Tag Archives: personal experience

Back to School and Allergies

College student backpack

Heading back to school can be a fun and exciting time! Getting to see your friends again, purchasing new school supplies, and meeting your new teachers are just some things to look forward to. On the other hand, going back to school may be overwhelming, especially when having to manage a severe allergy.

I know because I’ve been there…As I enter my final year of undergraduate studies at university, I’ve taken some time to reflect-back upon my elementary and high-school days. I was diagnosed with anaphylaxis back in 2004, at the age of 10. I remember feeling overwhelmed as I contemplated the potential challenges I would face in my future. What will my friends think? Will I ever be able to eat-out? How and when should I notify others about my allergy? For the most part, I’ve been fortunate enough to have supportive friends who understand the implications of severe allergies. Although some may not be as understanding as others, taking a proactive approach in managing your allergies should help alleviate or minimize any problems that you may encounter. Here are some tips that I have found helpful in terms of managing allergies at school!

1. Understand that you are not the only one with allergies at your school: In most cases, you will not be the only student in your school (or class) with anaphylaxis. I remember going through school and there being at least one other student with an allergy (if not anaphylaxis). You are not alone!

2. Bringing-up your allergies at the appropriate time: When making new friendships, it’s often difficult to gauge when the appropriate time to discuss your allergies may be. The appropriate time and place will depend on the individual and the nature of your relationship. In any case, always make sure to notify your friends about your allergy before eating-out at a restaurant. Never feel peer-pressured to go to a restaurant and “risk it.” Take a step back, remember that your health is your most important asset, and tell those around you about your allergy. It would also be wise to show them your medic-alert bracelet and where you store your auto-injector.

3. No trading lunches! When I was in school (particularly elementary school) I remember always being tempted by others to trade lunches or try different foods. Don’t! You don’t know who has handled the food and whether or not there is risk of cross-contamination. Again, never feel ‘peer-pressured’ into trying food either.

4. Seek-out allergen-friendly snacks: Luckily, a lot of positive change has transpired since 2004. Organizations such as Food Allergy Canada have done a fantastic job of spreading awareness about anaphylaxis. As a result, a lot of corporations have taken steps to produce and market allergen-free snacks. Many big-box grocery stores supply peanut-free, nut-free, and gluten-free snacks – some specifically designed for school. Seek these out!

Hopefully, you’ll find some of these suggestions helpful. No matter what age you are, going back to school can be overwhelming. Making a plan beforehand can help alleviate some of your stress moving forward.

Saverio M.

Cottage Season and Allergies

 

open field

Summer time is usually synonymous with cottage season for a lot of people in the city. Cottage season usually implies parties, barbeques, and family events. Your allergies do not have to hamper your experience. The key to enjoying these events safely is to do the proper planning. I’ve listed some common cottage events below, as well as some key points you should take note of when you plan these events (in regards to your allergies).

Event: Family Barbeque

One quintessential summer cottage event is the family barbeque. Barbeques, in and of themselves, are actually pretty safe. The barbequed ingredients are simple, for the most part: steak, hamburgers, sausages, hot-dogs, grilled vegetables, etc. However, some precautions that should be taken. This include checking the ingredients in sausages and hamburgers. If they are bought at a store, they may include different seasonings. So you want to be sure that they are safe for you. In addition, your family members may bring their own foods. Call these people in advance and make sure that they are aware of the severity of your allergy (or allergies). If you do not feel safe eating these foods, avoid eating them. Explain your concern to your family members. Given the severity of your allergy, they should not be offended.

Event: Hiking

Hiking is a fun activity that is easy to plan for. The main allergy “risk-factor” involved with hiking can be trail-mix or other snacks. Do not rely on others to provide snacks for your hike and never eat trail mix packed by others. Take a zip-lock bag and fill it with your favorite snacks that you know are free of your allergen(s). Pack your own water as well. Trail mix is usually filled with nut products. So, again, the safest option is to bring your own snacks. Also, in all cases, make sure that your epinephrine auto-injector is with you at all times. Keep it in a fanny-pack around your waste and tell your hike-partners about your allergy and how to use your auto-injector.

Event: Sleepovers

If you are the organizer of your own sleepover, you have total control over the types of foods served at your party. In this case, you are in an optimal position when it comes to safe food options. You can choose the foods that you like and that you know are safe. Make sure your friends and/or family know that you have a severe allergy and show them that you have an epinephrine auto-injector and how to use it. If you are invited to a sleep-over, let you the organizer know in-advance that you have a severe allergy and that you carry an auto-injector. Read all the ingredients on all the food you consume. One extra precaution that you could take to be extra safe would be to pack a small bag of your favorite snacks so you know that you could turn to a safe source of food if you feel hungry.

Cottage events are very enjoyable! Hopefully you found this advice helpful! These are some fast and easy steps you can take that will
allow you to be safe and to have fun during your next cottage event.

Saverio M.

Cruises And Allergies Take Two: Another Personal Account!

sunset

Traveling with allergies can be a daunting thought. There are many variables that are further out of your control when you are not in your own environment. However, if you plan appropriately, you can still have a great and rewarding vacation.

I have had food allergies since I was one year old and have still had the opportunity to travel internationally. I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean due to the language barrier, although, recently traveling on a cruise ship opened this door. Cruise ships can allow you to travel to a multitude of places with food allergies if you take the necessary precautions.

Here are some things that I have learned about traveling on cruise ships that have made for an easier vacation.

Before you go:

Call the cruise line. It is important to call the cruise line that you plan to travel with. Like airlines, their policies will vary. Ask about the medical facilities on board the ship. I was surprised to learn about the capacity of care the cruise ship that I recently traveled on was capable of. My ship had a doctor and three nurses on board. They essentially had a mini emergency room, which I was told was capable of intubation and administering the medications necessary in the case of an anaphylactic reaction.

Also, ask about the dining facilities. Most cruise ships will have a buffet in addition to a formal dining room where your allergies can best be accommodated. Booking your cruise over the phone can allow for a note to be made on your file identifying your food allergies.

Pack Safe Snacks.  Although there is an abundance of food onboard, bringing safe snacks can be helpful. Between meal times, the main dining room may be closed, leaving you with the buffet as your only option. For times like these, having snacks from home can make your life easier.

Onboard the Ship:

 Arranging Meals. When you first get onboard, it is a good idea to make reservations for your meal at the main dining room. There are multiple options for how you choose to schedule your meals in the main dining rooms. An option allowing you to sit at the same table each night with the same staff will allow for consistency and an easier dining experience. When you first go for supper, you can request to speak to the head waiter, who is typically best able to handle your meals. My waiter would have me pick my meals the night before so that the kitchen could take extra time for preparation. I found the dining staff to be very helpful and cautious about my allergies. The staff all spoke fluent English so there was no language barrier.

Buffet Meals. As I mentioned before, at certain times of the day, the main dining facilities may be closed leaving the buffet as your only option. The staff members at the buffet were very accommodating with my allergies. Getting food directly from the buffet is not safe due to the risk for cross-contamination. When I talked to the staff at the buffet, they were able to prepare a fresh meal for me.

Eating on Shore. I was not comfortable to eat off of the boat. I felt that they were able to manage my needs best on board. Depending upon where you are traveling, there can be major language barriers inhibiting your ability to inform the restaurant about your allergies. I always ensured that I had enough to eat to last me until I would be back to the boat. Bringing snacks from home is one way to know what you are consuming when off the boat.

Cruising can be a great way to travel for both an action packed or relaxing vacation. Explore your options to find a vacation that you will feel comfortable with.

Sara  S.

Eating Out With Allergies

SONY DSC

Eating in restaurants when you have food allergies can be a source of anxiety (especially if you’re in an unfamiliar restaurant). As long as you keep your allergies in mind, you can find ways to eat out safely. When I eat out at a restaurant that I am not familiar with, I often ask if the restaurant has an allergy menu outlining the common allergens found in their meals.

When choosing what I am going to order, I often pick two items in case there is an issue for some reason. I always inform the waiter of my allergies, regardless of whether I have eaten there before, so that the kitchen can be aware and take extra precautions. I personally find it easier if I am the last one in my group to order, since I take longer to order.  After telling the waiter my order, I inform them of my allergies by explaining that I have life-threatening food allergies to my specific allergens.

I let them know that cross contamination could cause a reaction.  I ask them to inform the cooks of my allergies and ask if they can find out if there would be any issues with the meal I ordered based on my allergies. I have an extensive list of allergies. So sometimes, if I am unsure if the waiter got them all, I’ll have them read the list back to me.  If I ever feel uncomfortable, I will ask to speak to the manager because they tend to have more knowledge about what is going on in the kitchen. As long as you take the right precautions, you can safely enjoy a meal out with your family and friends despite having food allergies!

Sara S.

Movie Nights at Home: The Snacker’s Guide

Woman Masked

I recently hosted a Hobbit movie marathon at my house with a few of my Middle-Earth-loving friends. For those unfamiliar with The Hobbit trilogy, it’s essentially three awesome fantasy adventure films based on a single short children’s novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some people say three movies was excessive. I disagree. But that argument can be saved for another time.

A very essential part of this marathon day, and any movie night at home for that matter, is FOOD! If you’re like me, snacks are a big part of the movie watching experience. However, with a food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to be careful what I eat and what the people around me eat. For this reason, I like to involve myself in the snack planning. That way, I can enjoy the movie more as I will be more confident that everything will be safe to eat. As a side note, before I share some of my snack ideas, be sure to clean the surfaces where you will be sitting. If it’s at a friend’s house, offer to clean the couch and nearby tables to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Also, politely ask everyone to wash their hands before handling any food. It’s really not a big deal to ask and your friends will appreciate your diligence.

Here are a few ideas for allergy-friendly snacks for a movie night at home. Please keep in mind your own food allergies while reading through this list and adjust according to your food preferences and requirements.

1) Popcorn. This is a staple food for most movie watchers. I like to buy unpopped kernels so that I can prepare them how I like. If I’m feeling adventurous after popping them, I’ll sprinkle cinnamon on top. Or sometimes butter and salt. If you like spicy foods, chili powder is also a fun popcorn topping. You could also try coconut oil for something different. The possibilities are really endless with popcorn!

2) Veggies and dip. This one takes a little more planning. I like to make sure that I buy the veggies and prepare them myself so that I am confident that there is no cross-contamination risk when chopping them up. As for dip, store bought dips are great. But sometimes I prefer to make my own. Adding spices to a mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt base can make for great dips. Then simply serve and enjoy!

3) Chips. I’m a big chip fan. However, if you are allergic to wheat or any other chip ingredient, the good news is that some companies have found innovative ways to make chips. For example, using beans instead of wheat (very, very tasty!!). You can also make your own using other ingredients. There are hundreds of simple recipes and instructions online or in books describing how to make chips out of bananas, kale, apples, potatoes… pretty much anything! These are great for impressing your friends with something homemade and tasty.

4) Candy. This one is tough to make at home. But I’m sure there are recipes out there somewhere on how to do so. If not, just be sure to read the ingredients twice to ensure that your allergen(s) are not present.

5) Pizza. This is another great food for movie night at home. Just be sure to read ingredients and/or inform the pizza maker about the severity of your allergies. If you feel uneasy about ordering or buying oven-ready pizzas, it’s really simple to make your own. Use a tortilla or a bagel, top it with your favourite ingredients, bake, and share!

6) Other. I will leave this other section for you to fill in with your own ideas. Be creative and safe!

Also, feel free to post comments about your allergy-friendly snack ideas for movie nights at home. I’d love to hear them!

 Dylan B.

Teaching Others How To Use Your Auto-injector

Live_Main Auto Injector

Note: These recommendations apply only to the EpiPen® brand of auto-injector and are not substitutions for learning how to use one from a qualified professional.

Teaching your friends and family about how to use your auto-injector is essential when you are at-risk for Anaphylaxis. If you are ever in a situation where you are unable to administer your auto-injector on your own, it is important that whoever you are with knows how to help you. For that reason, I always make sure that people who I spend a lot of time with know about my allergies, where I keep my auto-injector, and what to do if I have an allergic reaction.

When I teach someone about using an auto-injector, I take it out and let the person hold it to ensure that they understand visually. I personally use the auto-injector and try to keep my instructions as simple as possible using two steps:

1. Hold the auto-injector with the orange tip pointing downwards and remove the blue safety cap by pulling it straight off.

2. Firmly push the orange tip of the pen into the middle of the outside of the individuals thigh and hold for several seconds after hearing a click.

I always instruct the individual that the auto-injector can inject through pants and to immediately call 911 after using the auto-injector.

To ensure that the person understands, you can ask them to explain your instructions back to you. By teaching others about your auto-injector, both you and your friends can feel more comfortable about your allergies.

Sara S.

Temptation and Allergies

Wooden Pier

The spring/summer holiday season is now upon you! The weather is nice, school is done for the year, and you are eager to get out and explore the world.  Usually, when travelling, some feel the need to break out of their daily routines, to let loose, and to let all of the daily “constraints” go. Given that living with allergies does require attention and focus, you may also be tempted to break out of your “allergy-safe” routines. The bottom line is that your health is your most important asset. But having an allergy-safe routine does not need to be a chore. Nor does it have to hamper your enjoyment. Below, I have listed some common “holiday temptations” and ways you can counter each temptation.

Temptation 1: Eating Airplane Food

You are sitting on a plane with your family and friends. You are excited about your vacation and all of the adventures you are about to experience. Because of your excitement, you forgot to pack your own “safe” food for your flight. Your flight is a four-hour-long trek to the Caribbean. So you figure that you can hold-out for that time. Two hours in, everyone around you, including your friends and family are eating airplane food. The food is not all that appetizing. But you start to feel hungry and start seriously thinking about “risking it.”

Compromise:

After having traveled for a number of years with allergies, my biggest piece of advice would be to never eat airplane food. Always bring your own meals. Aside from the fact that most airlines in North America have stopped serving meals on domestic and Caribbean flights, airplane food is not safe. All meals are processed in a central plant, so controlling for specific allergens becomes nearly impossible for the airline. Before you leave, pack a bag of your favorite snacks. Have it with you just in case you get hungry.

Temptation 2: Eating Hotel Food

You have just gotten off a long flight overseas. You are tired and jet-lagged. It is around 9 pm and you are starving. The most convenient option for you at the moment is the hotel restaurant that is currently serving dinner. You are too tired to cook your own food and you find the restaurant alternative tempting. It is fast and easy after all.

Compromise:

Restaurant food can be a toss-up. There are different variables that you have to take into account before eating anything at a restaurant. When travelling, one of the biggest “variables” is the language barrier. When eating at a restaurant, you must communicate the severity of your allergy to restaurant staff and, ideally, the chef. If you communicate with the staff, but you feel as though they do not understanding the severity of your allergy, do not order from that restaurant. One alternative would be to pack ready-made, canned foods with you. If you want food that is quick and easy, this is the safest and easiest alternative.

Temptation 3: All-day excursions

When travelling abroad, one great way to immerse yourself in a new culture is to take part in all-day excursions and tours. One aspect of these excursions that is commonly over-looked is that meals are provided during the tour. The tours usually start early in the morning (7am) and end in the early afternoon or evening. The tours will usually bring you to local restaurants to experience traditional cuisines. You may be tempted to partake in these meals.

Compromise

Planning is always key. The day before the excursion, call the tour operator and see if a meal will be provided. Next, ask the tour operator if they have an allergy policy in place or if others with allergies have taken the tour in the past. Regardless of your answer, always pack your own food with you. Pack something simple like a sandwich, some chips, a safe granola bar, etcetera just in case you need it. When at the restaurant, speak to the staff. Similar to the note above, if you don’t feel as though the staff understands the severity if your allergy, don’t risk it. Eat the food you brought with you.

Also note, that your auto-injector must be kept with you at all times, especially when travelling abroad! This is key to your safety!

Hopefully you find these tips useful. Travelling can be a lot of fun! With the proper planning and precautions, your holidays can be both fun and safe.

Saverio M.

Allergies and Anxiety

Live_Main_Travel

It can be tough growing up with potentially fatal allergies. There just are no two ways about it. When you are in elementary school, usually your parents, teachers, and school staff members have your back and make sure that you are okay. And, when you aren’t in school, your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings look out for you as well. The transition to beginning to deal with your allergies on your own can also be a scary time in the life of someone with serious allergies.

But, because it is something that your parents and others have been preparing you for for years, it isn’t something that you should look at as terrifying. Often, when you reach junior high, your parents will give you a little bit more freedom. And this includes the freedom to begin to take care of and manage different situations in which you might come into contact with your allergen(s). But, as you remember, you knew that you had the tools to do all of this for yourself. You also knew that your parents were there if you ever needed them.

When you get into high school and, more so, university, the expectation is that you should be able to handle managing your allergies for yourself. Here are a few tips to always remember and keep you alert and prepared for all situations. One, and this can’t be emphasized enough, always take your auto-injector with you no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that you will be eating. Bring it anyway and have it on you not just nearby. Second, make sure someone with you knows how to properly administer your auto-injector should something happen. Last, but by no means least, if you think you are having a reaction, use your auto-injector. You are better safe than sorry!!

Aaron S.

 

Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies

Waitress

When talking to other people about my allergies, a common topic that comes up is how hard it must be to eat out at restaurants.  For the most part, however, I have had nothing but positive experiences when it comes to eating out. I will admit that there have been some less than positive incidents, for example where it was not detected that the menu item I ordered contained food allergens. And only once did a restaurant refuse to serve me because of my allergies. While these are not positive events, they for the most part are preventable by having my own routine for how I inform servers about my allergies along with the responsibility I expect to see from the restaurant for serving someone with allergies.

The expectations I have when eating at a restaurant include always making sure I get confirmation that the chef is going to be informed about my allergies and that whatever I ordered is going to be prepared in an area where no cross-contamination will occur.  When I order food, I also expect waiters or waitresses to be investigative to ensure that the meal I am ordering is actually free of any possible allergens. One of the incidents where I had an allergic reaction in a restaurant occurred because the waitress misread the ingredient label for a veggie burger, which actually contained egg.  Therefore, I always prefer when a restaurant has a binder that contains a list of what ingredients are in what menu items. Since this is not always possible at every restaurant, I also find that it is a good sign when a waiter/waitress comes back to the table to verify ingredients with me— as this signals they actually have been looking into the food I have ordered.

Overall it is my hope that restaurants will be very accommodating when serving someone with allergies since they want to encourage business but also don’t want to trigger an allergic reaction in one of their patrons.  The incident where a restaurant refused to serve me occurred at a restaurant in Toronto. This restaurant had all of their food shipped in from an outside supplier and could not verify all the ingredients in their food and then could not guarantee any food items were definitely allergen free.  This was obviously a frustrating incident. But it was the right call since no food item could fully assured to be safe. Some incidents where restaurants get ‘brownie’ points for their service in regards to managing food allergies include when the chef comes out and personally talks to me about menu options and what is safe for me.

This exceeds my expectations for eating out and completely reassures me that my meal will be safe. Furthermore, the more flexible a restaurant is with altering their menu options to make safe meal choices also puts a restaurant in my good books.  This gesture is obviously much more work for a restaurant kitchen but is a testament to their commitment to providing an allergy- safe restaurant experience for their guests. It is a shared partnership between myself and the restaurant I eat out at to ensure that the food I eat is allergy friendly. For the most part, however, I must commend restaurants for the steps they take to make my experiences eating out safe and enjoyable. What have your experiences been like eating out at restaurants with allergies?

Caitlyn P. 

The Odd, The Strange, And The Weird

Full length of young men and woman holding a billboard

We’ve all had strange or odd questions asked of us. But something about having a food allergy brings out the truly odd, strange, and downright weird questions from people. Mind you, I’ve never shied away from helping people around me or those who inquire to understand food allergies better. In fact, I applaud most for taking time and asking a question so they can have a better understanding of the severity of living with a food allergy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get some really weird questions. Over the years, I’ve heard three main questions asked again and again and, each time, it still strikes me as very, very, odd.

Here are the three strangest questions I’ve been asked and the responses I’ve crafted over the years:

  • Are they Contagious?

This one is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve been asked this question since I entered Kindergarten. At first, this question used to hurt my feelings. It almost made me feel like I shouldn’t be around others. It’s taken me awhile to overcome this stigma and come up with a response that is isn’t spiteful but informative.

Response: No, of course not. A food allergy is a bad reaction to certain foods your body rejects. It is not like a cold that can be caught by having contact with someone. My food allergy affects only me; but you can help keep me safe by not eating or bringing my allergens around me.

  • I can’t see it?

Another favorite… Just because someone can’t see an aliment or sickness, it does not mean that it does not exist. I, much like many others, have been pestered about the realness of my food allergies since I was old enough to explain them. Instead of getting angry I’ve found that the best way explain food allergies is to be understanding and helpful.

Response: Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Food allergies are a very serious matter and, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a big deal. If I were to come into contact with my allergen then it will become very visually apparent and we don’t want that do we? By me staying away from my allergen, I am able to keep it under control and avoid having a reaction.

  • Can you eat this? How about this? Or that?

The endless stream of foods being paraded in front of you each accompanied with its own “Can you eat this?” There’s no easy way to deal with this and it’s easy to get frustrated or hurt. A response for this can be tactful and informative but mostly I choose to be direct.

Response: I’m not sure. I’d have to know more about its production and ingredients. I’ll let you know what I can eat, don’t worry.

We have to remember that, if people are inquiring about our food allergies, they care and want to know more and we can help them better understand. Having some answers to common questions or extremely odd questions in your back pocket can help you better cope with any situation and help them learn a little more about a serious subject.

I’m curious to hear your odd questions about food allergies! So please feel free to share.

Arianne K.