My Wake-up Call

Since developing my food allergies at thirteen I have had to use an auto-injector several times, but there is one reaction that sticks out in my memory the most. I was in grade eleven at the time and was going out for lunch with friends during a typical school day. Sometimes with food allergies, you don’t want to be different than your peers and want to feel like you can do everything that they can.

chinese foodMy friends wanted to go out for Chinese food and I completely went ahead with the plans without even thinking about possible allergens or the precautions I needed to take. It was completely irresponsible and one of my biggest mistakes. For the most part, I was responsible with my food allergies, but I never realized how serious they actually were. I devoured my delicious Chinese food with my girlfriends not even knowing what was about to happen. By the time we arrived back at the school I began to feel the familiar feelings of anaphylaxis that I knew too well. Before I knew it my teacher was administering my auto-injector, followed by a second dose as symptoms worsened. As the ambulance raced down the highway they gave me a third dose and I knew things were bad.

As I lay on the stretcher regret and guilt came over me. I had put my life at risk all for one meal with friends because I didn’t want to be different and worry about my allergies. Thankfully, once I arrived at the emergency room my symptoms slowly subsided. It was really a close call where I learned many valuable lessons.

I really don’t mean to scare people with this story, but the fact is, it scared me and want others to know that situations like this are preventable. Anaphylaxis is very serious, but with a little bit of effort and initiative you can do everything that your peers can, safely and effectively. This reaction was my wake up call. Since then I have checked labels, informed restaurant staff, planned ahead, and been responsible for my health and safety. Less than a month after this reaction, I became involved with Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) and have learned a lot about allergies and myself since then. Being able to share my experiences and help others has been an amazing experience. To conclude, use this story as a wakeup call, don’t wait for a life-threatening situation to occur to realize the severity. Stand up, be responsible and be safe!

Allergens and Language Barriers

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            So you have food allergies and you’re thinking about going on vacation to a foreign country…but the only hiccup in your plans is the language barrier! Well you’ve come to the right place.

A few summers ago I went on a trip to an island in Mexico named Cozumel. I was taking a summer course there so I was surrounded by my peers (aka: no parents!!) This meant that I had to take the necessary precautions before leaving so that my parents felt confident enough to let me travel on my own. Since my Spanish fluency encompassed not much more than “hello, goodbye, and thank you,” I was going to have to do some research on how to communicate to the locals about my food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

I decided to purchase a handheld Spanish-English digital translator. You can find them online for less than $30 so it is not a huge investment. Or there is always the good old translation dictionary if you like taking your time. Another option is to bring along your phone and download a translation app before you go. That said, you have to be 100% sure that the Internet will work on your phone in another country, and that you are prepared to pay for international data charges. I most definitely wasn’t prepared to do that!

The only problem with translation devices is that they often don’t include many allergen words. And you can’t always rely on a computer to get your point across with something that is potentially life threatening. I did some research on google was able to find a company that actually makes allergy translation cards that can fit in your pocket! I was lucky enough to have a close family friend who was fluent in Spanish. I sent her a few sentences explaining my condition and she translated them for me. Next I found a “nut-free” symbol on the web and pasted it beside the text. I printed out a bunch of copies and laminated them at my local office supplies store. I am not going to lie, they looked pretty snazzy! So whether it be a website or a relative, there are plenty of ways to get a comprehensive translation that you can rely on. Just a word of caution though, don’t use a translation website because the final product often won’t make sense. For something as serious as food allergies, I would always invest a little bit more time and money.

My parents turned out to be thrilled with my idea and luckily they agreed to let me travel. While in Cozumel, I carried my auto-injector and translation cards everywhere I went.  Whenever at a restaurant, I would hand the server a card and tell him to show it to the chef as well. Best of all, I didn’t have a single reaction while away!


Drinking with Allergies

*This article is meant for those who are legally allowed to drink alcohol, and as a “heads up” for teens of things to consider when they are of legal drinking age.

 

When I was 18, I took a bartending course and learned all about the different types of alcohols and cocktails. I was surprised to see how many drinks contained common allergens. According to Health Canada, any alcohol (except beer) that contains a priority allergen, gluten, or added sulfites, has to state that somewhere on the bottle. In my experience, companies are still catching up to that regulation, so you might have to do a little searching on the label or on the Internet to really find out what’s in a drink. Here is a short list of some cocktails and drinks that include common allergens:

Nuts

  • Certain
  • Certain liquors
  • Certain gins
  • Cocktails: Godfather, Alabama Slammer, Amaretto Sour, Blueberry Tea

Fish

  • Pretty much any cocktail that contains the words Bloody, Red, Mary or Caesar: Bloody Mary, Bloody Caesar, Red Zombie (contain Worcestershire sauce)

Egg

  • Eggnog, Tom and Jerry, Golden Fizz

Milk

  • Brown Cow, Blind Russian, White Russian, Brandy Alexander, Coco Cognac, Sombrero, Grasshopper, Pina Colada

I’ve worked at clubs, hotels, and restaurants, and these are a few things I think every person with allergies should know about most bartenders:

  • From my experience, when we don’t know how to make a specific cocktail and are too busy to look it up, we tend to wing it. Or, if we’re feeling creative, we might modify the recipe. This means that even if you know a certain cocktail is usually safe for you, there’s always a chance it’s not.
  • If it’s a really busy night and we’re making a lot of drinks using a cocktail shaker, the shaker is usually only rinsed under water for a few seconds before being used for the next drink. This means that residue from the last drink might still be present on the shaker or on the cap. If you’re at a bar and can see that the bartender is super busy, I recommend sticking with drinks that don’t require a shaker, like a simple vodka soda.
  • If you’re allergic to any kind of fruit, never drink anything that includes “punch”. Most of the time, punch is just a mixture of a bunch of different fruit juices, like apple, pineapple, orange, strawberry-kiwi, grapefruit, etc.
  • Tip well! If a bartender remembers you as a good tipper, they’re more likely to be amenable to your requests. For example, if you know you can’t have Beefeater and request Tanqueray instead, a bartender that likes you will be more likely to help you out. It is still important however to ensure bartenders are aware of your allergies when ordering!

To sum it all up, be vigilant and be safe! Communicating with a bartender in a loud and busy setting can be tricky, so when in doubt, stick with simple drinks. Don’t let yourself get peer-pressured into trying your friend’s drink, or taking shots of an unknown drink because the whole group is doing it. You can still drink and have a great time while keeping yourself safe. Be sure that the friends you go out with know about your allergies and where you keep your epinephrine. Most importantly, have fun!

Register Now! “Teens Talk Allergies” on May 10th, 2014

Anaphylaxis Canada Teen Workshop

Register now for this interactive half-day morning session for youth with food allergies will be filled with open discussions, group activities, games, prizes and teen presentations on key topics. Members of Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) and Program Coordinator, Kyle Dine, will lead this session.

The workshop is open to all youth with food allergies between the ages of 13-21 years. It’s a great opportunity to meet new friends, share experiences, and learn how others have managed their allergies in different situations. Those 18 years of age and older are welcome to join the afternoon Annual Community Conference session “Managing Food Allergies: Working together for a safer future”, at no additional cost.

Please note that lunch is NOT provided.

This session is limited to youth ages 13 – 21. 

Parental permission is required for all youth between 13 and 17 years old.

Please print, complete and sign the parental permission form on page 2, then submit it to Anaphylaxis Canada by fax to 416-785-0458 or by email to info@anaphylaxis.ca

DATE/TIME: Saturday, May 10, 2014, 8:30am – 12:00noon
Doors open: 8:00am for Registration

PLACE: Delta Hotel

Room: Chocolate Ballroom – Section 1 (Second Floor)
50 East Valhalla Drive, Markham, ON L3R 0A3
Tel: 905-477-2010
Complimentary parking

COST: $20/person

Double Checking with Wait Staff

Originally when I was planning to write this blog, I thought that I would write some tips on how to keep safe with allergies when going out. However, since then I have gone out and had my own close call. Luckily, it didn’t end in a reaction, but it could have very well happened.

I was coming home from a skiing trip and we were staying in a hotel in Ottawa for the night. We were all very hungry and had no food to eat, so we decided to go out. We asked the front desk about restaurants in the area, and like always, being the only one with food allergies in my family, I got to choose the restaurant. I decided to go to a restaurant chain that I had eaten at before, although I had never been to this current location.

When we got to the restaurant the first thing I did was tell the waitress about my allergies, and that they were life-threatening. She didn’t seem to do much but nod her head. To be safe, as I am allergic to mustard, I usually go with pizza or pasta, but I always check just in case. This time I ordered plain pasta with rosé sauce. I asked her if she could check with the kitchen to make sure the food was safe and she said that she was sure it was okay. I didn’t feel comfortable with that since waiters and waitresses wouldn’t always know every ingredient in every dish in the restaurant. I also ordered a side dish for my meal and the waitress did the same thing so I really didn’t feel safe.

Waitress

After my salad came with a dressing that I couldn’t eat on the side (which ended up spilling!), my parents told me I should ask to speak to the manager. I said that I didn’t want to make a fuss, but my parents told me that if I didn’t ask and had a reaction, I would be making more of a fuss. You should never be worried to ask to speak to the manager, you are not making a fuss. Remember it is your life on the line. After the manager came over he went into the kitchen, got me a new salad, and checked to make sure all my dishes were okay. Luckily, they were all safe and my meal was good.

After we finished our meal the waitress asked us if we wanted dessert. Since I’m allergic to peanuts, I usually don’t get dessert. I said I don’t think I’m going to have any, and she responded by saying that none of the desserts have peanuts or nuts in it. I told her that I would look at the menu if she could come back. Sure enough, when I opened the dessert menu, the first item was peanut butter layered chocolate cake. The desserts definitely didn’t have any peanuts in them. LOL. ;)

I was lucky that I didn’t end up having a reaction. The key is to always make sure you feel safe, even if you have an inexperienced waiter. You shouldn’t, however, let your allergies stop you from going out!

Twenty Five First Allergy Dates

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To be clear, I’m not saying that I’ve been on twenty five first dates to be able to share my experiences from. What I am saying is that I’ve been on twenty four first dates. With that being said, I’m willing to share my tips and hopefully you learn a thing or two from them! The following is just a few of many, many different ways dating can be handled when you have a life-threatening allergy. Try to use these tips and stories as insights into making your own unique style of dating!

  1. Be yourself- no one is more awesome than you, so let your qualities shine through!
  2. Tell your date about your allergy early on. If they are interested in the awesome person you are, they won’t judge you for it.
  3. Bring up your allergy casually. With technology being what it is, most dates are planned through texting these days so why not use this to your advantage! Play a fun fact or question game. Ask about favourite desserts or meals and tell your date what you’re allergic to this way. Or, you can ask about three unique features about them and they may ask you back! You may find they are very interested in hearing about your allergy!
  4. Tell it as it is. “I have an allergy, it is serious if I come in contact with my allergen, do you understand?”
  5. Offer assistance. The worst thing you can do is make your date feel awkward about your allergy. Offer to help him/her adjust to your lifestyle.
  6. Try not to be afraid of telling your date about your allergy. If they like you, they will understand and be happy that you shared it with them.
  7. Answer their questions or concerns honestly.
  8. Prepare ahead of time! Even if the date is a spontaneous flurry of events, try to prepare by calling restaurants and venues in advance to go through the menu with a manager or chef.
  9. Remind or inform the staff at restaurants about the severity of your allergy.
  10. Ask, then kiss. If your date has eaten your allergen that day, don’t risk it! Hopefully you’ve already mentioned your allergy to your date before, but if not, now might be an opportune time!
  11. Shower. That’s a given.
  12. Brush your teeth. Every date loves good breath.
  13. Keep your auto-injector on you at all times.
  14. Teach your date about your auto-injector and let them know where you keep it.
  15. Compromise. This is a great general dating tip but it can also be applied to your allergy. If your date/significant other relies on your allergen for their own dietary needs, compromise and set some ground rules of when it is safe and when it is not safe to be eaten around you.
  16. Have fun!
  17. See Tip #10.
  18. Smile.
  19. Pick a fun and safe first date location. I like to plan surprise dates but I always stick to places I know and trust to help shift most of my focus to the dating experience rather than my allergy. Of course I always double-check but familiarity with an allergy-safe place can be key.
  20. Wash your hands! This is a good hygienic habit but it also limits the risk of cross-contamination.
  21. Pack a snack. Put an allergen-free snack in your purse, bag, backpack, jacket, pants, hat? Sometimes it’s nice to have the comfort of knowing you will at least have one safe thing to eat wherever you go.
  22. Be honest. This is another great general dating tip but if you feel uncomfortable or are anxious about a situation with your allergen present, voice your concerns! In this case, honesty can be the best policy.
  23. Keep your auto-injector on you at all times. Oh, I said that one already? I guess that means it’s important.
  24. Try to avoid poppy seed bagels and anything with spinach before a date. Your smile will thank me for that one!
  25. Laugh. Why? Because, laughing is fun and everyone wants fun dates!

First dates can be nerve-wracking experiences at the best of times, so try not to add any un-needed pressure on yourself; prepare ahead of time, make it a habit, and the fun parts will naturally follow!

Couple in Sunlight

Every Dog has his Day

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I’m walking through the pet store with my dog’s leash tied around my waist. My hands are trapped in a bear hug around an enormous bag of kibble and I watch in horror as I realize that the woman who is reaching down to pet my dog with her right hand is holding an open bag of peanut butter treats in her left hand.

My heart is racing, I’m starting to sweat. All I can think to say is “Please don’t feed my dog!” It comes out as a quiet squeak. I’ve begun one of the full-blown panic attacks that I know all too well since my last anaphylactic reaction.

“Don’t worry,” she tells me, “I’ll just let him lick the flavor off my fingers. No treats today. Who’s a good boy?”

She has no idea that I am severely allergic to peanuts and I, unprepared for this possibility, am so deep in the shock of the moment that I can’t act quickly enough to stop this whole situation from happening. I mean I can deal with waiters, chefs, my friends and family, but I never thought to have a plan for walking my dog in public. My arms full, my throat tight, I feel suddenly powerless and terrified.

A few deep breaths and a short car ride later, my wife came to the rescue and cleaned the puppy’s mouth with poultry flavored toothpaste (which he LOVES by the way).

Ever since my most recent reaction, I have found myself to be on much more high alert, but this was a situation I was simply not aware of and was slow to react to. It was a wake up call to say the least.

Armed with a desire to be more proactive, my wife and I did some research about our puppy and my allergy. As new pet owners we had no idea that the pet store is actually an anaphylaxis mine field waiting for one wrong step to blow up in my face. Well mine field or not, we weren’t about to give up our beloved pooch, so we set out to arm ourselves with some knowledge and basic planning.

Jason and Washburn

Jason and Washburn

If you have a dog or other pet here are some of the pitfalls we have learned to avoid at the pet store:

  • Treats and Toys: Many of the dog treats at our store are peanut safe but there are also many that use peanut butter as flavour. Some toys also use peanut butter flavors to promote licking and chewing of the toy. Just like our groceries we’ve learned to check the ingredients list every time.
  • Toothpaste, Deodorant and Shampoo: Dogs love peanut butter. Like children their toothpaste is flavored to make sure they enjoy having their teeth brushed. So naturally the toothpaste made for dogs comes in flavors such as poultry, beef and peanut butter. Puppy shampoos and deodorant also use scents such as almond. We’ve learned to be careful about the hygiene products we buy because many have potential allergens.
  • Groomers: Nothing is cuter than my dog fresh off of an all out pampering from our groomer (but OK maybe your puppy is cuter). But as much as I love the look, I was nervous to learn that our groomer uses all the same peanut flavored and almond scented products we have been avoiding in the store. On top of this, groomers will often use treats to encourage good behaviour and pacify excited dogs. We have made special arrangements for peanut-free toothpaste and almond-free shampoo. We have also asked the groomers not to use any treats. If that is not an option for you or your dog, then consider sending along your own treats for the groomer to use.
  • Other Dog Lovers: I am constantly amazed by how many people desperately want to feed my dog. Something about cute, fuzzy animals makes us want to feed them. We have noticed that sometimes people won’t ask first; they just give our puppy a treat. Like the woman from my opening story. They aren’t aware that this could be dangerous for me. They just see a cute puppy and want to feed him. We have learned to carefully and politely discourage this.

These are the most common peanut/tree nut encounters I have with my dog but there have been many others. The reality is that I have to be aware of my allergy in every situation. Whether my dog is with me or not, a little bit of preparation and awareness will go a long way. Since learning a little bit about what to look for at the pet store I am now much more relaxed and easy going.

 

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Cross-Contamination

“This dish has none of your allergens in it, it’s safe for you to eat.” That is a familiar phrase that many of us with allergies hear, but unfortunately it’s not always true. Sometimes there is a risk of cross-contamination. As allergies are seemingly becoming more common and more people are becoming aware of allergies, it seems as though many still have trouble understanding cross-contamination.

I find it really frustrating to think you can eat something, to only find out that it was prepared in an unsafe environment. It is very important that you clearly tell the people who are preparing your food what needs to be done to avoid cross-contamination. People might have trouble understanding, so it is important that you give them details on how your food can’t come into contact with any of your allergens. Below is a list of a few things that you should tell the person who is making your food to help avoid cross-contamination.

1. Your food can’t come into contact with your allergen (i.e. it can’t just be picked off the top of your food.)

2. All the kitchen equipment (e.g. pans or cutting boards) that will be used for your dish needs to be cleaned thoroughly before preparing your food.

3. Allergens can stay on sponges or towels so it’s best to clean surfaces with disposable paper towels or wipes.

Buying packaged food can pose different challenges in terms of cross-contamination. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to talk to the people who manufacture the food about their process as it is in a restaurant. That’s why it’s important to call or email the company directly and ask if you are ever unsure. Sometimes a product will say it “may contain” an allergen. It’s important that you never take a chance with these products, as they are potentially risky.

My trick is to stick with companies that I know and trust. I don’t buy things I’m unsure about. For example, if a brand has one type of cookies that seems okay for me, but they also manufacture another cookie with peanut butter, I would stay away. However, some companies may have different factories for different products. That’s why it’s important to get in touch with them directly to find out the risk.

Remember, more precautions you take the less likely it is that there will be cross-contamination.

For more information on cross-contamination, visit Anaphylaxis Canada’s website at: http://www.allergysupportcentre.ca/cross-contamination.html

WhyRiskIt? App Now Available on iPhones/iPads

App-Web-Banner-2014

It’s official! Our WhyRiskit? Food Allergy App for Teens is now available to download on three major smartphone and tablet systems:

iPhonehttps://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/whyriskit-teen-allergy-info/id754305884?mt=8

Androidhttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.anaphylaxiscanada.whyriskit2

Blackberryhttp://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/36698887

You can read the official press release on Anaphylaxis Canada’s website.

It features the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, treatment and emergency procedures. It also offers support by integrating the “Allergy Free Press” blog stream too!

Check out the screenshots below and download today by searching “whyriskit” in the app store.

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WhyRiskIt-App-Symptoms

WhyRiskIt-App-Treatment