Tag Archives: Saverio M.

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.

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 Brunch

breakfast picture

Sunday brunch has become a quintessential tradition for many families across Canada. Aside from providing a means of reconnecting with family and friends, brunch is usually a meal arranged at external venues and restaurants. Living with allergies usually limits the options you have when it comes to eating-out. One of the biggest problems with buffets, or meals that are prepared by someone other than yourself or your immediate family, is the risk of cross-contamination that arises when multiple different dishes are prepared at once. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  1. What to eat?

If you decide to eat-out, always do your homework. ALWAYS!  What I mean by that is be aware of where you are eating and how your food is being prepared. If the brunch is at an external venue or restaurant, call the venue a day or two in advance to see if the restaurant has an allergy policy in place. That way you will know whether or not the establishment is allergen friendly and what specific foods you should stay away from. If brunch is being served at a relative’s house, follow the same procedure – make sure you always ask and remind your relatives (if they already don’t know) about how severe your allergy is and about the risks of cross-contamination. Being at a relative’s house can actually work in your favour. You can ask to see the ingredients used and how the food was prepared. You have more control over the situation. In any event, opt to eat foods that are “simple” (no creams or fancy sauces). Typically, the simpler the food is the less ingredients you have to worry about. This can reduce the chances for cross-contamination.

  1. Seeking alternatives

What happens if you are sitting at your table but you just don’t feel comfortable eating any of the food prepared? This can be a tricky and uncomfortable situation (especially if you are at a relative’s house). They may think that you don’t trust them. The way to get around this is through compromise. If you are at a restaurant, and there is an omelette that you want, but you can’t have because there are too many ingredients to keep track of, ask the chef to prepare another omelette with less ingredients or just get a hard-boiled egg (this is the safest option). Make sure that the chef is aware of any cross-contamination issues. They should have a good idea about which ingredients are safe and which are not. Ultimately, it is up to you. Go with your gut intuition. If you don’t feel safe, do NOT feel forced to eat something. If you are at a family member’s house, and you just don’t feel safe eating the food prepared, politely pull whoever is cooking the food aside and explain how you feel. Explain that your allergy is a very serious matter and is potentially lethal. In most cases, your family should understand and accommodate you by preparing something that is completely safe. These cases can be sensitive. But your health and safety trumps everything else. You have the right to feel safe!

Overall, these are some simple tips you can follow.  Following these tips should eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty you may feel during your next brunch outing.

Saverio M.

A Night at the Movies with Allergies – Take Two

Woman with Hat

To religious movie-goers, a night out at the movies represents all things fun and exciting. There’s a lot to look forward to. Whether it involves touching-base with friends or waiting in anticipation to see your favorite actor play his or her roll on the big screen, movie nights usually equate to fun times. Having anaphylaxis does not have to limit your fun night out. Here are a few tips that you can keep in mind during your next movie night.

  1. Before arriving at the movie theatre…

One of the most important things to do, regardless of the outing you are attending, is to let those around you know that (a) you have a severe allergy (and what you have an allergy to) and (b) that you have an auto-injector. If your friends don’t know how to use an auto-injector or what an auto-injector is, give them a brief demonstration of how to use it and where you store it in the event that you have a reaction. Having your friends be aware of your allergy is crucial to your safety at any event. They will know exactly how to respond. So, in sum, make sure that your friends are aware of your allergy.

  1. While at the movie theatre

Whenever I go out to the movies, my friends always rush to grab some snacks before the movie begins. Eating-out with anaphylaxis is always tricky – you have to be extra-careful about which snacks you choose. Here are some tips you can follow to snack safely:

  • Always choose snacks that are pre-packaged by a brand-name company (not by the movie theatre). There should be a detailed list of ingredients on the back with “may contain” warnings. Preferably, choose snacks that you have tried before so you know that you are safe.
  • If you really love popcorn, bring some along with you. You don’t know what oil is used and how the popcorn has been handled by the theatre staff. The risk of cross-contamination is a lot higher with popcorn that is freely handled.
  • If you don’t feel like eating at all, but you still want to ‘participate’ with your peers, drinks are usually a safe option. Always try to opt for bottled or canned drinks – preferably water, soda or juice. Some coffees and teas are sold in bakeries that sell other baked goods that contain common allergens (ie. peanuts and tree-nuts). So the safest thing to drink is something that is sealed.

In summary, these are some simple tips that you can follow during your next outing to the theatre. Don’t let your allergies ruin a fun night out with your friends. Just be aware of what you are eating and make sure your friends are aware of your allergies.

Saverio M.

 

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Buffets and Allergies: Staying Safe

vacation

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

Step 1: Do your homework.

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

Step 2: Make a plan.

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

Step 3: Choosing what to eat.

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

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

Saverio M.