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!

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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!

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?