Tag Archives: personal experience

Denial: A Thought Process During an Allergic Reaction

As an adult I’ve experienced two anaphylactic reactions. They both had one thing in common: denial. Today I want to share my thought process during my reactions.

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We were having a great day walking around the Dutch city of Leiden. European cities have an age to them that Canadian cities can’t match. With age comes wisdom and somehow walking these cobbled streets helped me feel a sense of serenity and peace.

Earlier that day at lunch I went through a very unique experience ordering food from a waiter who spoke only Dutch, a language I couldn’t understand. It was unnerving to have my normal allergy discussion through a translator. After a few minutes my translator seemed satisfied that this restaurant was safe and we decided to eat. In retrospect, I ignored a few red flags and should have been more careful.

As I walked down the street I began feeling bloated. That’s normal enough when I’m suffering from jet lag and eating new foods in new places. I would have ignored it completely if it hadn’t steadily worsened over the course of an hour or so. Eventually I was so uncomfortable that I felt I might throw up. It crossed my mind that I may be having an anaphylactic reaction to my lunch.


When people with allergies talk about allergies to friends and family we tend to play up our vigilance. “I would never…” is the beginning of many of our bold claims. Here’s a good one that I’ve shared hundreds of times “I would never ignore even the slightest symptom of a reaction, it isn’t worth it.”

Contrary to my claim I wasn’t just ignoring my symptoms but I was actively rationalizing them away. My thought process went like this:

“My stomach hurts, that’s not an allergic reaction!”

A few moments later…
“If this was a reaction you’d already be passed out. This is taking too long, it’s just indigestion”

Finally…

“Don’t be stupid Jason, you’re making yourself panic. Take a deep breath and enjoy yourself. You’re only in Holland for a short time!”

This ongoing desperate attempt to explain away my symptoms was eventually interrupted by my brother who noticed I was behaving strangely. He offered me a mint to settle my stomach and noticed that I immediately complained that the mint made my tongue itch. With a subtlety that I only understood after the fact he casually remarked that if my tongue was itchy I should pinch my ear. I did. My ear was itchy and sore.
My brother and I locked eyes, he didn’t say anything. That was the moment I realized what was really happening.

Minutes later I was sitting on a Dutch hospital bed as a doctor scolded me for not using my auto-injector. Everything worked out fine but the denial nearly cost me my life.

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Three years later I was getting married.

My groomsmen and I rented a cottage for the bachelor party. After an evening of video games, beer, and cigars we were winding down the evening playing cards.
I didn’t feel right. My back and shoulders were itchy and I was generally uncomfortable. I figured I was tired, drunk, or both. Just like my walk through the streets of Leiden at some point it occurred to me that I may be having an allergic reaction.

I may be the king of denial because this time was nearly the same as last time.

“You’re fine.”

My brother, who is also allergic to peanuts, and was present, was not having a reaction. We had been eating the same food all weekend.

“If Dylan’s OK then I am too. It’s impossible for one of us to react and not the other.”

The worst part about the denial during shock is that it makes so much sense at the time. Every thought I had explained away my symptoms in a logical manner. I thought about indigestion, seasonal allergies, reactions to alcohol, fatigue. All of it made sense. It was enough to protect my fragile sense of security from the reality of a dangerous situation.

All good things come to an end. I walked past a mirror and saw a red patch on the back of my arm. This looked alarmingly like hives. Lifting my shirt, I checked my back. I felt a sinking feeling as I saw that my back was covered in hives.

From the outside looking in I know that this is the moment when I should have taken a shot of epinephrine and called an ambulance. I’m embarrassed that my actual response almost turned my anecdote into a tragedy. I looked at the rash and thought:

“This is fine. It’s just a rash, don’t ruin the party.”

For years, I scolded my friends who hid their symptoms to protect the fun that their friends were having. The joke was on me, I’m not so different. There I was in the midst of a full blown anaphylactic reaction convincing myself that I had nothing to worry about.

A few minutes later the hives were getting worse and I fessed up to the gang and showed them my back. While my friends debated what the rash could mean I made eye contact with my brother and immediately knew what he was thinking. This wasn’t a drill.

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Denial is one of the most dangerous symptoms of shock. Heart attacks are misunderstood as indigestion, strokes are mistaken for fatigue, and “small infections” are ignored leading to blood poisoning or worse.

We’re taught to treat hives, throat closures, chest tightness, and many other symptoms with urgency to protect ourselves. In an emergency, however, this can all be derailed by a few moments of denial. My first-hand experience was a real eye opener for me. I realize now that there is more to this equation than I had originally thought.

This can happen to any of us. If I had been reacting by myself who knows what would have happened. Luckily I had my brother with me to snap me out of denial twice. When you practice using your auto-injector or educate your friends don’t forget this scenario. Be prepared to face denial.

Always remember to take your symptoms seriously.

– Jason B.

My 2016: New Places, New People, and New Perspectives on Allergies

Well, it certainly has been a year. 2016 was a year of discovery and new opportunity.

I started 2016 living in Kingston, the city in which I chose to go to school and thankfully received a job in my chosen career. Unfortunately, it was not in the same city where my partner, family, and cat lived, which already had me in a slump, but then I discovered I had a new allergen to raw seeds. Not what I was expecting in my late 20’s and living away from basically everyone I trusted. So my rut had grown bigger.

Girl sitting on floor and wrote in a notebook

I spent my days doing marketing and analysis and my evenings co-running and sitting in on Food Allergy Canada’s mentorship program, Allergy Pals, and researching a newly diagnosed allergy to seeds. I have been involved with the Allergy Pals Program since it’s inception so it is definitely something that is near and dear to my heart. Especially since I grew up with the risk for anaphylaxis and always felt like I was the only one, it gave me an opportunity to help young kids know that there are other people just like them. Allergy Pals is a mentorship program ran by older mentors and junior mentors who have food allergies and are dedicated to helping younger mentees better understand and learn how to deal with different situations regarding food allergies and intolerances. Anything from personal experience to the teachable material provided, this program is most importantly a tool where all participants can share and lean on each other for support. It’s a program I’ve poured my soul into and fully support with my time, suggestions, and efforts. It’s also been a great resource for me as an adult, to learn and talk with other mentors about various food allergies and how to deal with them. After discovering my new allergy and living alone in a different city, it became a great resource for me.

I loved being involved with Allergy Pals in any capacity, whether it had been leading sessions or listening to them. So when I was given the opportunity to become the new Program Coordinator for Allergy Pals, I was ecstatic! It was something new and exciting and something I was passionate about. It was a program I respect and care so much about. I of course accepted and started moving forward to make the program the best possible product I could. It was just the thing I needed to get out of my new allergy/ far away city rut.

My goal and dream for the program is to connect with anyone who wants to learn more about tough situations, feelings, and anything else that may be included in having a food allergy. I’d also love to curate other people’s ideas and feelings to make the best possible program. Being the program coordinator allows me to give back to a program that means so much to not only me, but every other mentor and mentee involved.

It certainly was a year of change, moving, and happiness. I feel like 2016 gave me an opportunity to explore and understand my food allergies through new eyes, whether it be the mentees in Allergy Pals or the new people I surround myself with at home. After obtaining this new position and feeling more comfortable with my new found allergy, I knew it was time to make the move back home and end 2016 in my home town.

I can’t wait until 2017 to watch Allergy Pals grow and explore new opportunities. I also can’t wait to uncover new and interesting things about my food allergies and myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about Allergy Pals check out the link below:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/programs-services/allergy-pals-mentorship/

– Arianne K.

Managing my Food Allergies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Managing your food allergy can be somewhat of a roller coaster ride. The reality is that some people just “get” or understand severe allergies – understanding its severity and implications – while others just don’t, no matter how much you explain it to them. As frustrating as the negative experiences can be, there are often rewarding learning experiences that emerge out of them.

In this post, I’ll share some of my stories of positive and negative experiences in managing my tree nut (Hazelnut and Walnut) allergy.

The Good:

Finding “that” restaurant

Truth be told, I never usually eat-out. Usually, a bag of chips is as far as I am willing to go in terms of eating food not prepared by myself or my family. It can be very difficult to trust restaurants (specifically, restaurant staff), when your allergy is severe. However, with enough research, you can often find that “diamond in the rough” – a restaurant that is completely free of your allergen and can guarantee it. A few summers ago, I travelled to New York City with my family. I said to myself, “there has to be one restaurant in this massive city that is Nut-Free.” Low and behold, I came across a restaurant in the Upper East Side, called T-Bar, that could guarantee a nut-free meal with little risk of cross-contamination. I was elated – these people got it!

Male chef garnishing his dish, ready to serve

After my New York Experience, I became more active in my research of nut-free restaurants. Usually, many restaurants in the U.S. and Canada do have allergen policies in place. Having said that, always make sure to call each restaurant in advance to get briefed by the manager or chef on the specific policy at each restaurant, even if you are eating at the same chain (different restaurants within a chain may have different policies given the standing franchising agreements). In any case, always call in advance. When you are at the restaurant, get a “feel” for how safe the restaurant is in addition to reminding the restaurant staff of your food allergy. I learned that it is possible to “eat out” but it depends where you eat and the specific allergen policies that dictate how seriously the restaurant takes your allergy.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Friends and Family that just don’t get it:

Throughout the past 12 years living with my food allergy, I’ve come across some friends and family members that just do not understand the severity of my allergy. I have one friend that keeps on insisting that we eat out at different restaurants: “Come on – the food should be safe here…I don’t see any nuts on my dish.” Even after explaining the concept of cross-contamination, it is hard for some people to empathize with the severity of Anaphylactic reactions.

To mitigate these situations, politely remind your friends or family about the severity of your allergy (even if you have to repeat yourself for the 150th time) and be sure to re-explain the concept of cross contamination if necessary. Never feel peer-pressured into doing or eating anything that you do not feel comfortable doing. Your health is always your first priority.

Managing your allergies is achievable! You can travel and you can eat-out with your friends, but always be cautious. Again, your health is your first priority, so always be sure to be vigilant, do your homework, and go with your gut, especially when eating-out at restaurants with your friends or family.

– Saverio M.

Top 5 Perks of Having an Allergy

Closeup portrait happy successful student, business man winning, fists pumped celebrating success isolated grey wall background. Positive human emotion facial expression. Life perception, achievement

“In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision”

-Dalai Lama

In life, nothing is as bad as it ever seems. Think back to the time you discovered that you had a severe food allergy. In all frankness, I remember being very upset and discouraged by the news. I was diagnosed with my life-threatening food allergies at the age of 10. I was a child at that time and I saw my allergy as a massive barrier that would inevitably prevent me from doing the things that I wanted to do in life. Over the past 10 years, my views have changed significantly. I’ve taken ownership of my food allergy, and, in some ways, have found ways to embrace it. Here are my five perks about allergies that you can keep in the back of your mind:

  1. You will be healthier

Living with food allergies means that restaurants are not the automatic go-to for quick-fix meals on a daily basis. As good as restaurant food can be on occasion, eating-out every day may not be the best option for your health. When I dine-out, I often throw caution to the wind when it comes to “healthy” food options. If I’m at a steakhouse, I’m not eating broiled salmon and arugula. I’m ordering the thickest, juiciest steak on the menu. The point I’m making is that the unhealthy option is readily available and easily accessible. You are more likely to buy the steak on impulse for instant gratification, rather than the healthier options available. With food allergies, you are less likely to find yourself in that position on a frequent basis. Often times, I cook what I eat, as it is the safest way to ensure that my meals are allergen-free.

  1. You will learn how to cook well

Eating-out less implies that you will be cooking for yourself frequently. Cooking is an important life skill. Personally, I find it relaxing – it’s a great distraction and de-stressor at the end of a long, busy, and stressful day. Although there is a definite learning curve to cooking, you will begin to hone this skill: you will get better and better at it. After a few months, you will be cooking-up a storm – you can show-off your new skills to your friends and family.

  1. You control exactly what goes into your body

This is a lead-off from the last point. If you are cooking for yourself more often, you have control over the ingredients that you use to prepare your meals. When shopping for these ingredients, you can opt for higher-quality, organic ingredients. Restaurants may boast using these ingredients, but more likely than not, the quality and freshness of the ingredients will not be the same as a home-cooked meal.

  1. You will learn how to become more resourceful

This point is most pertinent to managing your allergies while traveling or dining-out in unfamiliar places. When encountered with these unfamiliar situations, you will find creative ways to manage your food allergy. Over time, you will get better at sourcing out allergy-friendly restaurants or a close-by grocery store, so that you can assure a safe meal, regardless of where you find yourself. For example, if you are booking a vacation getaway with friends, you will know to find hotels and resorts that have restaurants with a thorough food allergy policy. Alternatively, you will also get better at finding resorts close to allergy-friendly restaurants or grocery stores. Having food allergies makes you a great problem-solver, which is a skill that can cross-over into any other aspect of life and work.

  1. You will become a stronger person

One of the most rewarding aspects of living with (and managing) food allergies effectively, is the realization that you have become a stronger person out of it. It means that you were faced with a challenge, found ways to counter the challenge, and came out on the other side a stronger and more resourceful person. Managing severe food allergies are challenging, but they do not have to dictate or control what you want out of your life.

– Saverio M.

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.

St. Patrick’s Day with a Food Allergy

St. Patrick’s Day is always a fun holiday where people scramble to a1find anything they own that is green, eat pancakes all day, and may indulge in a few too many beers. In order to ensure that you have both a safe and fun day of the Irish here are my top 5 tips to celebrating if you are at-risk for anaphylaxis.

  1. Always carry your auto-injector!

This is a good tip for everyday life but it is especially important to ensure you have your auto-injector on you at all times on a day where you may be in unfamiliar bars or surrounded by new people. For the ladies, it is probably safer to keep your auto-injector on your body as opposed to a bag or purse which could easily get lost or even taken.

  1. Know what you are drinking

People tend to be very generous on St. Patty’s Day and may offer to share their drink or buy a round for everyone. It is important to know all of the ingredients and types of alcohol in the drinks you are consuming. There are many websites from bloggers and articles who have compiled lists of liquors and common allergens they contain. You can check out this blog http://www.nutmums.com/nut-free-alcohol/ and a previous AWA post on Alcohol and Allergies https://adultswithallergies.com/2014/04/16/alcohol-and-allergies/.

  1. Stick with your friends

It is easy to meet new people and stray from the group of friends you started out with on St. Patty’s Day but it is important to ensure that you always have someone nearby who is aware of your allergies. Having a person who has got your back throughout the day can be very helpful in case you drink a little too much or if you ever needed help with a reaction. Someone who knows where your auto-injector is, how to use it, and the steps to take in case of an emergency is key!

  1. Know your limit

As you may or may not know, consuming alcohol limits your inhibitions and increases risk-taking behavior. When it comes to those at-risk for anaphylaxis, risk taking is something that is best to avoid at all costs! Know what your limit is when it comes to alcohol consumption and try to alternate with non-alcoholic drinks throughout the day so that you can still be aware, make good choices, and stay hydrated.

  1. Have fun!

Although it is important to be careful when celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day you should never let your food allergies limit the amount of the fun you have or the experiences you take part in.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lindsay S.

Explaining Food Allergies to Kids

Birthday Party

When I was growing up my parents would go to exhaustive lengths to ensure anyone who babysat me knew the full extent of my allergies, how to avoid triggers, and what to do incase I had contact with a potential allergen.  As I got older, I switched roles and soon found that I was the babysitter now explaining to the children I was looking after why I couldn’t prepare them things like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With the rate of childhood food allergies on the rise, it is becoming important to not over simplify or downplay your allergies when talking to children. Rather it is important to make sure they are told, in an age appropriate manner, what allergies are and the seriousness of an allergic reaction. From my perspective, there are two benefits that can result from taking the time to explain food allergies to children. The first obvious benefit is that a child is more likely to act appropriately around you with regards to your allergies. The second, larger benefit is the fact that, the more exposure to and education about allergies they receive, the more likely they are to understand the concept of food allergies in general.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind and assess when explaining food allergies to children is the actual age of the child and what they will be able to comprehend in terms of information and detail.  You don’t need to go assessing where the child falls on Piaget’s Scale of Cognitive Development, but gain a sense of what is appropriate for them to learn based on things they already know. When talking to a child about food allergies, engage them in the conversation, ask them questions to assess their ability to understand what you are explaining and, if you have the time and are really creative, feel free to get interactive and even make a game about the information they are learning! Okay. So not every time you explain your allergies to a child will involve a game about say ‘matching food allergies with symptoms’. But try to always get to know the child you’re talking to and see what’s the best way you can relate to them and help them with understanding this important topic.

In terms about what information to address, again this will involve assessing why you are bringing this topic up with the child and what they will most benefit from learning. If this is a child’s first exposure to someone with allergies, the obvious conversation to start with is what allergies are. For a younger child, the most important piece to get across is the emphasis that some foods are very harmful if eaten or even touched by people with allergies. As a child gets older, they will be able to understand and even be interested in a more in-depth explanation of allergies. This can involve going on to explain the body’s immune system and how it can overreact and identify certain food items as allergens. If a child is exposed to someone, such as a playmate with severe allergies, it then might also be worth explaining about the treatment involved when someone is having an allergic reaction. The explanation can again vary but could involve emphasis on notifying an adult or someone who is able to activate EMS and provide immediate treatment with an auto-injector or, if appropriate, the child could be educated about the process of using an auto injector. 

With food allergies on the rise, it is never too early to start educating children about what allergies are and how to act around those who do have allergies. And who better to start the conversation than a young adult who has grown up and has had the experience first hand!

Caitlyn P.

Nepal, Austria, Greece & Keeping on Track with Food Allergies

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This spring was quite busy to say the least. As I prepared to finish my Bachelor of Nursing Science degree, write my nursing licensing exam, and begin the search to find a “real person” job, I also found myself in the midst of planning a volunteer trip to Nepal for the beginning of June. I’ve volunteered abroad before and am quite interested in global health so I was very committed to the idea of taking some time to go on a volunteer trip before taking on ‘adult responsibilities’ in the ‘adult world’. Before I knew it, after I organized my trip to Nepal, I also tacked on a week of visiting relatives in Austria and then arranged a one week tour of the Greek Islands. Could you say that I had a bit of a panic attack thinking that after I got my first nursing job I wouldn’t have any free time to travel again? Absolutely. Was this a slight overreaction? Perhaps…but no regrets, right? Anyway, along with the challenges of organizing three very different trips there is always the challenge of taking appropriate precautions with regards to food allergies.

In the weeks leading up to my trip departure I did basic research on the cultures I would be visiting and what sorts of food I would likely encounter. In Nepal, their cuisine takes influence from India as well as China with their main meal being Dhaal Bhat (rice &lentils). With my allergies being to wheat, eggs, and nuts I was a-ok with that. I was familiar with Austrian cuisine since my grandparents would always cook Austrian meals growing up. That being said, before even booking my trip I knew their love of schnitzel doesn’t work with my wheat allergy and sausage would also pose a challenge. What I did have going my way was the fact that, when in Austria, I would be meeting with my cousins who luckily could speak German and would be able to help me find suitable food options.

Finally, the mediterranean diet would for the most part agree with my food limitations of wheat, eggs, and nuts. But it would still pose some risks in terms of cross contamination. After getting an idea of what foods I would encounter while travelling, I also did the routine task of contacting airlines and informing them of my food allergies. I will admit I did not pick my airline based on which ones were allergy friendly. Instead I looked at which ones offered the best deal. I then had to find out that some airlines such as Turkish Airlines did not accommodate allergies in anyway such as even offering a gluten free meal option to passengers. This at least tipped me off to be well prepared with snacks for my air travels.

Other preparations before I left for my trip included making sure that I had not only one auto-injector to take with me but in fact several stored in different bags so I had backup options in case one needed to be used or perhaps accidentally got lost. I also packed anti-histamine medication which I use for less severe allergic reactions and a few inhalers in case I had one of my in-frequent asthma attacks. Having travelled by myself to other countries before, something that I always like to bring is allergy cards. You can order these online through companies like Select Wisely.

These allergy cards are neat because you can have these pocket- sized laminate cards made to state your allergies as well as other phrases such as ‘I am having an allergic reaction please get me to an English speaking hospital’ in virtually any language. I naturally ordered a fresh batch of these allergy cards in Nepali, German and Greek. But the roadblock I encountered was that, although I ordered these cards five weeks before my departure date, because they were coming from the USA they didn’t actually arrive before I left. The real kicker is I flew out on a Saturday and my allergy cards arrived the Monday after! Oh well, c’est la vie! I found that a useful and convenient alternative for communicating my allergies was downloading the google translate app on my smartphone. By downloading this app I could use very simple language to communicate my food allergies and inability to eat certain foods and type this into the app. I then saved the phrases that were produced so I could easily bring them up when ordering food.

So after months of planning and prepping for my trip it was finally time for departure. For my time In Nepal, I was living in Kathmandu and the work I was doing involved volunteering with the largest women’s health NGO in Nepal. I got connected with this group through a volunteer liaison organization that provided room and board for those coming to the country to volunteer. This provided some obvious perks such as not having to find my own accommodations as well we had all of our meals provided for us by an in-house cook. I knew in Nepal it was customary to eat rice at most meals (usually at least two meals a day), but when I had my food allergies explained to the cook I could see her eyes bulge as I am sure she began to ask herself ‘what else can I make for this girl besides rice, rice, and more rice!?’

I will admit.. I ate ALOT of rice when I was in Nepal. Breakfast usually contained of fruit and some form of rice, rice donuts, fried potatoes or even fried rice noodles (I believe the cook was trying to get creative as I could not eat things like toast or egg). Lunch typically involved fried rice prepared with some fried vegetables and potatoes or beaten rice (another form of rice quite popular in nepal…usually fried). Dinner again usually consisted of dhal bhat (rice and lentils) with curried vegetables. If you want a true picture of Nepali cuisine don’t just use my blog as a source they DO eat food beyond rice including their famous stuffed dumplings called Mo-Mos as well as various noodle dishes but as I definitely experienced rice is their main staple grain.

While my day-to-day meals were always allergy friendly I did eat out from time to time and had to be careful with ordering my meals. It was tempting not to eat out in Nepal since for $3-4 american could get you a LARGE meal of your choosing. In terms of ordering safe, I always try to stick to foods I can identify as likely being allergen free and then reconfirming when placing my order. In Nepal this involved ordering a lot of curries and traditional plates of dhal bhat that came with curried vegetables, pickled vegetables, your choice of meat as well as potatoes. It was here that I would bring out my phone and show waiters my pre-typed allergy message. The organization I worked for was stationed in Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) and I was surprised how many people in Nepal could speak or understand some English. That being said, allergies are next to non-existent in Nepal so while some educated Nepali people know of allergies this is not something they encounter regularly like we do in North America. Therefore it was important to always re-evaluate the waiters understanding while placing my order and even confirming again when the order arrived.

While I found it easy to avoid food allergens when eating out, I actually found it harder to avoid allergens at my place of work. The volunteer organization that I worked for had its main branch located in Kathmandu. However, due to the recent earthquakes that struck Nepal, we were going out to areas around the Kathmandu valley and working in health camps. Regardless of whether we were at the main branch or out in the field, lunch was always provided for the staff (something commonly done in many places of work in Nepal). These would be simple lunches of Mo-Mos (dumplings) or packets of dried noodles which are extremely popular in Nepal (yes, exactly like the ones you ate in grade school). That being said most days I could not eat any of these lunches and instead brought my own.

Some of the staff did not speak English so, when I politely declined their offer to have some of their food, it was hard not to feel completely rude. After a couple of these offers, during which I received strange looks for not wanting their food, I brought my phone with me to work so I could communicate to everyone that it wasn’t that I didn’t like their food but literally could not eat it. They definitely understood and even on my last day of work made me a special lunch with only foods I could eat— just one small example of the incredible kindness and hospitality of the Nepali people. I am thankful to say I did not have an allergic reaction while in Nepal and in fact was more successful at avoiding my food allergens than avoiding drinking untreated well water…but that is an accident and a story for another time!

After the trip of a lifetime to Nepal, I flew to Austria for a week. Here I will admit I was fortunate that, for about 2/3 of my travels, I was with cousins who could help with translating food allergies when ordering or helped with reading ingredient lists. While on my own I still didn’t find it too difficult to order food and communicate my allergies. I attribute most of this to the fact that I was in tourist centres like Vienna and Salzburg where it wasn’t hard to find those who spoke English. When it came to buying food at stores, when in doubt, I simply would look for a friendly stranger who spoke English and could help me translate what the package said. I had the google translate app ready to go but found I didn’t need to use it often at all. Again I was fortunate that Austria proved to be a trip that was reaction free!

For my final stop in Greece, I found it slightly more difficult to order food than in Austria. I obviously didn’t have family right there to translate, as well I found English wasn’t quite as commonly spoken here. That being said, while travelling the Greek islands, many of the cities are tourist hot beds so you will find someone working in a restaurant that does speak some English.

Another thing I found was that sometimes the personality of servers in Greece were such that, depending their mood or how busy they were or maybe just how they were feeling that day, this would dictate their promptness for allowing you to order with a ‘special request’ (i.e. a allergy safe meal). Despite this I did appreciate that they always did pay attention to my actual concerns and were very good about making alterations as necessary so I could eat safely wherever I was.

Even on my last night in Greece I was dining with some people in Athens and after having one of the best dinners of my trip the waiter/owner of the restaurant brought everyone at our table a piece of a pastry. I graciously thanked the man but explained that this was also something I could not eat. He of course understood and then came back a few minutes later asking if I could eat watermelon. After I said I could, he came back with an entire chopped up watermelon for our entire group! One of the greatest experiences of my travels had to be seeing the generosity and thoughtfulness of people are all across the world!

Yes, it can definitely be extra work and an added responsibility when travelling with food allergies. But I am a firm believer that it is not something that should hold you back from allowing you to gain life- changing experiences and travelling around the world! There are so many other things to consider and precautions to take when travelling with food allergies. While I tried to take precautions that made sense to me, feel free to comment below with tips and tricks you use to stay safe while travelling!

Caitlyn P.

How Your Parents Treated Your Allergies Then and Now: Once a Parent, Always a Parent

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I was three years old when my family found out I had a life threatening food allergy to peanuts and nuts. Now, I don’t remember much from that fateful day, but the bits and pieces I’ve gathered seem to allude to the following: I ate a cracker with peanut butter on it and immediately went into anaphylactic shock. My parents rushed me to the hospital because they had no idea what the heck was happening to me.

Afterward, the doctors broke the news to my family that I was anaphylactic to all nuts and peanuts (my life story and my family’s were sent down a very different, but interesting path). At the beginning, my parents did everything to keep me safe; and I mean everything. My saint of a mother spent hours baking everything from cakes and cookies, to ice cream and bread. There were no regulations for food safety, and few companies could guarantee a safe products free of cross-contamination. So our food options were limited. Collectively, my family and extended family decided to clear our houses of all of my allergens (and my brother’s when we figured out his allergy) to limit the chances of either of us having a reaction.

They painstakingly created one space where I could feel completely safe to eat anything found in our kitchen. On top of creating meals, snacks, and even birthday cakes for fellow classmates, my mom helped create support groups for fellow parents of children with food allergies. She also become an integral part of the organization AAIA (Allergies, Asthma Information Association) and spread the message about food allergies to our local school board (to eventually make my school nut-free before its time).

Through it all, my mom and dad did everything in their power to make me feel included in events, safe and, most importantly, normal. It can be so hard on a child’s self-esteem to grow up with a food allergy, and my family did everything in their power to both help me be comfortable with my allergen and to be vocal about informing and educating people. BUT, that did not stop her from telling anyone and everyone about my allergies, sometimes in the most pre-teen embarrassing way, or announcing to any room that would listen that we had a quote “Special Alert” – me.

Fast-forward 20 years to my adulthood. My mom is still taking time to make homemade foods for me when I visit, informing anyone who will listen about food allergies, and is still taking time to discover new and safe foods for me. My family is still my pillar of support when it comes to new or lasting issues I have with my food allergies regardless of distance between us. My food allergies have been consistent in my life and my family’s for such a long period of time that they are no longer a constant topic or issue for us. Over the years we’ve found restaurants that can accommodate, safe places to travel, and resources to make our lives easier.

My parents still choose to not keep my allergen in their home, and not to eat them even while travelling. I guess some habits never go away. And between you and me, it makes me smile every time I think about it. My mom still ever-so subtly prompts me to inform servers and chefs about my allergen before I even get a chance to sit down when eating out. She still makes me re-read ingredients after she reads them and still insist on joining me on every trip I take to the allergist. My parents have always been a beacon of love and support in my life, from allowing me to spread my wings and experience life, to helping me create values and roots to come back home to.

Arianne K.

Bringing Food to Restaurants

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One of the realities of living with severe allergies is the limited exposure to many restaurants. Although you can make plans to eat-out by speaking to the appropriate restaurant staff, most restaurants cannot completely guarantee an allergen-free meal. If you are faced with an important event that cannot be missed, or if you are travelling abroad, bringing your own food to a restaurant may be a safer alternative. I personally love to travel and, in some cases, have had to bring my own food to restaurants. Below, I’ll briefly outline my experiences (positive and negative) in doing this.

When I was younger, I always felt awkward or “out of place” when bringing food to restaurants. In some cases, restaurants will not even allow you to bring your own food. I found this to be the case in Europe. I remember going on a guided tour of Budapest with my parents. I knew I had to bring my own food because explaining my allergy would be too difficult given the language barrier. When my parents and I arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately told that I was not allowed to bring “outside food” into the restaurant (which left me feeling awkward and embarrassed). I think my key learning from that experience was flexibility. Although these situations can be difficult, you have to find ways to make it work in a given situation. You can try going to another restaurant, or find a public space where you can feel comfortable eating your own meal.

Although I’ve had some negative experiences, I’ve also had many positive experiences at restaurants. Most restaurants in the United States and Canada understand the implications of food allergies. If they cannot provide a solution, most will try to accommodate you in the best way possible. That being said, more expensive or “prestigious” restaurants may have the “no outside food” policy in place. However, you should typically have no trouble at family restaurants or more casual buffets. In any case, it would be wise to call in advance to make sure that the restaurant that you choose allows outside food.

Further, you need to treat each restaurant excursion on a case-by-case basis. If you have to bring your own food because there is no other alternative, then bring it. Remember, your health and well-being are your first priorities! Never put yourself in a dangerous situation for the sake of convenience.

Saverio M.