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.

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How to Save a Life

Dylan and Jason 2 (1)My brother, who also has a peanut allergy, recently got married and the wedding was a huge success! However, a week before the wedding, we had his bachelor party up at a friend’s cottage in Muskoka. It was a guest cabin, completely “decked” out with a kitchen and everything you would need for a rainy October weekend!

At midnight on the second night (sounds cliché but I’m not kidding), our group was sitting around the kitchen table playing Cards Against Humanity when my brother suddenly says, “hey guys, I don’t want to alarm anyone but is this bad?” He pulled up his shirt and his chest was covered in hives. Seeing as how we had all been drinking for some time, we initially thought to rationalize the reaction. He had a previous allergic reaction two years ago so I was trying to remember what symptoms he had. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the hives were something he had never experienced before and we hadn’t eaten anything that even “may contained” nuts, so we were confused to say the least. After asking if he felt several other common symptoms, I asked him to lift up his shirt to see his back. When he lifted, his entire back was COVERED in hives! So that’s when we all got up, realized it was serious, and headed to the main cabin to see if the owner could drive us to a hospital. He told us that he had a few beers in his system also and the nearest hospital was an hour away! (Insert internal panic now.) My brother called 9-1-1 and they said, “An ambulance is 30 minutes away so do what you can for now and if you have your auto-injector, you should use it.”

Ambulance

So once my brother got off the phone, he looked at me and asked if I had the Allerject™ on me that I had been bragging about getting before him. I nodded my head and held it out to him. He’s afraid of needles and told me I had to do it! I shook my head and insisted he do it but he very sternly told me he wouldn’t, then got down on one knee. I think the voice of the Allerject™ was what helped calm me the most because once I pulled it out, and in my opinion, the process was nearly impossible to have messed it up. It even counted for me, which was amazing. After the injection, we went inside the cottage to stay warm and as we waited, the hives slowly went away. When the ambulance arrived, I went with my brother to the closest hospital. On a side note, sitting in the front seat of an ambulance was pretty cool!

Anyway, I chatted with the driving paramedic and he told me that we were lucky to have the auto-injector and smart to have used it. There’s no telling when or how a reaction will play out and it seems that the epinephrine did its job well. The reaction had died down so much, in fact, that we were just going to the hospital for the “monitoring” phase to make sure nothing further happened.

We are still trying to find out what caused the reaction and think it may have been a case of cross-contamination at the cottage. I like to think of this story not as the day that potentially ruined a bachelor party, but the day that I saved my brother’s life for his wedding the next weekend!

Developing Allergies During Your Teenage Years

Developing allergies later in life can be a difficult adjustment, but is doable!

Developing allergies later in life can be a difficult adjustment, but it’s doable!

Most people are diagnosed with allergies at a very young age, but for some people they are developed unexpectedly later in life. I was diagnosed at age thirteen with allergies to strawberries, pineapple, cashew and coconut. These were foods that I had eaten all my life and had never imagined I would be allergic to. Before I even had time to process this new change in my life, I was thrown into a world of auto-injectors, reading food labels and everything else that comes along with having food allergies.

I will admit that at age thirteen and going into high school, I was not interested in being different than my peers. I was in denial about having allergies and didn’t want to accept the fact that this was just something I had to deal with. I felt alone and didn’t realize that there were so many other people going through the same things. In the beginning, I often left my auto-injectors at home because I just wouldn’t take responsibility and face the fact that I had allergies. But, what I didn’t realize was that there is a whole community of people who have allergies and have been through the same things. Through research and support from my friends and family, I was able to adapt to having allergies. At first I though my life would completely change and I wouldn’t be able to do the same things as I had before, but with a little effort and determination I can! My life is just like everyone else’s, I have a job, I am going to go to university, and I am social with friends and much more!

Always remember that you are not alone! The best thing you can do when you are first diagnosed with allergies is to find support. Look online to see if your city has a support group where you can meet other people who are experiencing the same things. Joining Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) has really helped me to meet people and share my experiences. Another great tip is to express how you are feeling and turn your negative situations into positive ones by helping others! Start a blog about your life with allergies and let others know any tips or tricks you have for living with allergies! Developing allergies when your older can be tricky at first, but it makes you a lot stronger! Always stay positive and remember that there are people who understand and support you.

Anaphylaxis Canada's Youth Advisory Panel

Join Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel to meet other youth with food allergies.

Lessons Learned from an Allergic Reaction

Emergency

I am Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts. This blog post is about a close friend of mine who recently suffered an anaphylactic reaction.

On September 17, my friend left class to grab lunch. She ordered a chicken gyro from a new Greek restaurant on campus. She took the meal to go and got on a bus to commute home. When she was half way through her meal, she started experiencing symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Her face was swelling, her throat was itchy and she was experiencing chest and stomach pain. She did not have an auto-injector with her because she left it in her gym bag and forgot to put it in her school bag. She decided to get off the bus to find a cab. The cab driver took her to the hospital. Once she got into the emergency room, the hospital staff quickly identified that she was experiencing anaphylaxis and gave her a shot of epinephrine. She was placed in a hospital bed, hooked up to intravenous and was monitored for 8 hours before being released from the hospital. It took two days for the effects of the reaction to leave her system.

Although the story is very simple, there are three valuable lessons to be learned from this person’s experience:

1. Always ask about allergens when ordering food. As you may have noticed, she did not ask the restaurant about how they do, or do not accommodate allergies. Although what caused the reaction is not clear, it is highly likely that cross-contamination may have occurred. One can only speculate as to how the allergen got into the food but it is possible that the cross-contamination issues could have been identified if she had asked about the food before ordering it.

2. Always carry an auto-injector. As I stated above, she did not have her auto-injector with her. One must always have it with them because you never know when a reaction will occur. Kudos to her for taking it to the gym because 57% of people do not carry their auto-injector with them at the gym(1). She could have treated herself on the bus if she had the auto-injector with her.

3. Always call 911 if experiencing a reaction. It’s important you do not try to drive yourself to a hospital during a reaction. An ambulance stocks life-saving medicine and can provide timely treatment on the way to a hospital.

(1) Sampson MA, Muñoz-Furlong A, Sicherer SH: Risk-taking and coping strategies of adolescents and young adults with food allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2006, 117:1440-1445.

From Denim Fanny Pack to Pocket

When I was young, my mom used to always ask if I had my auto-injector on me when I left the house. It was because of her that I never left it at home and got into the habit of always having it on me. How I carry it has changed over the years as I started to think more about convenience. When I was first diagnosed with a nut allergy at age nine, I used a fanny pack (I know, cool right?) But it wasn’t one of those bulky, multi-zippered, oodles of compartments fanny packs. It was a custom denim fanny pack made by my mom. Denim was IN and I rocked that fanny pack!

However, I could only wear that fanny pack so long as it slowly became out of fashion. That’s when I switched to the “pocket style”. I always kept it in the same front pocket of my pants right up until university when things changed on me again. I began to find it awkward going out with friends with my cell-phone in my right pocket, my auto-injector and keys in the left, and my wallet in the back right. It just started getting bulky so I first cut the keys down to just the necessities. Or should I say necessikeys! I put only my house key in my wallet. BOOM more space! Then I began to switch my auto-injector to my back left pocket whenever I moved around and to my front when I sat down. If I had a jacket on, my life was even better because I stored it in one of my jacket pockets.

As a guy, I don’t have the luxury of a purse but I do have my backpack on me a lot, especially when I was in school. So I also had an auto-injector in there and always made sure my friends knew exactly where to find one of them in case things went bad.

I’ve also taped an auto-injector to my leg once because my Halloween costume had no pockets, but that’s a whole other story! How do you rock the auto-injector?

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