I’m beginning this blog with a hopeful outlook that I may find and connect with others with severe life-threatening and airborne food allergies. This first entry will give a bit of background on myself, with a focus on how my severe food allergy has morphed over the years.
Born in early 1990 in Northern California, there was instruction to wait to introduce major food allergens to children until they were older. I’ve personally witnessed this instruction change over the decades, and have heard in the past 5-10 years that you should now be exposing children to allergens very early on, to decrease the chance of severe food allergies.
I’ve heard many theories on what causes severe food allergies: environmental, what your mother eats while pregnant, receiving vaccines or flu shots, pesticide use, or genetics. No one else in my family has any food allergies, but I do know while my mom was pregnant she ate a lot of split pea soup (a legume similar to peanuts) and french bread with butter. I seemed to be allergic to butter as a kid, although never anything as severe as my reaction to peanuts, but I would develop a red rash around my face when I ate it, so we always simply avoided butter until I was older. It wasn’t until I was 2 1/2 that we know I ate a peanut butter cookie while at the park with my dad, and began to “act funny”. After that point, we actively avoided peanut products.
As soon as I was born, my mother noticed eczema on my hands and was very concerned what it was. I still get eczema as an adult, and it’s been something that I’ve consistently had ever since I was a child. There is a known connection that children born with eczema and food allergies go hand-in-hand, so that seems correct in my experience. Not only am I deathly allergic to peanuts, but I’m prone to respiratory issues, and have many environmental allergies, too.
My first cousin Nathan on my dad’s side of the family was allergic to peanuts as a kid, but outgrew it before he was a teen, as I’ve heard many children do. My family knew there was a stark difference between his allergy and mine. My reactions were more serious, and included hives and lots of benadryl to control, sometimes a half of a bottle of the children’s liquid type, or even a full bottle if I ingested something that potentially contained peanuts or was largely cross-contaminated. At the time, we didn’t know the terminology such as, “cross-contamination” and also weren’t aware of the severe lack-of food manufacturing laws and labeling laws in the United States.
Side note: This is one issue I am very passionate about changing and raising awareness of. For the food allergic consumer, there should be more ingredient information given so each person can be fully informed of what they’re ingesting. I believe all companies should be required to label accurately, and disclose all allergens and ingredients in the facility and on shared facility lines. I would also like the see the U.S. require a uniform ‘may contain’ type statement.
My closest childhood friend Katy was also allergic to peanuts, but her allergy also looked different from mine, her main symptom of eating peanuts was hyperactivity. From all this, I learned at a very young age that allergies and reactions are different, and that I was uniquely sensitive to peanuts.
My childhood is a bit of a blur, happy overall and scattered with memories involving chugging bottles of children’s liquid benadryl. I recall at daycare another kid eating a peanut butter sandwich at the end of my long rectangular lunch table, and I thought they would get in huge trouble for it! There was no rule that other children shouldn’t eat peanut products, but I would point and say something like, “Uh oh– I smell PEANUT BUTTER!” and act like they were in major hot water! It felt like a crime to me. I remember thinking I couldn’t believe they would eat such a terrible thing, and felt a responsibility to inform them of how toxic it was!
My dad wasn’t very good about keeping our house peanut-less. Over the years, I got less offended by this, but I recall it being a point of contention growing up. Finally he understands the severity of my allergy, but in his defense, food allergies just weren’t as common when I was a child. He loved peanut butter, and my mom said she even wondered if I had my peanut allergy because when her and my dad first got together, he would mix peanut butter with black beans and eat it for dinner. She thought it was disgusting, and joked that she hoped this snack tradition would not get passed down to their child. Nonetheless, my mom worked diligently to make sure I avoided peanuts to the best of her knowledge and abilities. She acted as my eyes and ears until I was alert enough to watch out and speak up for myself. Looking back, especially after I had a more severe response to trying a peanut on a flight in 1993 or 1994, it must’ve been terrifying for my mom to be navigating the food allergy world alone, with my life –literally– depending on it.
It wasn’t until High School when I recall having to take much stronger precautions regarding my diet and surroundings. It was always a *thing* but I never felt like I was that different from my friends until my High School years. I was able to experiment as a normal angsty teenager, but there were sometimes bigger repercussions for me than for everyone else. I had to really watch out for what I was eating and what was being eaten around me. There was always a slight chance I may die because of my allergy, or at least have to use my epi-pens and be rushed to a hospital, and none of my friends were experienced in dealing with anaphylaxis, nor was I. I found it easiest to avoid sharing drinks, snacks, cigarettes, or anything with anybody. If need be, I would leave parties or the movie theater when there were peanuts around, and people knew to expect that I may leave suddenly without being offended. I often would feel my lip swelling up and a reaction coming on, and I would take benadryl and race home before the benadryl drowsiness kicked in, so that none of my friends would notice my lip getting puffy.
I was lucky in a way, because my High School was absolutely tiny, so people knew me and knew about my allergy pretty quickly. I started there in 7th grade, and we had an average grade size of about 50 students. My grade of 50 students knew to avoid bringing in peanut containing candy on holidays, and everyone knew that I was really allergic. It was a tight-knit community that I loved being apart of.
To this day, defining the constraints of my allergy is very difficult. People often ask questions like, “how long after I eat peanuts can I be around you again?” or “how many feet away can peanut ingredients be without you reacting?” and I use my best judgement, but it’s all an educated guess. I genuinely appreciate when people ask, and I think sometimes my unconfident and uncertain answers confuses them! For example, I don’t *think* I can go into anaphylaxis due to solely the smell, but I also don’t want to allow a reaction to escalate to find out! I know I will have lip swelling, hives, facial numbness, stomach trouble, etc. from airborne exposure, and that’s enough for me to want to avoid it.
In terms of the rest of this blog and my future blog posts, I will focus on the more recent years of my adult life, and my anaphylaxis reaction in 2013 that changed my allergy symptoms. After this, I will zero in on specific topics such as: allergies at the workplace, events, safely having pets, dining out, and much much more! I feel like a knowledge bank ready to be tapped into, so please feel free to e-mail me with any topic you would like to see discussed or with any questions, comments, or feedback.
Until next time!