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.