An unexpected Hospital visit

The last thing I expected to find myself doing on a Saturday night was sitting in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The thing is, I’m not even from St. John’s. I’m here for a month long summer program at Memorial University, where my day is planned to the minute and this was definitely not scheduled! So what happened?

It was Indian food night (my favourite!) I LOVE spicy food but I’m always very careful when ordering it to avoid menu items with nuts, since I’m allergic. I also make a point of letting the staff know about the severity of my allergies. This time however, it wasn’t me doing the ordering. The food had been catered, and I checked with the program staff to ensure nothing contained nuts, which they assured me was indeed the case.

There were no labels on any of the foods so I had no idea what I actually ate, apart from lots of Naan bread. Something didn’t agree with me and I felt it immediately. My throat felt thick and weird, but I just attributed that to the effect of the spices in the food. I tried to calm myself down because I was assured there weren’t any nuts in the food and I trusted the word of the program staff.

When I got back to my room a little while later, I didn’t feel any better. In fact, I felt worse: nauseous and bloated. After telling one of the program assistants how I was feeling, I took an anti-histamine and decided to lie down. After about an hour, I began to feel itchy and realized I was developing hives. At this point, I still had not given myself my auto-injector because the reaction wasn’t one I was prepared for. I have always been told to be aware of an itchy tongue and swelling of the lips, but I didn’t have either of these symptoms, which threw me off. Eventually, one of my friends came to check on me and told the program assistants that I did not look good. They quickly took me to the hospital across the street where it turns out I was, in fact, having an allergic reaction. To what? Who knows! The doctors in the emergency room gave me an IV of anti-histamine, a steroid, and a medication to calm the nausea. I felt better almost immediately and watched as my hives slowly disappeared. The doctor said that in retrospect, I should have given myself my auto-injector because by the time I would have felt like I was actually having an allergic reaction, it may have been too late for me to do it myself.

I learned a lot from this experience, even though I thought I knew everything there was for a teen to know about her allergies. The truth is, every reaction is different, and some take hours to progress – like mine that night. On top of that, they don’t always have the same symptoms. I’ve always had an itchy tongue when having an allergic reaction, but not that night. What I know now is that it is absolutely vital to ALWAYS carry your auto-injector with you, and to ALWAYS wear your MedicAlert bracelet. More importantly, ALWAYS go to the hospital if you don’t feel right, especially after eating a suspicious food. And don’t worry – I felt no pain from my treatment at the hospital, only relief, so there is no need to be scared of what will happen to you there. The medical professionals will save your life, which is a feeling that is incomparable!

As for Indian food, I’ll probably stay away from it for a while, but I don’t want this incident to stop me from living a full life. It just reminds me to always be alert for my allergens, and to listen to my body when it’s telling me something isn’t right. I still enjoy Indian food, but now I know that it is a possible trigger for me and I must be extra careful when ordering it.

I hope that by sharing my experience it will remind you to always take your allergies seriously and get to the hospital when necessary. I stayed calm through the entire experience and tried to think rationally – this can really help when you’re unsure about whether you’re having a reaction or not. Never let anyone tell you that you’re just being panicky either – if YOU think you’re having an allergic reaction, then you need to get to the hospital, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Stay safe everyone!

Hannah L.

Food Allergies at Weddings

a wedding pic

I get so excited when I receive a wedding invitation in the mail. I love hearing that my friends or families have found that special someone and I love joining in on the celebration!

However, there is usually one slip of paper that comes along with the invitation that brings my thoughts away from the ceremony, the speeches and the party. I’m talking about that slip that asks you to indicate your food selection for the reception.

I love seeing a few options on this slip, as there are usually a couple options I can cross off right away. I am allergic to seafood, and fish is usually one of those options. That typically leaves me analyzing the meat and vegetarian dishes. More information is always better, but sometimes it just says meat with a special sauce, or vegetables with certain fixings. What’s in that special sauce? What on earth is a fixing? With my long list of multiple allergies, I like details!

I have had experiences where this slip says “Please indicate any allergies or intolerances”, which gives me a little bit of comfort knowing this information should make it to the catering staff. The bride and groom to-be have a lot on their plate in the months ahead, but it is acceptable to bring up the food situation in conversation prior to the big day. Bring it up casually by saying “I love that there was a tick box for allergens with the wedding invitations”. Or “I didn’t see any mention of meals for special diets, should I get in touch with the catering company in advance”. Make it easy for them and offer to be a part of the solution if you foresee a problem.

Fast forward to the wedding itself which is usually half a year away. The wedding goes well and you are overjoyed for the happy couple! Then…you start racking your brain trying to remember what food you ordered for the reception. Did you mention your allergens on the food order form?

At this point, it’s always a great idea to connect with the catering staff directly. In my experience, they go out of their way to answer your questions and make sure you have a safe meal. After all, weddings are a big business and they want all of the guests satisfied. Hopefully they can confirm for you that you have a special plated meal, or that the regular meal will be okay.

I have gone to weddings where the catering staff found ME before I could find THEM! They wanted to let me know that I would be having a special meal free of my allergens. I love that!

Magically Allergy Free

At the end of the day, you are there to celebrate love and marriage. If you are uncomfortable with the food or have other issues with the catering, try to solve it with the caterer’s supervisor or the wedding planner – try to keep the newlyweds out of it so they can stay focused on celebrating. If all else fails, you can always make a toast at the end of the night…in your toaster at home. J

Avoiding Allergic Reactions While Eating Out on Vacation

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. I recently travelled to Cuba with my family and had a wonderful trip! The trip was a great opportunity to write a blog post as I encountered a buffet on a number of occasions and noticed many dangers that could occur for someone with food allergies when eating at a buffet. One interesting observation I made that I have noted throughout this post is that buffets are problematic, not only for people with allergies, but also for people who do not suffer from allergies.

cuba

This was my fourth time traveling to Cuba and I would most definitely consider myself a seasoned Cuba traveler. I know the ins and outs of staying safe and healthy while at a resort in the country. I often hear patrons complain about becoming ill, but I can proudly say I felt great from the moment I arrived until the moment I left as I played it safe with my food allergies. As I ate my safe meals, I couldn’t help but notice other customers visiting a buffet and noted some of the unique risks.

  1. Individual sets of tongs were used for different vessels containing different foods. These were then used to place food on a plate that already had food on it, and to push around various food items on patrons’ This poses a risk to allergy sufferers due to potential cross-contamination.
  1. Patrons used their hands to pick up food from vessels. Not only is this a serious health hazard, but the hands could have been in contact with an allergen prior to reaching into the container.
  1. Children laid both hands directly on top of plate piles and then reached for an entirely different plate. This is the same issue as in number 2.
  1. People would place food items that were on their plate back into vessels. This poses a risk of cross-contamination.
  1. People would use their plates multiple times rather than using a new plate for each new helping of food. This can be a health hazard and there is a risk of cross-contamination because the plate is potentially contaminated with allergens.

chinese food

There was no shortage of opportunity for me to be at risk of suffering from an allergic reaction.

For myself, I worked with the restaurant staff and felt comfortable with a few food stations and can share these tips:

  • I avoided all deserts. Nuts are commonly found in desserts and in the dessert section.
  • I avoided unidentifiable foods. If it is not clear what ingredients are in a dish than consuming it would be an unnecessary risk.
  • I selected food that was being cooked in front of me. If the food is cooked in front of me and it is a relatively simple dish such as grilled salmon, I consider it to be relatively safe. I can see what ingredients are included in the dish and how it is prepared. There is relatively less risk that patrons touched the food with either their hands or random tongs. I am weary of things that are cooked off site that do not have proper labelling.

At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself whether it’s worth trying to find safe food at a risky buffet, or whether choosing a more traditional restaurant is a better option for you.

For more information on observing at a restaurant to stay safe please refer to my post at http://whyriskit.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/asking-and-observing-when-dining-out/.

The One Time I Did Not Ask About Nuts In a Restaurant

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. Recently I was hosting an event that I was planning on presenting at, but my time to speak was preceded by a trip to the emergency room.

I have never had an anaphylactic reaction but I do know my allergy to nuts is severe enough that ingesting small amounts of the allergen may trigger a life-threatening reaction. The event I hosted included a variety of food options that at first glance contained no nuts of any sort. On the tables there were vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas as well as meat and cheese trays.

Leading up to the presentation, I was somewhat nervous and wasvery focused on what I was going to say. I was somewhat hungry but I avoided food, not because of the risk of allergens, because I was very focused on my presentation. One of the people working with me handed me a slice of vegetarian pizza. I would normally ask a server, manager or owner about nuts but instead I quickly ate it and continued to work on the points I wanted to hit in my presentation. This may have been the first time I have ever forgot to ask about nuts because I was so focused on something else. Pizza, especially in a restaurant compared to a fast food chain, is a dish that one must always be careful with because of the potential for there to be nuts in pesto.

NewYorkSlice

Within a minute of finishing the pizza I felt tingling in the sides of my mouth, throat and lips. The feeling was very similar to what one would feel when they are getting their mouth frozen at the dentist. The cause quickly dawned on me. There must have been pesto on the pizza. I quickly told one of my fellow organizers that I was sure I was having a reaction and would likely have to leave for the hospital. I then found theowner to ask about nuts. The owner confirmed that therewere nuts in the pesto that was on the pizza I ate but a very minute amount. Although the reaction was not progressing very fast, I quickly had one of my co-workers drive me to the hospital emergency room because this is an experience that I have never had and did not want to take any chances.

Emergency

On my way I called my family to tell them where I was going and they said they would meet me there. Once I arrived at the hospital, I told the emergency staff of the situation and they assessed my status. I did not need immediate assistance but it was important that if I did, I was in a place that would be able to handle the reaction quickly. I had my auto-injector with me and I was ready to use it, but luckily it was not needed. The reaction did not progress any further than the minor swelling which eventually subsided after being given an antihistamine. I was grateful of my co-worker for getting me there quickly, as well as my family for coming to make sure that I was okay.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: it is critical to always ask the staff about the food you are eating at their restaurant. This is a priority above all else.

Beauty Products with Allergens

Originally posted on Adults with Allergies Blog:

Portrait of beautiful woman with blue eyes. Isolated on white background

Summer is a great time to try out new kinds of makeup and fun color combinations. But a lot of people aren’t aware of all the different ingredients that go into makeup. This is especially important for people with allergies. An allergy to a makeup product might manifest as redness, itchiness, hives or blisters; so it’s important to know what’s in your makeup.

One of the most surprising ingredients in makeup I’ve come across is fish. It’s usually listed as “pearlescence” in the ingredients list (probably because no one wants to put fish on their face). It’s found mostly in lipstick and is used to make it shiny, like the scales on a fish. You can find more details about it at the following links:

http://animals.howstuffworks.com/fish/herring-info.htm

http://www.businessinsider.com/15-surprising-things-that-contain-animal-products-2014-3

http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/cdc/pearl-essence.php

If you’re allergic to fish and want to be safe, there are companies like Smashbox that don’t use any animal byproducts in…

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A New Blog for Young Adults with Allergies

House-mates

Anaphylaxis Canada is happy to announce their newest blog for allergic adults located at http://www.adultswithallergies.com.

The blog covers situations that allergic adults can appreciate such as food allergies and relationships, allergies in the workplace, alcohol ingredient labelling, international travel, and lifestyle articles such as food allergies and pop culture.

The Adults with Allergies blog is funded by a grant from TD Securities. Anaphylaxis Canada is appreciative of their support of our youth program and the opportunity to create resources for teens and young adults.

The blog, hosted on WordPress, allows users to follow/subscribe to the blog. If you are an allergic adult and interested in joining the writing team, please get in touch with Anaphylaxis Canada at http://www.adultswithallergies.com/contact.

Read more about the new blog at http://www.anaphylaxis.ca/en/media/hot_topics.html?news_id=72

Going to Summer Camp with Allergies

Camp is a very fun way to enjoy summer, but for those of us with food allergies it may at first seem a little intimidating. If you manage it correctly however, it can definitely be a lot easier. Today more and more camps are becoming peanut and nut free. This is a great step to solve nut allergy issues, but there is still concern for all the other allergies. 800px-Canoagemcanada

Most kids start off attending day camp. With allergies this can be a bit tricky, but with simple communication, things should work out okay. Some camps ask all the kids to bring their lunch. If that is the case, then treat it like you would school. Sometimes however, the camp provides lunch. To prepare for this before camp starts, talk to the kitchen staff and ask for a menu or meal plan. Talk about what is in each dish, and if you or your child can have it or what else they can make for you or your child. If you cannot come up with anything to eat then maybe consider bringing your own lunch. In terms of the snacks that the camp may provide, talk to the camp just like you did for lunch to try and find a solution.

Sleep away camp can be scary for any child, but especially children with food allergies. Unlike day camp, you cannot pack every single meal, so you will have to do some real planning before camp. Talk to the camp, and maybe have the head of the kitchen come over. Talk about what type of food is usually safe for you, and what type of food is not. Also talk about what simple dishes you like to eat. Although you can’t bring up all of your meals, you can bring up some homemade food. Often, sleep away camps will have a rough menu of what meals they will serve. Talk about what type of food you could have as alternatives for the dishes you can’t eat. When you go up to camp, make sure there is somebody you can talk to as well as make sure you know where to get your food. Most camps will have a salad bar, so you can always go and take some salad, if this is a safe option. Camps will also usually serve plain pasta, which you can eat if that is also safe for you. Once at camp you will better understand what

there is for you to safely eat. . 792px-Camp_fire

Both day and sleep away camp are so much fun, and there is no reason that you should miss out just because of your allergies. Remember the most important part of camp is to have fun and remember your auto-injector! Have a great summer everyone!

Taking Control of Your Own Allergies

As a teenager or a young adult, taking control of your allergies can be tough. You have to do all the things your parents did for you when you were younger. This ranges from calling a restaurant in advance to booking your own doctor appointments. Inevitably, this involves a lot of talking to people, sometimes arguing with them, inconveniencing them, and standing up for yourself.

One of the hardest parts of taking control is communicating with other people. These people can be your friends, a restaurant waiter, or a flight stewardess, and they all need to be informed of your allergies. If you’re shy or introverted, this can be especially difficult. It’s scary to wonder if that person will judge you, roll their eyes, laugh at you, etc. It’s really best to get used to this anxiety while you’re young, because you’ll have to deal with people’s reactions for the rest of your life. I tried a bunch of different communication strategies before finding one that worked for me. Scaring people by telling them they could kill you tends to freak them out, but down-playing the severity of your allergies can lead to situations which put you in danger.

Asking for accommodations can be scary as well. It sucks to have to ask a group of people to rearrange their plans so you can go to a restaurant with them, but if they’re really your friends they probably want you to join them and be safe. Personally, I find talking to waiters to be the hardest. Most waiters are accommodating, but sometimes if they’re really busy they might brush you off or dismiss you. If you don’t feel like they’re taking you seriously, ask for another waiter. There’s nothing more important than your safety. You’re the only one who is responsible for your health, so if you feel like the waiters are wishy-washy, ask to speak to a manager or the chef.

One of the more uncomfortable conversations you’ll have to have will be with your girlfriend/boyfriend. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and probably kissing them, it’s important that they know all about your allergies and how to handle them. They might have to watch what they eat if they’ll be seeing you that day, or brush their teeth and waiting an extended period of time before coming over. The unfortunate truth is that some people are not willing to do this. These are not the people you want to date, no matter how cute they are. Stand up for yourself, and if they don’t care about your health, move on.

Finally, be okay with messing up sometimes. You might forget your auto-injector at home one day and have to run back and get it, or forget to renew a prescription and have to run to the pharmacy at midnight. These things happen, and they’re part of the process of growing up and taking control. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes so you don’t make them again.