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!

Hiking the Rocky Mountains with a Nut Allergy!

My high school offers this amazing trip to hike the Rocky Mountains in the last week of June, and I was determined to attend because I knew it was going to be a bucket-list experience. The only problem was: how am I supposed to manage my allergies when I’m 4.5 hours up a mountain, with only my EpiPen as protection?

The author backpacking in the Rocky Mountains

Luckily, there have been trailblazers before me with allergies who have successfully managed them on this trip. Before we left, the teachers in charge made sure they knew which foods I was allergic to and were trained how to use an EpiPen. One teacher recommended we get a SPOT, which is a special GPS-like device that has one purpose: if you get in serious, life-threatening trouble, press the SOS button and someone will come get you, whether it be the military, the local helicopter company, whomever! It works by using a satellite tracking device, so although you may not know where you are, your coordinates are sent to the nearest rescue office.

That eased my worry only slightly. I had no idea how well the SPOT would work if I needed it, and I had no desire to experience an anaphylactic reaction 11 km up some mountain. I knew that if I wanted to ensure my safety and enjoyment on this trip, I had to be extra careful.

Finally, we left my high school in Winnipeg and drove nearly 24 hours to Valemount, B.C. The views were already beautiful and we hadn’t even started climbing yet! We would be staying at a hostel-like residence, where our group of 24 students and 5 teachers would be preparing all of our own meals.

The teachers had been very careful in planning meals. Breakfast and dinner were always nut-free, and if there was to be a special condiment, such as peanut-butter or peanut sauce, it had to be kept in a specific area, and those eating it could only eat in a specific area as well. Because we were divided into cooking groups, I could not always see how the other students were preparing the food, but the teachers were always careful to ensure that students washed their hands before cooking or eating, and there were designated servers to ensure no cross-contamination occurred.

The hardest part of the entire trip was lunch. We would make our lunches in the morning before we hit the trail. There were nut-free granola bars and chocolate bars as snacks on the trail, but there was also peanut trail mix, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  Instead of this, I made sure that I did not eat anything that had been near the nut products, and stuck to fruits and vegetables. I had also brought some food from home that I could bring on the trail. I felt more comfortable doing this, because things got pretty messy during lunch, what with all the peanut butter and jelly, and I didn’t want to take a risk of cross-contamination.

The hikes were absolutely beautiful! On the first day, we hiked along the Berg Lake Trail for 8 hours: 11 km up, 11 km down. It was tough, but well worth it. Later on in the week, we hiked a really difficult summit trail: 4.5 hours up (8 km), with an elevation gain of 1000m! Although everyone was enjoying eating their trail mix and PB sandwiches, I made sure to wash my hands before eating and tried to stay far enough away from anyone eating my allergens. I also had to ensure that I always had enough water, because I couldn’t share water bottles with anyone due to the risk of any traces of peanut protein remaining on the mouthpiece of their bottle.

A beautiful lake in the Rocky Mountains

When we did our summit hike and finally reached the top, it was a sight I will never forget. There, above the tree line, we could see the entire valley below us, and we even had a snowball fight (yes, there was snow in June)! When I completed that difficult hike, I knew that the annoyances of being cautious had been worth it, because this was definitely the trip of a lifetime!

A view of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada
If you are planning to go on a similar trip, make sure you have a plan laid out beforehand as to how you will manage your allergies on the trail. Make sure you bring your own snacks, have a satellite device of some kind, and at least two epinephrine auto-injectors. Ensure that the teachers or leaders are aware of your allergies, and it’s also a good idea to let your friends know of the risks as well. Bring hand soap or wipes to wash your hands before you eat, and ONLY eat guaranteed safe foods. Don’t try something on the trail that you’ve never had before, unless it is labeled nut-free (like some granola bars). Also, consult with your allergist if you have any questions or concerns.

I am so glad I went on this Rocky Mountain trip. By doing so, I feel like I’ve not only climbed many, many kilometers up many mountains, but I’ve also scaled an allergy mountain, by putting myself in a new, real-life situation, and successfully managing it. I’ve learned so much from this experience, and I can’t wait to go again next year!

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!

Fearless Field Trips with Allergies

Field Trip!

Field Trip!

Oh field trips… a student’s opportunity to escape the mundane everyday classroom routine if even just for an afternoon or the day.  However, for those of us with allergies these mini-escapes aren’t always as simple and involve some extra planning and coordination to make sure we stay allergy safe— after all who wants to miss out on that riveting museum exhibit!

Even though my field trip days are sadly behind me as I am now full on into post-secondary education, I still remember the extra work it took to stay safe on school trips.  My biggest concern was making sure I had safe foods to eat (who wants to go hungry…am I right!?) while also making sure that those around me, whether they be classmates, teachers or those running the trip were made aware of my allergies. I found organization and communication to be key when attending school trips. My school had a specific procedure set up that required the same protocol to be taken for every school trip I attended. This involved both my teacher as well as myself to carry a set of my medication on the trip. This worked well however, I can’t stress enough that there are a lot of students who are attending one school trip. For me, it was a must to talk to my teacher well before the actual field trip to remind them of my allergies, the protocol to be followed and also to figure out other details about the trip.

The most important thing I needed to sort out before a school trip was what the food situation of the trip would be like. I.e. How many meal opportunities would there be on this trip, and whether these meals were being provided to us or we were responsible for providing our own meals.  If meals were being provided for us, then it would be necessary to contact whoever was providing the food and make sure they were aware of my allergies and see if they would be able to safely accommodate my allergies.  Many times this would be the case but there were always times when I would play it safe and bring my own food instead. Throughout my schooling I was very fortunate and went to an accommodating school. They always requested that if lunches and snacks were to be brought on school trips that they had to be nut free. However because I and other students had multiple allergies, it was very important to stick to our own food and avoid sharing. It’s never worth the risk no matter how tempting a lunch ‘tradsies’ may seem.

When it comes to overnight trips even more planning needs to go into food preparation. I would always have lots of extra food stashed in my luggage just in case. Rice Krispie squares had always been my favourite go-to snack.  However don’t just rely on yourself, make sure you make contact with whoever will be providing meals and make sure they can accommodate allergies. I also found whenever I went on an overnight field trip where I would be away from my teacher as some points, I would designate a close friend as an ‘allergy buddy’ who carried another one of my auto injectors and who also was trained in how to use it.

Though going on field trips with allergies requires some extra planning and vigilance to make sure you stay safe, there’s no reason why you can’t get as much out of that exciting escape from classroom life as anyone else!

What have been your favourite school trips, and how did you stay allergy safe when attending them?

An Unlikely Close Call…in a Hospital!

Trust Me, I'm a Nursing StudentMy name is Sydney and I am a second year nursing student at Queen’s University. This past week I came very close to coming in contact with my allergens (peanuts and tree nuts) in a hospital. One day of every week we have a class in which we spend the entire day in a hospital. It was my first day so I had no idea what to expect! I arrived that morning at 6:30am – it wasn’t even light out yet!

The day started off well with each of the students being paired with a nurse in order to ‘shadow’ them and get a better idea of what to expect when working in a hospital setting. After giving all our patients’ their medications, it was time for breakfast. I was assigned to feeding a man who was unable to hold a fork or spoon by himself. As soon as the nurse passed me his tray, I noticed the package of peanut butter sitting beside the toast. This is where things got tricky.

I brought the tray to the patient and asked him if he wouldn’t mind substituting another spread for the peanut butter since I was allergic. Unfortunately he didn’t want to try anything else. This left me in the awkward position of going back to find the nurse and telling her that I couldn’t feed this patient. I felt terrible that I had to back out of the only task assigned to me. The nurse wasn’t so thrilled either, to be honest – she looked slightly annoyed. I stood outside the room while the nurse completed the task, which seemed like it took forever! At that point I was assigned to go retrieve a chart from the break room. I was excited to finally be able to help out. Once again, my excitement was short lived. As soon as I entered the break room, I saw (and smelled) one of the other nurses eating a peanut butter sandwich while reading my patients chart. When I stopped right in my tracks, everyone stared at me. I was so embarrassed that I turned around and quickly walked away. Luckily I remembered about the plentiful supply of gloves in the hospital, so I donned a pair and returned to retrieve the chart. Regardless of the silly looks, I felt safe, and that is what matters.

Next week, I am going to make sure I carry my auto-injector on me while working in case I get into a sticky situation again. I never would have thought before this year that I might need to use my own epinephrine in a hospital! Now I know, when I say I carry my auto-injector, I literally mean: EVERYWHERE!

Extracurricular Activities with Allergies!

Hi everyone! My name is Lindsay, and I am a third year student at the University of Guelph. I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and soy protein, and I am also lactose intolerant.

Whether you are in high school or pursuing post secondary education, it is so important to become involved in extracurricular activities. This is a great way to make friends, find something that you are passionate about, and have fun!

When it comes to participating in clubs and sport activities, make sure that you always carry your epinephrine auto-injector with you. You might not think that you are at risk of a reaction while at soccer practice, but you never know what could happen! It is so simple to slip your auto-injector into your backpack or sports bag. I have multiple auto-injectors, so I keep one in my backpack, one in my purse, and one in my gym bag. That way, no matter where I’m going, I don’t have to worry about forgetting to pack it.

Also, remember to tell your teammates or other club members about your allergies. It is very important that those whom you are spending a time with know what you are allergic to and what to do in case of a reaction. Especially if snacks are involved at the meetings or practices, everyone needs to be aware of your allergies.

At university, I have found that there are tons of different opportunities to get involved, both on and off campus. I have made sure not to let my allergies get in the way of my ability to participate in all that I want to. I am a member of many clubs on campus, including the Pre-Med Club, Bio-Medical Science Students Association, and the Competitive Hip Hop Team.

For those of you who feel limited in what you can do because of your allergies. I have a suggestion for you to try! Last year, a friend and I decided to start our own allergy awareness club on campus. Both of us suffer from severe allergies and wanted to create a club for other students who do as well. This year, we officially created our group, called “The Food Fighters,” and we have a growing membership. Some of our initiatives include educating students and staff in residence about epinephrine auto-injector use, working to make the cafeterias more allergy friendly, and providing support to first year students at risk of anaphylaxis.

So, if you feel like you can’t be a member of a team or a club at school due to your allergies, make a club about allergies! It is something that many schools would be happy to support, since they want to be inclusive and cater to students’ needs.

I hope that you all have a fantastic school year and get involved in as much as possible! Don’t let your allergies limit you in anything that you do. There is almost always a way to participate while safely managing your allergies.

School Trip

Hi, my name is Davis, and I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.

A girl ziplining over a forestLast spring, I graduated from elementary school. When I went on my grad trip, I ran into a problem while trying to find something safe to eat. One morning, I had to buy lunch in advance at a local market, because we were going zip-lining around noon and there was going to be no place to buy food. We had an hour to find something to purchase for lunch, which meant one thing: I had 60 minutes to find something that was safe to eat.

So I started walking around the market, checking with people at different food places to see if I could have anything. Since it was around 9 o’clock in the morning, not many shops were open, narrowing down my choices a lot. After 50 minutes of looking around and walking, I came to this conclusion: of all of the available shops, none of them were safe, due to the fact that their food contained most of my allergens and I did not want to risk cross-contamination.

StrawberriesWith 10 minutes left, I was scrambling to find something safe to eat. All of a sudden, I saw one of my friends walking with a tray of strawberries. I asked him where he got it, and he directed me over to a fruit stand. I then decided that I would have fruit for lunch. It was some of the best fruit that I have ever had, and I am proud to say that even though there were not many choices, I found a safe way to make things work. So if can’t find a safe meal to eat, have a healthy snack instead!

Keep safe,

Davis

The final frontier in education…

The final frontier in education – university and college! For some, it’s a chance to explore your passions, make friends, and become the person you want to be. For others, it’s the haunting fear that you are soon to be surrounded by people who could care less about your allergies… at least that’s what I thought!

My name is Arianne, and I am currently in my fourth year of university. Before that, I attended college, where I lived in residence for a year.

I was 18, and it was the first time I had ever lived on my own. I was terrified! My mother had always taken care of my concerns and worries when came to my allergies, and I felt like I was chained down to a ball of antisocial topics that would prevent me from experiencing things or meeting anyone. My biggest concerns were: what and where would I eat? If I couldn’t make my own food in my own kitchen, what would I do?

It took me until the summer before school started  (not to mention a swift kick in the butt from friends) to realize that if I wanted to feel safe in an unfamiliar atmosphere, it was up to me to take the necessary steps to make it a safe environment.

My first step was to talk to my roommate (luckily, I was rooming with a girl from my high school). I taught her about of the seriousness of my allergies, what I was allergic too, and how to use my epinephrine auto-injector.

Next, I went to the residence building and talked to the head of food management. I told him that I had severe allergies to peanuts and nut. I made sure that their food facilities were cleaned professionally and the food they served wouldn’t come into contact with my allergens. After he assured me that they could provide safe meals, we made a plan to use posters and information pamphlets to inform other people, so they could understand the importance of keeping the dining area free of peanuts and tree nuts.

After I spoke with my residence, I went to the manager of food and industry at the college and asked for a specific list of all of the food outlets available. I also talked to him about what was and what wasn’t safe and asked for ingredient lists.

After talking to the people who were in charge of food handling, I felt prepared and ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary education. I learned that my overall safety was in my hands – and as long as I communicated with servers, and washed my hands and my food preparation stations, I could live as normally as the next student.

As for eating outside of the school facilities, the same process applies – check for ingredients and inform your server of your allergies. And as always, make sure that you carry an epinephrine auto-injector and teach those who are eating with you how to use it.

A safe and fun experience at university and college is not just a fairy-tale for those who have allergies. With advances in allergy awareness and opportunities for allergy-safe eating, many places have become very accessible. Just remember that ultimately, you are responsible for managing the risks of allergic reaction. As long as you’re confident and speak up, you too can achieve a fulfilling life!

A quick recap, step by step:

1)  Tell your roommates and floor-mates about your allergies, and teach them how to spot an allergic reaction and use an epinephrine auto-injector.

2)  Find out who is in charge of food management at your school. Talk to them about your allergies, ask them about their allergy management protocols, and ask them to take specific steps to help you feel safe.

3)  Ask for a full list of food outlets on campus. Find out what is and isn’t safe for you.

4)  As always, inform your servers and whoever is in charge of food service about your allergies.

Cheers,

Arianne

 

For more information about managing allergies at college and university, check out Anaphylaxis Canada’s youth website: http://www.whyriskit.ca/pages/en/manage/collegeuniv.php!

Moving on Up – Taking on new allergy responsibilities at university

My name is Caitlyn, and I have a life threatening peanut allergy as well as an allergy to wheat and eggs.

Three college friendsAfter recently completing my first year studying at Queen’s University, I thought I would share my experiences with transitioning from high school to university when it came to being responsible for my food allergies. Although I always thought I was independent and responsible for my allergies when I was in high school, I came to realize that independence takes on a whole new level in university. In high school, I had a built-in support network of friends, parents and teachers who all knew about my allergies, what foods to avoid around me, and where my epinephrine auto-injector was located, just in case. All this changed coming to university, where I had to face a new reality: no one knew anything about me, it was my sole responsibility to be accountable for my allergies, and I had to try to rebuild a new allergy “support network.”

Of course, living in residence was a concern. Although I was fortunate to go to a peanut free high school, there’s no such thing as a peanut free residence! Not only did I have one roommate – but I ended up in a triple room, living with two roommates. I made sure that I contacted my future roommates before school started, and after explaining my allergy situation, they had no issue making our room a peanut free zone. They were also extremely cautious with foods containing wheat or eggs, so there would be no cross contamination.

I was also able to meet with my floor’s Resident Adviser on move-in day to explain my allergies to him. During residence orientation, I was also able to let my floor mates know about my allergies. While it would be unrealistic to expect everyone on my floor to avoid peanuts, they became aware and cautious of my allergies, and no one brought peanuts to any floor events. I also found that by being open about my allergies, I was able to meet and become friends with some really great people who had similar allergies as me – it was great to meet people I could relate to!

Another reality of coming to Queen’s was realizing that the food I would be eating for the next eight months was going to be prepared by strangers who had no idea who I was or what my allergies were. The day I arrived at Queen’s, I met with the cooks from my school’s cafeterias to let them know about my allergies and find out what precautions should be taken to make sure I could stay safe at meal times. That was a great move! The cooks were extremely accommodating, and it’s fair to say we got to know each other very well and became buddies over the next eight months.

Three young women dining out togetherAnother big change I experienced with moving to a new city was the challenge of going out to eat, since most of the restaurants were completely new to me. I personally preferred not to order delivery and would avoid doing so. I felt more comfortable eating out at a restaurant, where I could discuss my allergies in person with restaurant staff to ensure they could accommodate my allergies and no cross-contamination would take place.

Finally, the social scene at university can be really fun but risky for anyone with allergies, if they aren’t aware of the risks. Common sense is important when going out. Just like you should never go out alone, I realized that for people with allergies, you should never go out without friends who know about your allergies and where you keep your auto-injector. That being said, the responsibility of staying safe is primarily your responsibility – and no matter how inconvenient it can seem sometimes, there is never a good enough excuse to not have your auto-injector with you.

My first year of university was a great experience, a lot of work, and a lot of fun. I did find having allergies added a lot of responsibility – but even with that added responsibility, I was able to enjoy my first year experience while also making sure that I stayed safe. And let’s face, that’s the most important part!

For more tips and strategies for managing your allergies at school, check out these great resources:

Looking for a way to fund your first – or second, or third, or fourth – year of University or College? Apply to the Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award for your chance to win $1000!

Starting University

Hello everyone! My name is Nick. I have allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. I just started university and I was able to successfully have a fun and safe frosh week. 

For me, going to university was a pretty big step. Going to university meant that I was pretty far away from home. I was very nervous the week before frosh week. Lots of questions went through my mind (“Will I have fun?”, “Will I fit in?”, “Will I find friends?” and of course “Will I have problems with my allergies?”). Previously I had an allergy test before I left home and it confirmed that I was still severely allergic to peanuts and all nuts, which only worsened my fear.

Once frosh week started, I was able to calm down and have fun. Right off the bat I met some great friends. As for my allergies, I was very cautious. I ALWAYS wore my epinephrine to events and I doubled checked what was being served making sure it was nut free. If there was any chance of the food having nuts or peanuts, I avoided it and I ate elsewhere after the event. I would let my friends know about my allergy to make sure they know what to do if an allergic reaction occurred. In the end, I was able to have a safe and fun frosh week.

University was completely different then I expected. The classes are much shorter then high school and each day is a different schedule (e.g. I would have 5 classes one day and 1 class another). Being in university you have to be independent, there is no one looking after you. It’s the same with your allergies as well. You should always have epinephrine with you at all times and  have extra safe food handy. But if you’re like me and enjoy dining out, just make sure you ask the right questions, especially about cross contamination, and never take a chance with a food you are unsure of.

Overall this has been a successful and safe transition for me. In this time period I have learned how to become independent while managing my allergies in university while having a great time!