Allergens and Language Barriers


            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!

Endurance Sports and Allergies

Ever wanted to participate in a triathlon, or run a marathon? Well it’s possible even with severe allergies!! My name is Sydney and I am an athlete. I may not be Olympic class or even a provincial champion, but let me assure you, I always finish.

Carrying your auto-injector at all times is very important. Even when participating in sports, accidents can happen and you need to be prepared. When you are participating in a race, it may not seem aerodynamic or convenient, but it is simply the right thing to do.

I am an avid triathlete and I will usually compete in 3 or 4 triathlons every summer season. For those unfamiliar with this fairly new and upcoming sport, it involves 3 sports done consecutively of varying distances.


The first sport always involves swimming. It can be anywhere from 400 metres to 2 km. The next event is biking. The shortest distance starts at 20 km and the longest at 180km! The last event is a run which can vary in length. Most races will be somewhere between 5 and 10 kilometres while the longest distance happens to be 42km, or a full marathon!

There is no break in between events so you have to make sure you prepare all your equipment before the race starts, especially your auto-injector. Obviously carrying my auto-injector during the swim portion of the event is not possible, but for the bike and run portions, you have many options! My personal favorite involves putting my auto-injector in the sewn in pocket on the back of my tri-suit. For those of you new to the sport, a tri-suit looks like a one-piece girl’s swimsuit with shorts. This makes it comfortable for swimming, and it also has a padded area in the crotch to minimize discomfort on the bike. As you can see in the picture, the pocket is quite tight so you will not have to worry about anything falling out during the race. This pocket is typically used by triathletes to keep energy gels and other nutritional items while competing.


There are many other options for carrying your auto-injector (all of which I have tried and work just fine). One is to keep it in a small pouch behind the seat of your bike where you would keep your spare tire and other necessities. The only downside to this technique is that you will have to remember to remove your auto-injector after hopping off the bike. You can also use the classic waist pouch for your auto-injector, however, I find that it tends to bounce while I run and can get quite bothersome over long distances. Sometimes I like to run with something in my hands so I have ran while carrying my auto-injector in one hand and my inhaler in the other. This is a great technique if you don’t plan on drinking from the water stations, as you can easily guess why. I certainly do wish I had 3 hands sometimes! The last option is to purchase a leg holster for your auto-injector. I would suggest putting this on as soon as you get out of the water and that way you can keep it on for the rest of the race without having to worry about switching its place.

trisuitaIf you are looking for an awesome allergy awareness-finishing picture, try holding your auto-injector up in the air while you run across the finish line! There will always be a professional photographer taking pictures of you as you cross the line, and what better way to show others that allergies don’t stop you from doing anything!

A Scholarship Like No Other: The Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award

Are you heading off to university or college this coming September? Whether you are entering your very first year or returning for another, you’re in the right place!

Less than a month from now, applications for the Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award are due – but don’t fret! There is still plenty of time to submit your application!

Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award

What is this award, you might ask? Well, it’s a one of a kind opportunity to recognize teenagers and young adults who have helped to raise awareness of allergies and anaphylaxis in their communities. I would encourage anyone who is reading this to apply! The award not only highlights the amazing work done by various individuals, it also reminds us of the importance of educating others about the risks of allergies and anaphylaxis, so we can strive to prevent tragedies like that of Sabrina Shannon. Sadly, Sabrina passed away in 2003 after a fatal anaphylactic reaction at school.

Sydney walking at school

I was lucky enough to receive the award last year, in recognition of my design of an epinephrine auto-injector carrying device, my participation in “Ask a Teen” allergy panels, and my starring role in the educational video, Food Allergies and High School. Receiving the award was a tremendous honour. Plus, it provided me with the funding needed to purchase textbooks and get involved in my school’s synchronized swimming team. This coming fall, I will be returning to my second year of Nursing studies, and I look forward to reading about the 2012 recipients!

If you are interested in applying, please visit the Why Risk It? Youth Website at

Don’t forget to submit your application by June 22, 2012! If you have any questions about the award, please leave a comment below.

Diagnosed with Allergies as a Teenager

Hi! My name is Sydney. I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, but unlike most people with allergies, I was diagnosed with my allergies as a teenager.

Personally, I think it has worked out very well being diagnosed so late in life. Ever since I found out about my allergies, I have been able to advocate for myself rather than rely on my parents for support. Unfortunately, most people are not very familiar with allergies that develop in teenage years so a lot of my friends and even my family had a hard time coming to terms with this new way of life. In terms of get togethers with my other family members like cousins and grandparents, they tend to forget about my allergies so repetition is key. I think it is just because they are not used to having nut-free food around.

Although I am happy that I did not have to avoid nuts in childhood, I still remember what they taste like which sometimes results in cravings. I find though that as time goes on, it eventually becomes easier and easier as I embrace learning to eat safely with my allergies.