I’m beginning this blog with a hopeful outlook that I may find others with airborne food allergies, while also trying to keep my expectations low, because as of right now, I am the only person I know in real life. I’m posting my first entry to give a bit of background on myself, with a focus on how my severe 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 idea change over the decade, 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- it can be environmental, what your mother eats while pregnant, receiving vaccines or flu shots containing peanut oil as a carrier, or that it may run in the family. 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 (a legume similar to peanuts) soup and french bread with butter. I seemed to be allergic to butter as a kid, and would develop a red rash around my face when I ate it, so we always simply avoided it. 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 avoided peanut products as well.
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 eczema and allergies go hand-in-hand, so that seems correct in my opinion. Not only am I deathly allergic to peanuts, but I’m prone to respiratory issues, and have environmental allergies too.
My cousin Nathan was allergic to peanuts as a kid, but outgrew it before he was a tween, as I’ve heard many children do. My family knew there was a stark difference between him and I. My reactions were more serious, and included hives and lots of benadryl, sometimes a half of a bottle of the children’s liquid kind, or even a full bottle if I ingested something that potentially contained peanuts or was 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 companies requirements to label in the United States.
Side note: This is one issue I am passionate about changing for the food allergic consumer, to be certain everyone has can make an informed choice of what they’re ingesting. I believe all companies should be required to label accurately, and for ‘may contain’ ingredients.
My closest childhood friend Katy was also allergic, but her main symptom of eating peanuts was hyperactivity. From all this I learned at a very young age that allergies and reactions are hard to figure out, do not remain consistent among individuals, and most of all that I was a unique and sensitive.
My childhood is a bit of a blur, very 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 lunch table, and I thought they would get in huge trouble! There was no rule that other children shouldn’t eat peanut products, but I would point and say something like, “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 free. 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, they 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 hoped this trait would not get passed down. 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. 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 was lucky in a way, because my High School was actually a K-12 public school in Louisville, KY. I started there in 7th grade, and we had an average grade size of about 50 students, so people knew basic things about me already. Such as, to avoid bringing in peanut containing candy on holidays, and that I was really allergic. It was a small tight-knit community that I loved being apart of. Even 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 they be?” and I use my best judgement, but it’s all an educated guess. To be honest, I genuinely appreciate when people ask, and I think sometimes my unconfident answer confuses them! For all the readers without allergies listening: keep asking, but if we give a potentially differing answer each time, or seem apprehensive, that’s why.
As an 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 avoid it.
My next posts will focus on the more recent years of my adult life, and my anaphylaxis reaction 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 feel free to e-mail me with any topic you would like to see discussed.
Until next time-