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!