Do Airborne Food Allergies Exist & Why I Love Wearing a Mask

Flu mask

Do Airborne Food Allergies Exist?

Yes, airborne food allergies do exist! I’ll pose a question back as food for thought. If airborne food allergies don’t exist, why is there so much search and talk about it on a global scale? Airborne allergies have become a controversial topic and one discussed openly more recently in the past few years. It used to be more common for doctors and allergists to say airborne food allergy reactions can not occur, and now in recent years, this tune is changing as people are more often experiencing airborne reactions. Just like anything, trust your own experience, because for years I thought what I was experiencing was impossible and now it’s recognized as being a valid food allergy experience. 

My Airborne Peanut Allergy

I have an airborne and cross-contact reactive peanut allergy. I began noticing I was airborne allergic to peanuts as a kid, but have always been told by medical professionals that it is not possible. To this day in 2022, I have only seen one allergist in person who has told me they believe in airborne food allergies. Luckily, it’s becoming more commonly spoken about, especially online and across social media where people can share their experiences with a wide audience. There are board-certified allergists who have written extensively about this subject and validated that airborne food allergic reactions are real.

I’ll share a story that a popular board-certified allergist in my area told me about 7 years ago. When I explained that I have had airborne reactions and reacted to trace amounts of my allergen, the allergist said in response that he knew allergists who would go as far as smear peanut butter under the table of a peanut-allergic patient who claimed they were airborne allergic. The allergist would then tell them they were incorrect and that it was all in their head because they just proved peanut butter was in the room and no reaction occured.

I replied back to the allergist sharing this story that, “Everyone’s allergy is different. If they said they are airborne to peanuts, I would assume they are, as they know their body best. I’m not sure if I would react to a small amount of peanut butter on a surface I didn’t come in contact with, either. However, if someone were eating peanuts next to me, or had just eaten peanut butter and then started speaking to me closely, I’ve had allergic reactions these ways.” I got no response back from him, he changed the subject, and I never went back.

Wearing Protective Face Masks 

This blog entry applies even more now after COVID-19! Back in early 2019, pre-COVID, a friend got me hooked on a Japanese reality show called Terrace House, specifically the season “Opening New Doors” if anyone wants to follow suit. It got me interested in learning about Japanese culture and I found myself working certain habits of theirs into my own lifestyle, and being really inspired. Ever since this interest and curiosity got sparked, I started noticing Japanese culture everywhere I looked. For instance, I watched a season of Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! and it really spoke to me in numerous ways. One unexpected way was the public mask-wearing confidence people had in other countries, like Japan!

Each time I would watch someone wearing a mask on TV, I would catch myself sitting up taller and thinking things like, “wow, no one seems to care that they’re wearing it!” or “nobody seems self-conscious!”. Only in my late 20s did I start to challenge those internal negative thoughts of mine and dive deeper into discovering what makes me feel embarrassed and feel shame about wearing a mask in public places due to my peanut allergy. The desire to not be different was at the core of it, and now that I’ve recognized it, I am able to actively challenge that internal thought and work to be happy with exactly who I am and meet my own needs. I’m now proud of myself and am so much better at embracing being different. Newsflash: everyone’s different in their own ways! How boring would it be if we were all the same, right?

While on the masked subject, the best masks for filtering out small particles are N95 or KN95 masks. Those are my favorite to wear in public spaces where contamination is likely present and I’m unable to control it, like on an airplane or a public bus.

Food Allergy Anxiety & Shame

Anxiety and shame are somewhat flowing undercurrents in my food allergy blog, Invisibly Allergic because society has taught us that living within the “norm” is desirable, and falling outside of it is undesirable. I’ll have more posts around food allergies and anxiety here, but want to say that with my peanut allergy having worsened in my adult age and cross-contact being such a scary risk for me in public spaces, the option to wear a protective face mask in certain settings is perfect for me.

Wearing a mask is a perfect option for my body to not experience reactions, but mentally, wearing a mask has posed a challenge for me since I stand out. Ever since it occurred to me to wear a mask for my peanut allergy, in addition to making me feel safer and experience fewer allergic reactions, in tandem it caused me to feel: anxiety, embarrassed, dread, envy, insecure, fragile, withdrawn, self-conscious, flustered, and ashamed. I don’t feel all of this any longer, but I do still have waves of it come over me where I have to do some positive self-talk and self-love back to myself for feeling different. 

Even though sometimes in the past I really wanted to wear a mask, I would opt not to and decide to go mask-less because I was afraid of what others may think and didn’t like the attention and stares or questions it attracted. “Are you contagious?” “Are you sick?” I’d be asked by strangers. Now I practice not caring or noticing the looks or comments, but to be honest, with COVID-19 happening, it took care of a lot of this for me since masks have become so much more common. After watching Japanese television, and now with mask-wearing due to COVID-19, wearing a mask due to my food allergy has become much more comfortable for me. I feel much less alone, I know I get fewer stares, and I’m no longer singled out for wearing one.

Pressures To Be The Same

Jonathan Van Ness and others in the season of Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! I watched discuss societal norms and the bombardment of pressures to be the same and conform to not be “different”. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, it was specifically the two episodes “Crazy in Love” and “The Ideal Woman”. I love how they addressed this, and I think it applies in numerous situations, especially in the food allergy disability community. I would imagine this season of Queer Eye empowered viewers around the world to feel more comfortable as themselves, accepting who they are, and prompting some personal growth towards loving themselves as they are. I love that!

Protective Face Masks Rule!

I’m not saying my anxiety over wearing a mask in public settings is completely gone, but I can work to not let it hold the same power over me it once did and work to change my internal narrative because wearing a mask brings me safety and makes me happy. Besides the maskne (mask acne) which is a real annoyance. There are a lot of events, invites, and opportunities I’ve missed over the years due to my peanut allergy that I could have gone to with a KN95/N95 mask on and likely been safe at. Plus, I don’t get sick as much as I used to!

It’s easy to think, “I shouldn’t care about what other people think” but it is easier said than done. Wearing a face mask allows me to be more comfortable, and in turn, this allows me to be happier and be myself– peanut allergy and all. I really loved the clip “Why Do You Wear Masks?” at the end of a Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! episode. I hope it shows people like me who may want to wear a mask due to allergies, or for whatever reason, that there are numerous reasons people wear them, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed. In my daily life, I already have a lot of anxiety tied to my life-threatening peanut allergy, so if I have a way to lessen that, I want to and deserve to be able to! 

With this new interpretation, I now can admit that I really love wearing my face mask when I need to, and I like carrying it with me so I have it when I need it. It makes me happy because of the comfort and safety it brings, and is a great tool to keep in my back pocket (literally) to relieve anxiety in unsure situations. I wore one recently on the NYC subway when I was riding at a busy time when everyone was getting off work, and with each subway car being jam-packed, it eased my anxiety tremendously! I was able to feel more inner calm and not be as on-guard as I normally am when I don’t have a mask on and peanuts contamination and dust may be nearby.

5 Reasons I Love Wearing A Face Mask:

  1. It helps me not touch my possibly contaminated hands/clothing items to my face.

  2. It helps me not breathe in peanut dust particles.

  3. It allows me to continue on about my day in situations where peanuts are likely to be out and about with less anxiety and stress of having a reaction.

  4. It helps keep my skin protected and more moisturized in dry environments, like on airplanes.

  5. I’ve found I get sick less after wearing it in densely populated places or super confined spaces, such as on a public bus, at a grocery store, at the airport, or on an airplane.


Finding The Right Face Mask

One complaint I have is that I haven’t found a face mask that I can wear super comfortably for hours on end without a headache and/or mask-caused acne, but in the short term, the masks I have found are fine.

Allergy forums online recommended Vogmask’s reusable face mask, but the tugging on my ears does bother me, so I may try to fashion a different band to go around my head instead. However, my favorite tried and true are the 3M 9210 N95 Respirator disposable masks. I found the 3M type after doing a good amount of research on airborne particles a few years ago, and this specific type 9210 N95 are often used on construction sites or when people are working with toxic airborne chemicals/particles, and they seem to be highly reviewed. I really like how snug of a fit I can get with them when I put the band higher up on my head, and I feel they do a good job.

Due to COVID-19, it’s been harder than ever to find masks to use with my food allergy and COVID. I’ve found the brand Aidway (made in the USA) that could be a good backup option if the 3M brand is unavailable in your area! Of course, a cloth mask is great too if you’re just trying to prevent yourself from touching your face, and it’s nice that they’re inexpensive, washable, and reusable. I don’t trust them to filter out peanut dust particles, though.

One pro tip: If they have them, I’ll grab a free mask at the doctor’s office and store it in a plastic baggie in my purse, and keep that on me as a backup mask option. In general, it seems face masks are easy to keep with you packed away and easier to find now that we’re further into COVID-19. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying one with me at all times, just like my epi-pens, since they take up such little space but provide so much relief. Having one with me makes me be able to be more comfortable because if suddenly peanut products were out and about, I have a plan and am not left in a panic with nowhere to turn.

Face Masks For the Win!

I wanted to share this specific face mask-wearing anxiety of mine so others may gain the confidence to live their truth and not care about what other people think. If people see me comfortable out and about in my mask, they may first wonder why I’m wearing it, or they may think, “whatever she’s got going on, she seems confident”.

If you have an airborne allergy, whether it is food, environmental, animal, chemical, etc. or are cautious about cross-contamination, I highly recommend wearing KN95/N95 face masks when in public settings, or whenever it makes sense to you! I’m going to continue wearing protective masks on public transit, at the movie theater, and in similar settings, and also will keep them in my bag or pocket whenever I may need them. Now I turn to you– Do you have any recommendations for protective or surgical face mask brands? If you wear one, do you ever feel self-conscious?

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