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.

Advertisements

Allergens and Language Barriers

photo1

            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!


Twenty Five First Allergy Dates

25-First-Food-Allergy-Dates

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

Constant Vigilance – Keeping my allergic friend safe

Friends dining

When you have a friend who has allergies, it’s important to be not only sensitive, but always alert to the allergens that could potentially place your friend in serious danger.

Although I don’t have any allergies myself, it’s something that I am very aware of and sensitive to. One of my oldest and best friends has a severe peanut allergy, as well as allergies to wheat, eggs, animal fur, and other environmental allergens. Over the years, I have seen my friend experience minor allergic reactions. While I can honestly say that she has never had an anaphylactic reaction, it is something that we are always very cautious of and take measures to prevent.

I always try to take the necessary steps to ensure that my friend is safe if we are cooking together or going out for food. For instance, when buying groceries, I will read the ingredients of all the food that I buy if it is being served to my friend. If I am ever unsure of something, I consult the expert – my friend. Safe is better than sorry! In addition, if we are cooking at my house, I ensure that all surfaces that may have come into contact with nut products (e.g., peanut butter) are thoroughly cleaned (i.e., using Clorox) before my friend comes over. When it comes to eating out, we try to find restaurants that can safely accommodate my friend’s allergies.  My friend always alerts the servers of her allergies before ordering, so as to ensure that no cross-contamination or mistakes occur.

When you have a friend with serious allergies, knowledge and education are also your friends! Since as long as I can remember, I have been knowledgeable in terms of how to administer my friend’s EpiPen® in the case that she ingests nuts and has an anaphylactic reaction. This knowledge includes knowing:

1) WHEN to use her EpiPen

2) WHERE to find her EpiPen

3) WHAT the EpiPen does (e.g., how my friend will react in response)

4) WHAT to do following administration of her EpiPen

5) WHO to contact should we have to use her EpiPen

Fortunately, I have never had to use this knowledge. But being educated on how to handle an anaphylactic reaction puts my mind at rest. Situations when this knowledge is important includes if we are ever eating out in a strange place or travelling somewhere new together.

Someone who has life-threatening allergies has to take many precautions to avoid allergic reactions. This means that the people close to that person also have to take precautions in order to keep their friend out of harm’s way. While avoidance of a reaction is crucial, it is also very important to ensure that the friend with allergies does not feel isolated. Allergies are a part of life, and they can be easily dealt with. One way in which my group of friends helps my friend with allergies to not feel isolated is by adjusting EVERYONE’S food choices when we are together. For instance, if we have a potluck dinner, every person brings food that is nut-free (i.e., versus having my friend with allergies bring her own meal). Also, we don’t make a big deal about it. Allergies are common! It’s really not a big deal to have a friend with a severe allergy. Since it is such a normative issue, it should be treated as such. Yes, yes. Constant vigilance… but try and keep the allergy on the down-low. It doesn’t have to be a hot conversation topic that singles the friend with allergies out.

Society is also making huge steps in terms of the awareness and accommodation of food allergies. For instance, many restaurants are offering allergen-free menus making it easier to find safe options. Clearly, there is still a long way to go before many individuals with allergies can feel 100% safe eating out, but progress is being made, and that is positive.

In sum, being knowledgeable and sensitive to others’ allergies is important. It is also important to ensure that the individual with allergies does not feel isolated. It is great that society is becoming more aware and accommodating towards those with allergies, but the bottom line is still CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

New School Beginnings

Telling new classmates early on about your allergies makes life easier!

Telling new classmates early on about your allergies makes life easier!

At the beginning of September, I moved away to London, Ontario to start a Master’s degree. When I did my undergrad, I lived away from home but I was only a half hour drive away and I had a lot of friends still in the area. When I moved to London, I knew absolutely nobody. It was intimidating at first because I knew the responsibility of telling people about my allergy rested solely with me. That’s not to say I always let my friends spread the word about my allergy, but I guess I still have some insecurities about sharing my allergy to new people and having a friend or two around offers me support. Nevertheless, I found that a lot of the orientations revolved around food so I saw my chance and I took it.

There’s plenty of opportunity to chat about an allergy when there’s allergen-safe food at an event because you can casually bring up that you were a little nervous to try this “new” food. I did this and people typically asked why and I would explain that I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and that most events end up using foods that they can’t guarantee are safe. From my experience, announcing an allergy in this way dulls the surprise of the person you are talking to and they begin to share a general sense of curiosity. This will often lead into a conversation about experiences with an allergy or stories they have of friends with allergies and it’s an easy way for me to break the ice while also spreading awareness. Now that’s killing two birds with one stone!

Dessert Dilemma

Enjoying each other's company

I had a pretty scary encounter recently that would have been easily preventable if I had trusted my instincts and not let myself get distracted. I had been going on dates with a girl I knew from high school and she is a peanut butter fanatic. When I say fanatic, I truly mean FANATIC. She has it for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner. So, being allergic to peanuts, this posed a huge dilemma for me. I made it very clear on the first few dates about how serious my allergy was and I avoided kissing her until I had developed a sense of trust. In the beginning, she never realized that I can’t eat foods that state “may contain peanut” or even Nutella. I can only imagine the learning curve that she was thrown into!

So let’s fast forward to the meat and potatoes of my story. I met up with her one night and the first thing I asked was, did you have any nuts today? And she said, “Nope, I went out of my way to make sure I didn’t have anything!” So, trusting this, we kissed and I thought nothing of it. Later on, she was telling me about how she was at her grandma’s and that she had an amazing blueberry crumble for dessert. That was when my first red flag creeped into vision. I get a weird feeling about any desserts, as most of them have nuts. So when I heard crumble, I was worried. But she told me she didn’t have any nuts right?! So I let it slide.

Before I left her house, she asked if I wanted any of the crumble because she brought some home and I instantly declined (it’s a habit to decline desserts, again, because I don’t trust them!) Good thing too, because when she pulled it out, what’s on top of the crumble? SLICED ALMONDS! So now I’m panicking inside and don’t want to alarm her, so I just said I had to go and when I left, I had a really bad stomach ache. I wasn’t sure if I scared myself into an anxiety attack or if I was having a real reaction, so I kept a close watch and made sure I had my auto-injector close at hand. As I started to calm myself, the stomach ache went away and I consider myself really lucky that I somehow escaped this situation unharmed. Needless to say, I now always ask her exactly what she ate that day and the day before, just to be sure I cover all my bases before moving in for the kiss. Also, to her credit, she learned from this encounter and is becoming super cautious with what she eats when she knows she will be seeing me in the next 24 hours.

Partying with Food Allergies

You may be surprised to learn that a person with allergies can actually learn a thing or two from the movie The Heat and by that I mean besides accumulating a shiny new arsenal of curse words which make up the majority of the movie (better to just say “Oh Nuts” in my opinion).

The move "The Heat" features a scene that could be dangerous for a peanut allergic person.

The move “The Heat” features a scene that could be dangerous for a peanut allergic person.

Without revealing too much of what happens in the movie, there is this one scene where Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are livin’ it up at some decrepit looking bar with a bunch of seniors.  It’s pretty funny, until you see the bowl of peanuts on the bar counter and – just a few seconds later – Bullock drunkenly crumbling peanuts shells onto some drunk, passed out biker.  Sure, it’s all in the name of drunken fun, but it kind of reminded me that as a person living with allergies, situations where people loose their inhibitions and sense of good judgement are not always as fun as they may initially be.

Okay, so I know something like this scene may never actually happen in real life, but as much fun as it may be to party, if you have allergies, you need to be careful not to let loose entirely.  It’s possible that you may eat an unknown food that you would unlikely eat in a sober situation. For non-allergic people, this isn’t a big deal.  But for those with allergies, it’s your life you’re gambling with.

Additionally, alcohol impairs the judgement of those around you, which may result in friends or acquaintances attempting to feed you your allergen(s), or throw them at you, etc.  This is something they wouldn’t do in a normal situation, but could very well occur at a party.

If you are going out to party, it’s important to have a plan:

– Know which alcohols contain nuts!  Yes, there are a few. Please take a look at this list of alcohol that may contain nuts such as Frangelico (hazelnut) and Bombay Sapphire Gin (almond). Be sure to call the manufacturer directly if unsure.

 

– You must have your auto-injector on you somewhere, even if you’re wearing tight clothes or not carrying a bag!  It’s not enough to leave it in the car.  If you’re looking for an easy way to carry your epi-pen at the club, maybe try this.  Or, look into the the new Allerject/Auvi-Q auto-injector, which is designed to fit into your pocket.

– Let your friends know of your situation and the risks involved.  Tell them to keep an eye out for you in case of any risky situations.

– Eat before the party.  This way, you won’t be inclined to snack on any munchies or foods provided.

– Don’t share drinks or cups!  There could be traces of your allergen from someone who drank from the bottle/cup before you, and it’s better not to take the chance.

– Wear MedicAlert jewelry or an allergy identification piece of some sort.

How have you managed your allergies while partying?

Explaining Allergies to your Friends

Friends diningMy name is Caitlyn and I’m allergic to wheat, eggs and peanuts.  Like so many others, I have gotten pretty used to informing people about my allergies. However, doing so can vary a great deal in terms of who I am actually talking to.  When it comes to explaining food allergies to my friends, it’s a lot different than explaining food allergies to a chef at a restaurant. Talking to my friends about allergies is at a much more personal level. It often involves more questioning and explanations which helps friends gain a greater understanding of what your going through living with allergies.  Situations however, can vary depending on how well you know the person (e.g. A best friend since forever or newly met acquaintance), as well if you’re having a one-on-one conversation or are in a large group setting.  Either way it’s always important to stay open about your allergies!

        Personally, I find whenever I begin to become friends with someone and inform them about my allergies, there are some pretty typical responses. One being: “WHAT DO YOU EAT!?” or another common one being: “So what happens if I eat ______ in front of you?”  No matter what their questions are, I always answer them since I see it as something positive in that they are showing an interest in trying to  understand my allergies.  I also take that time to inform them of simple precautions that they can take such as avoiding eating nuts around me.  Being in a larger group of friends and explaining allergies can be more intimidating, especially if the attention shifts all of a sudden on you.  If you have informed people about your allergies, don’t feel pressured to keep talking about your allergies after you have explained all that you can. Simply change the topic.  Personally, I never try to dwell on my allergies more than is necessary. After all, there are many other things I like to talk about! I still find it important to make sure my friends are informed about my allergies. If they are true friends they will be interested in knowing about them too and how to be safe around me.

        Even when your friends know about your allergies, they still may struggle fully understanding what you can and can’t eat.  For things such as social events where people want to bring food, they may become concerned about bringing food that’s allergy friendly.  In his situation, I don’t just inform people of the foods I can’t eat and what they should avoid bringing, but I also inform them of everything I CAN eat and give them as many ideas and options as possible.  I also bring my own allergy-free alternatives such as a gluten-free bun to a barbeque or my own cupcake to a birthday.  By doing this, not only do you feel more included by eating what everyone else gets to eat (I mean who doesn’t want cake at a birthday right!?), but others will also feel better knowing you can eat something too.   When it comes to eating out somewhere, be open with your friends about where you can’t eat so you don’t end up at a restaurant that can’t accommodate your allergies. Again, give them options about other places that work for you so that everyone can still make a decision together.

        It can be a challenge explaining allergies to friends, especially in a group situation.  Just keep in mind that it’s important for your friends to know about your allergies and how to help keep you safe. Plus if they’re good friends then they’ll be just as interested in your allergies and want to learn everything they can!

How do you explain your allergies to your friends?

Eating at School with Allergies

cafeter

Hi! My name is Davis and I am 15 years old. I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Being in high school means that I still have to eat in a cafeteria. I was diagnosed with my allergies when I was four so I am now well practiced when it comes to managing them at school! In the early years, it didn’t seem too difficult. When you are eight years old you don’t really care about why you can’t bring this or that to school. If someone with authority tells you that you can’t bring something, then you just don’t bring it!

I think that things start getting more challenging once you get to the higher grades. As you get older, you start to question authority more. As you do this, you start to disobey more. This can lead to allergy-related problems for a couple of reasons. One, if kids know that you aren’t supposed to bring a food, they may be tempted to bring it once in a while just to break the rules. This can put you in serious harm if one day, they bring a food with one of your allergens to school and you have a reaction. Also, not many kids know what to do should a reaction occur.

Another problem you may run into is kids teasing you about your allergy. This didn’t happen to me at school, but instead when I went to a baseball game. I was with some of my teammates and one child didn’t quite understand how serious my allergy was. The boy had a bag of peanuts and decided it would be funny to put it an inch away from my face. I turned away and my mom quickly jumped in and explained the severity of my allergies to the boy’s parents. After that day, I always made sure to tell new people how serious my allergy was, especially if they had food close by that contained my allergens. Whether at school, a baseball game or anywhere, if you see something you are allergic to, you have to speak up and be proactive in keeping yourself safe. Also in case something does happen, the people around you will be better prepared.

I would suggest making sure that some of your friends, teachers, and administrative staff all know how to use an auto-injector. That’s where the beauty of free trainers comes in handy (check the website of your auto-injector for more information). They say practice makes perfect and practicing with a trainer is a great way to make sure you are always ready to help yourself.

I hope this has helped you in gain confidence when it comes to eating at school and has helped you feel more relaxed knowing that there is always someone there to help. Stay Safe!

Allergies and Family Gatherings

Have you had allergies your whole life? Do you feel like people who have known you since you were born should understand your allergies by now? I have learned that no matter how old you are and how responsible you are with your allergies it can still scare your relatives into sometimes treating you like a child.

I have lived being at risk for anaphylaxis to dairy, eggs, nuts and latex my whole life. Since the age of three I knew exactly what I could and could not eat. I have always been very conscious and responsible of what I was putting in my mouth. I often taught my family and friends the true importance of allergies and how severe anaphylaxis can be.

It has been a lifelong tradition that every Sunday my Nan and Pup have dinner for the whole family. This includes cousins, aunts, uncles and frankly whoever wants to come. I am lucky to be very close with my family.

I am now 19 but sometimes get treated as if I were still 5 when it comes to family dinners. My nan often makes every food safe for me to eat, but if there happens to be something I can’t eat, she will go out of her way to tell me and I obviously won’t go near it. My parents however do not treat me like a child when it comes to my allergies. They know how responsible I am and that I won’t eat something without being 100% sure of what is in the food.

At Sunday dinner or other family gatherings I often hear things like “are you sure you can eat that?”, “maybe you should check the ingredients a few times”, “Nan are you sure Jazmin can have that?”, “Maybe you shouldn’t try that”, and “Have you had that before?” I completely understand why my family tends to be nervous and cautious with my allergies as they have witnessed anaphylaxis before. However I live independently a few hours away from home for the majority of the time, cook for myself and am managing fine on my own. When I get home I feel so much pressure and almost become nervous about even eating an apple. At the end of the day, I am lucky to have a family that cares so much about me!three generations

Do you have trouble with family treating you differently because of your allergies? Have you ever heard the same things I hear at Sunday dinners?