Soy-free margarines are also sold; but it does take some time to find what stores are the most soy-free friendly.  Butter is also an option for this if you are not also allergic to dairy.  For replacing soy oil, canola oil as well as olive oil are good options.  Some foods such as soy sauce are inevitably hard to replace; but there is always the option of searching out recipes to create your own version.   There are also chickpea versions of miso available (which is traditionally made from fermented soybeans).

This just highlights some common allergens that have different food substitutes available.  I always like to look at avoiding my allergies as a way to find exciting new ways to prepare food and get creative!  Feel free to share and comment below with other foods you struggle to find substitutes for or ways you have been creative with your food allergies!!

Caitlyn P.

 

Dating and Allergies – A Practical Approach

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In two weeks, my partner and I will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary! Being in a serious, long-term relationship, I no longer worry as much about my allergies when I am with him. When we go out to the restaurant, he’s also watching the kitchen staff and wondering whether or not the waiter/waitress truly understands how serious my allergies are. He’s always got my back! When we are planning “date night,” we call restaurants ahead of time or make plans that don’t revolve around eating out.

Dating with food allergies can seem terrifying for many people. When I was a teenager, I outright refused to date because I was too scared of trusting a boy with my life. I felt that waiting until I met someone I thought I could trust, and who completely understood the severity of my allergies, was the right thing for me to do. I always took out my auto-injector on the first date and explained how it worked, when I would need it, etcetera. Doing this made me feel safer. Having said that, everyone is different. Dating is supposed to be fun and you should therefore do things you feel safe doing.

Talking about food allergies and the auto-injector:

Explaining your allergies, the severity of them, and showing dates how to use your (epinephrine) auto-injector is very important. It is ultimately up to you as to when you want to talk to them about it and show someone you are dating your injector. Personally I feel that, because food allergies are life-threatening, it is extremely important that others know right away what “the deal” is. This is not intended to scare them; but it is intended to show them that you are confident with your allergies, know how to manage them, and that you know what to do if something were to happen. Most people will feel better knowing what to do if something were to happen (especially if you reassure them that you take extra precautions and know how to manage them).

What to do on a date:

If you have food allergies, or perhaps your girlfriend or boyfriend has food allergies, you might be wondering what to do on a date. How do you make the date safe? Here are a few ideas. Not included below is the obvious food date (breakfast, lunch or dinner). If you are going to meet for food, then make sure you go to a place you feel safe. If you feel like trying a new place, call them ahead of time and make sure you feel safe with their menu and their precautions with your allergies.

  • Picnic – Bring safe food and spend the afternoon at the park, by the lake, or on the beach
  • Tea/coffee- Tea/coffee dates are always fun. Try new cafes in the area!
  • Mini-Golf – Who doesn’t like mini-golf! J
  • Go-karts – Speed! And no food! Or you could always bring your own snacks.
  • Wine tasting – Another fun one. You could always bring a few safe snacks for yourself.
  • Bike rides – You could even head for a picnic! Or go for a nice ride together. Maybe even rent a tandem bike for fun!
  • Aquariums, Museums, Art Galleries.

There are so many things you could do without even going to a restaurant or getting food. Get creative. Rent a canoe or a paddle board and get out on the water! There are a lot of safe choices out there! Don’t let your allergies impact the fun you have on your dates! If he/she really likes you, your food allergies won’t stand in the way of that! Be yourself. Make the date a safe one so you don’t have to stress about having a reaction and can relax and enjoy the time with your date.

Erika

Allergies and Reasonable Expectations for Airlines

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My sister is currently employed as a flight attendant with a Canadian-based airline company. I recently made a point of sitting with her and discussing what expectations are reasonable for both airline staff and passengers when it comes to allergies in the air.

On more than one occasion, passengers with food allergies have put my sister in an awkward position. For example, a parent informs her of her child’s allergies and attempts to take the meal that is being offered. My sister reiterates that she does not know whether or not the flight meals have come into contact with allergens as they are prepared by a different service on the ground. Here are some reasonable expectations that crew and airline staff have of those travelling with allergies:

1)  Bring Your Own Food/Snacks- As much as we would like to be accommodated and included in the airline meal service, bringing your own food is always the safest bet.

2)  Carry Your Medication- Some airlines may have their own epinephrine on the flight; but you should always be responsible and carry your auto-injector with you at all times.

3)  Stock Up on Disinfectant- Wanting to wipe down the armrests, food trays and any other surfaces of the airline is totally reasonable. Despite the cleaning crews’ diligent work, germs are still present. Most airline staff are very understanding of this; however, most do not have any type of disinfectant wipes / sanitizer present. B.Y.O.S- Bring your own sanitizer.

4)  Be Understanding and Polite- Most airline staff will do what they can to help you. It is important to be understanding of their limitations too! The more patient and polite you are to them, the more likely it is that they will provide you with amazing service.

As for airlines in general, most of their duties are regulated and the policies change from company to company. However, here are some things that I think would be reasonable to expect of airline staff when travelling.

1)  Aware- I would appreciate it if staff had some form of familiarity with allergies. They don’t have to be an expert on the topic; but it would be nice if the staff were at least competent enough to assist a passenger allergies.

2)  Announcement– I think it is a pretty reasonable request for airline staff to make an announcement informing passengers to refrain from eating your allergen.  Although it is hard to expect that everyone on board will abide by the request; but it definitely helps raise awareness among the aircraft passengers and reduces the chances of you coming into contact with your allergens.

3)  Understanding- Airline staff should understand where allergic-folk are coming from. No I’m not a flight risk. And I’m really not trying to be difficult! I am just trying to ensure that I’m safe in my sparingly small space at 40,000 feet in the air! Reassuring an allergic passenger is always a plus.

4)  Offer- We know that you don’t have a restaurant on-board; but if the menu options are a ‘no-go’ for us, we do appreciate an offer for an alternative. Chances are, we have our own food packed. But it does mean a lot to hear airline staff make safe suggestions.

What have your experiences with Airlines and your allergies been like? Comment below!

Nicole

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

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

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When it comes to bringing up allergies in the workplace, I think a lot of us get nervous, anxious, or even just simply forget because of all the new information we are trying to learn at a new job. From my personal experience, the sooner I let my co-workers know about my severe peanut and tree nut allergies, the safer I feel at work. A few different strategies have worked for me in the past. I will share them with you here.

1)      I had the unique opportunity during an interview to mention my allergies. The question had something to do with describing a time when I had to deal with a high pressure situation and what I did. I decided to step outside the box and share two experiences. One was a workplace experience and the other was an allergy experience. I explained how my brother was having an anaphylactic reaction and, being allergic to nuts myself, I knew how to use the auto-injector and the steps that needed to be taken to help my brother. This turned out to be a simple way of opening up a conversation about allergies with a company that I would end up working for. Sometimes explaining your allergies before you even get the job can be useful and insightful for both parties. Even if you do not get the job, at least you can walk away knowing that you advocated for others with allergies who may work for that company in the future!

2)      Another strategy that I have used to tell my co-workers about my allergies is, essentially, the same calm, cool strategy I use when meeting new people. I mention my allergies and their severity casually, such as before a team meeting where donuts are provided: “No thank you. I’m severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This is almost always followed up with questions about what I can eat, where I keep my auto-injector, how to use it, and the list goes on. This is a simple, yet quite effective strategy.

3)      I have never done this; but I have heard of people emailing their boss to explain their allergies. From the abundance of emails everyone seems to go through in a day, I’m not sure this is the best strategy; but it has worked for some and maybe it will work for you! Just be sure to keep the email optimistic and informative in case your boss has never had any experiences with allergies before.

4)      A final method I have used is very blunt. I went straight to my new boss (the owner of the company) and explained my allergies to her. After my initial explanation, I asked if she had any questions and we entered into an informative dialogue back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. When we concluded, she took it upon herself to endorse a “peanut/nut free” unwritten policy where no peanut or tree nut containing food was allowed to be eaten in the office. I never asked for this exceptionally kind gesture; but my boss understood the severity of the allergy and would not take any risks. Based on my experiences, I find this strategy to be the most effective.

It may seem scary and nerve-wracking to put yourself in a place of vulnerability by explaining your allergy to co-workers in the workplace. Yet your safety is paramount. Take a deep breath and spread the word! You may be surprised how well your workplace takes your allergy information.

 

Dylan