Life is Peanuty

dust_in_the_air
cross-con·tam·i·na·tion
the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effect.

Being severely allergic to a food, people assume that most settings are safe, and that moving through life being mindful of what you eat is your main focus! As it turns out, cross-contamination is a much larger and difficult problem to control. Being allergic to the dust of my allergen is the scariest part for me! I would imagine those allergic to things like poison ivy or poison oak understand this aspect of an allergy! It’s invisible to the naked eye and potentially e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

Tying into my earlier article on pets and cross-contamination of peanuts, I’ve learned not only homes and vehicles of friends and family with pets are contaminated, but the entire world is covered in peanut dust, and that isn’t even an exaggeration! There’s just no way to control miniscule amounts of particles and completely remove them from an area.

Thinking about cross-contamination from a commercial kitchen or food manufacturing standpoint, if the allergens are present, they’re very likely to end up in trace amounts within the final product. Take a look at my photo of the salt below, I was shocked to see soy being a possibility! This is in no way a diss to Trader Joe’s, it’s great that they label and are aware of allergens! I’ve even seen a bag of kiwis that were labeled “may contain peanuts” once… I assume they were bagged on shared equipment.

trader joes salt

I feel the risk of my actions greatly, but do occasionally eat at restaurants like Qdoba, where the allergens are listed online, and I know there aren’t peanut products on the menu and used in the kitchen. I try to limit my going out to restaurants that don’t use peanuts overall, because it is still a risk in-store and at the food facility level.

Having an allergen menu online is much appreciated, but it doesn’t guarantee the person making my food isn’t snacking on a peanut item, or that the facility of the tortillas or salsa aren’t making the product on shared lines with peanuts. Cross-contamination can come from a million various situations. In kitchens, both in homes and in restaurants, it can come from dishes with peanut residue on them contaminating all the other plates/utensils, the preparation of food in the same areas, or shared pans and ovens! The particles can get on hands, cabinet doors, in the pantry on items, anywhere!

At Qdoba specifically, it’s moderately safe for me to eat a meal from there, but what about people inside Qdoba? The customers bringing in their outside items, or the employees on break? I’ve on more than one occasion seen someone eating a snickers inside at a table, or with their child playing with and spreading out their peanut m&ms out on the outside tables. This could very well have been the same table I am sitting at, or person I’m next to, causing me to have an airborne reaction. Every day I see at least one situation that could put me in danger, just by touching something.

At work for example, I know a few people who eat their peanut products outside, because they aren’t allowed on my floor. I greatly appreciate that, because it does limit dust in the break room, bathroom, and common areas (and then there’s the whole airborne aspect as well!) Although, twice now, I’ve seen someone eating a small bag of peanuts outside in a common area in front of my building, then open the front entrance door handle, press the ‘up’ elevator button, and use the door handle to get into my floor. The last time I witnessed this, I waited 5 minutes, then followed cautiously trying to hold my breath as much as possible, and immediately went and washed my hands. There’s no getting around particles traveling by air or objects, whether it be dairy, soy, peanuts, or another allergen.

One bad reaction of mine was in a shared conference room at Spalding University when I was giving my final senior presentation. I was sitting in a room with 4 other students, presenting to two professors, and the stakes were high. Suddenly I started to feel my face get really hot and my lip itchy and swollen. I had already presented, luckily, and was sitting in one of the leather office chairs sitting around an oval table. I’m sure I was going over my presentation in my head and touching my face nervously. I looked down in the back of my seat to check my surroundings and reassure myself it was probably nothing, and it looked as if someone had eaten peanuts in my chair! There were a few actual whole peanut pieces around the seat crease.

In shock, I hesitantly interrupted the other student presenting, to let them know I needed to leave immediately because of my chair! They were equally as shocked and horrified. It was absolutely not intentional, I was a part of the discussion when we randomly chose the office, and I chose my own seat. It was just a fluke, and something I now am on the lookout for in shared spaces!

I’ve been inside a friend’s car who warned me they’ve eaten peanut products in them recently, potentially wiping their hands on the seat or shared spaces as the passenger’s side. My fried Laura once lost a peanut in her car for over a week, and would not let me in it until she found it!

In general, everyday life is peanut-y, and you’d never notice unless you needed to. That’s all for my hopefully informative rant on daily encounters with cross-contamination!

Dealing with Pet Related Cross-Contamination

 

For the longest time my animal allergies seemed inconsistent. I seemed to be okay with some dogs, but not others, some cats, not others, some horses, some chickens, some hamsters… the conflicting pet list went on and on. Being an animal lover, I wanted to make sense of it all.

I should start off by saying that I grew up with lots of pets in my household, and all my friends seemed to have a plethora of pets as well. We had neighbors with bunnies, so we inevitably ended up with somehow only two of those- Carrot and Lazy. At different times, but also with a lot of overlap, I had a salamander, two frogs, goldfish, two panda bear hamsters Cookie & Cream- who we were told were both Male, until Cream shockingly and semi-traumatically gave birth to Oreo and Pinky.

I had a gerbil who lived a very long life, our cats Quest and Arena (I’ve always been highly allergic to cat dander, these two are still around, ages 10 and 11 & live with my mom), our dogs Emma and Tara, and later our dog Brownie after Tara passed away. And to be honest, I’m feeling like I’m forgetting some.

As a kid, my family checked ingredients to be certain to not buy peanut butter dog containing treats, but that was basically the extent of our safety measures. In hindsight, the bunny, gerbil and hamster food was very risky for me in terms of exposure!

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It turns out I actually am slightly allergic to dogs, which I know from the blood allergy testing I got done in 2016. For a while I thought that I had a dog allergy suddenly develop, since I would break out in hives and/or get a swollen lip and face at friends’ and families’ houses from their dog’s saliva. Peanut derivatives are found frequently in dog food and treats, and peanut butter is used as a pairing for many common dog toys. The culprit of these reactions was due to peanut cross-contamination coming into play and I wasn’t realizing it.

Remnants would not only be in their saliva, but also on rugs or carpets from them chewing on toys in the area, on the furniture, their bedding, their fur, etc. Generally, I assume small bits of peanut dust are throughout every dog owners home, and so I enter bravely and proceed with caution. The brand name wipes ‘Wet Wipes’ are convenient to keep on-hand, and actually contain an ingredient that breaks down nut-protein, so they are my favorite go-to for most situations and combating peanut dust in daily life.

Another favorite product that I use is Nature’s Miracle brand ‘Allergen Blocker’ wipes for allergens such as cat dander, dog dander, dust mites, and other environmental allergens. These are particularly neat because you can wipe furniture, carpet, and other surfaces, but you can also wipe the animals directly to break down their allergen proteins while deodorizing their coats.

I love going to friends’ and families’ homes who have animals, but it brings a whole new side of my airborne and severe allergy out that I really need to stay aware of, and honestly try to limit when possible. From dogs who play with peanut butter filled Kong toys or take daily medicine with peanut butter, to birds in cages with dusty bird feed that gets onto surfaces and microscopically into the air- the potentials are truly endless. Cross-contamination from pets is a very common problem I run into with my severe food allergy.

For people new to food allergies, or those not well-versed in food allergies, it’s something that is often not considered, since there’s no real act of eating that is involved.

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After determining why I was reacting to others pets, I immediately wanted my own safe pup in my life. I knew I could keep my own dog peanut-free for myself! My husband and I got a beagle mix named Colby as a 5 ½ year old rescue from a local shelter. Colby eats Earthborn brand food, which luckily he seems to like, because he is picky! Earthborn is also a company I feel good supporting for environmental reasons, it is the only brand I found that is a peanut free-facility as far as dog food manufacturing goes, with ingredients that are recognizable.

Unfortunately, their treats are not safe. The brand Fromm makes safe treats, but they can be expensive! We got those for a long time and still do occasionally, but now we make our own a lot of the time out of Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and other dog-friendly and Zoë-safe ingredients! They make great gifts as well to other pet parents, and can be customized with cookie cutters to adorable shapes and varying sizes.

Luckily some pet brands were responsive and helpful to my inquiries. As a general rule, if I don’t get a reply back from a company, or if I get a vague reply, I cross it off my potential brand list and move on to the next. It is hard enough finding out about dog food, but I also needed to know about pet wipes and washes, and pet treats as many facilities use undeclared ingredients, shared equipment with peanuts, and also legally these companies don’t have to label with a basic ‘contains’ statement, since it isn’t designed for human consumption. This will have to get covered in another post- because I could go on and on about undeclared allergens in household products!

I will admit— I understand the hype surrounding giving your pet peanut butter to get them to swallow their medicine. We have a very allergic dog, funnily enough, and he takes a prescription allergy medicine daily for environmental allergens. He will spit the pill out of most things, but alternative-nut butters that are labeled and safe for me, such as soynut butter, pea butter, or cashew butter seem to work the best!

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Play dates with other dogs can be risky, but are fun for both dog and human parties, so during these my main objective is to try to limit my own touching of my face, especially my mouth area or eyes (a good habit anyway), since who knows where the other dogs have been, or what the other dogs have had recently. If I get a lot of licks from the other dog, I normally try to wash the area relatively quickly as a precaution! I also wash Colby afterwards, or have my husband help me wipe him down, and anything else that may be cross-contaminated by potential peanut ingredients from the other dog.

I’ve recognized recently that I need to improve my conversations with friends and family who have dogs that play with Colby, to make sure they avoid giving peanut products if they can help it. Most of the time I do, and friends who I see often are mindful, but occasionally situations happen where I don’t communicate as much as I should, and then I have a lot of cleaning to do afterwards to try to secure my safety and a peanut-free house, especially if we host the playdate.

This is a bit off topic, but I actually had to ask a neighbor of mine last year to stop feeding peanuts to our neighborhood squirrels. After finding peanuts in my front lawn and on my porch due to our big oak trees above, I initially thought it was the mailman (well, in actuality, I first thought I had an enemy). I called the post office and asked if my mailman may be potentially feeding the squirrels, as I’ve seen him feed cats before. Turns out, he was not, and he’s a very nice guy!

Later while out walking my dog, Colby actually ATE a peanut. I was in a panic over that alone, until I realized I had also stepped on a peanut piece, which got stuck in a crevice on the bottom of my sneaker. I quickly followed the peanut trail with my eyes, mostly to escape as quickly as possible, to find my neighbor’s front yard littered with peanuts! Luckily, he was very understanding and now uses sunflower seeds. I should probably write him a thank you note again, to also serve as a friendly reminder.

I didn’t want to tell him, since he was doing a nice gesture for me, but feeding squirrels peanuts is actually bad for their digestion, as they are in the legume family, and not a ‘nut’. Just a side note!

It’s important for me to keep my environment safe, but I also try to not get too hung up on the potential cross-contaminated side of pets. I stay aware and alert, always, whether I like to or not, so I try to trust that I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe.

Cross-contamination in general is an entire issue I will cover much more in-depth, so that may be my next blog post. It’s everywhere, at every moment, and entirely unavoidable. Touching doorknobs, going into an animal shelter, using anything public like a library book, or even a book a friend lends you, sitting on a park bench, doing simple shopping at the grocery store,  arranging store bought cut flowers– all of these normal actions are just as risky as having a doggy play date. The goal is to not avoid everything, but try to take as much control over situations as you can, and then try to enjoy the moment. I’m so glad I got a dog, and didn’t let my allergy get in the way! If you or your allergic child want an animal and aren’t allergic, I say give it a shot! 

Until next time!

College Knowledge

My #1 tip for food allergic individuals going to work, school, or college:

Attend an institution that treats you like a person, not a number.

 

Why? I’ve found that smaller environments are able to hold up their end of a food allergy accommodation much better. The bigger the corporation or school, the more people being controlled, and the larger margin of error.

I hope this post will allow parents of allergic children some peace of mind as they approach joining the workforce and/or attending college. Living with a severe airborne food allergy is scary and a constant worry, but it can often be accommodated in the real world with a little groundwork! Of course, that is the tricky part of living with an invisible disability– unless you tell someone, they won’t know you have it.

I started off as an Art major at Spalding University. I would have the instructors make an announcement to the class, and the class sizes were small (15-20 students max) and easy to ensure there weren’t peanuts. My second semester, I took an Art History course that opened my eyes and changed my life. This single class, my only A+, led me to become an Art History major at the University of Louisville, since Spalding didn’t offer an Art History degree path.

However, upon getting started at UofL, I immediately knew it was a bad fit.

It was a large university, and I had no control in packed hallways with snacks for sale, or lecture rooms of 200+ students. My first day of class, I couldn’t ride the required shuttle that they made Freshman/Sophomores use to shuttle us from the parking lot of the stadium to the campus. For a brief moment I thought maybe it would be possible since there was a “no food allowed” sign, but I quickly learned that wasn’t enforced at all, and even the bus driver ate!

I tried riding it for weeks, and my anxiety was through the roof. As soon as someone would inevitably open a snickers or other peanut snack, I’d have to ring the bell and fight my way off, just to be stranded far from my car and from my class. I tried to get a parking pass that juniors and seniors had access to, and it wasn’t approved, so I just parked in the nearest neighborhood to campus- it was cheaper anyway (although I didn’t get a refund for my barely used parking pass.)

I reached out to my instructors to see if they would make an announcement to not eat peanut products in the classroom, and if they didn’t feel comfortable, I’d ask if I could make this announcement myself. All the instructors made the announcement or let me make one, but it was clear afterwards that no one was going to listen. One example that stands out was in my French class. I recall catching up with a mother of a student who attended High School with me. Despite this connection, every class she would place a peanut butter sandwich behind me on her desk in a Ziploc bag. I let her know I would have to leave if she ate it, and often she would eat it anyway.

It left me baffled! I knew her daughter and we talked about the severity of my peanut allergy, but somehow she never switched to another sandwich or felt she was doing any harm. I explained over and over, clearly and concise, and she would be really polite and understanding, but then eat it. I would make eye contact with the instructor and signal that I was leaving because of the sandwich, and then I’d have to reach out to the instructor to find out what I missed and how I could make it up.

I began sitting far away from her, and trying to actively give her signals that her actions were causing me a lot of problems. Looking back, I think now I would be more direct with a person. I’ve learned to let these situations go once I’ve said my piece a couple of times. I ultimately have to protect myself. I don’t need to understand it, I just need to not be around individuals that I can’t count on them to keep me safe! I was so discouraged in my one semester at UofL, I switched back to Spalding, realizing it was a much more personal school.

At Spalding they remembered me and were happy to have me back. I explained briefly what had happened, and they suggested I put a letter in my file stating that I needed this accommodation, and they printed letters each semester for me to hand to my instructors, so it was officially enforced that no peanuts were allowed in my classes.

Initially, they even tried to give me the option to keep it confidential, to prevent any bullying, but it usually came out that I was the one with the allergy because questions about what was safe and what wasn’t would arise. It didn’t bother me that it was out in the open, but it meant a lot that they thought of that! Besides a few situations involving open peanut products, it was wonderful! Having a letter on file with the school really helped, and I happily finished my Bachelor’s degree with them!

It was nice knowing if I wanted signs put up on the vending machines to say “out of order” or “please don’t purchase any peanut items” there was no judgement, because the university wanted to me to feel safe. I couldn’t expect the entire university to go peanut-free for me, but I didn’t need that! I didn’t need to eat lunch in the cafeteria when it was peak hour, I could easily bring my own and eat it in my car or even in class like a lot of the other students.

It was a balance that I had to determine what I was okay with, and what I couldn’t budge on. I was okay with eating a safe meal in my car that I packed for myself, normally something that didn’t require heating or refrigeration, if it meant my 4-hour-long night class wouldn’t have peanuts in it! I even made friends in the class and they would take breaks outside with me, or make an announcement on my behalf to say, “Hey everybody, Zoe’s going to be eating with us, so no peanuts in here” to anybody in the designated break rooms. I always liked hearing the authority in their voices when they said it, I sometimes thought, “why can’t I be that commanding in my tone?” I still work on it!

It was really nice, and once I got over the initial hump of being nervous and anxious about my allergy, although I could never fully let my guard down, I was able to a lot more. It felt like my small High School again where people knew me, and I’m a social person, so I liked that! After I had class with someone, I felt I had expanded my group of people looking out for me.

Often nursing students in general education type courses with me would offer, “I’ve given epi-pens before, I’ll administer yours if you ever need it!” My response was always super appreciative, but internally each time I felt a combination of, “I really, really, really hope you never have to” but also thankful because it’s good to know!

XO

05/23/2013

Capture peanut allergy

This will likely be the most difficult post to read, as well personally most difficult post for me to write– the story of the first and only time I went into anaphylactic shock. I hope this story can help others stay strong when speaking up for themselves, and also help spread the word about false-negatives in allergy prick tests.

05/23/2013

I had contacted an allergist to see if I could be a candidate for allergy shots, to lower my overall histamine levels, so that when I had a reaction to peanuts, it may lessen my response. They let me know I’d have to do a full prick test and intradermal test to identify all my allergies, which I had never done before.

I could’ve sworn I had told my mom about my appointment plans, but after the fact, I remember her saying she would never have advised me to do a prick test, only blood work, because then I wasn’t being injected with potential allergens directly. I knew she would have offered to come with me, but I felt brave, excited, and even empowered to find out my exact allergies and be able to pinpoint my reactions. I didn’t want to make it a hassle for anyone to take off work, and I never would’ve imagined the visit would take a dangerous turn.

I was tested for about 76 different allergens, via prick on my back and intradermal on my arms, and let me tell you, I don’t know if all intradermal tests are this way, but this one hurt! I was bleeding, and I remember thinking that the needles went into my skin deeper than I’d assumed. I was marked up in permanent purple and black marker all over, making my upper body looked like one of a drug addict.

I had let them know I did not need to be tested for peanuts, as I was severely allergic and already carried epi-pens for it. So extremely allergic, that if they brought peanut butter into the room, I would begin showing symptoms of a reaction. They wanted to test me for peanuts anyway, saying that I may not actually be allergic to the actual peanut, it could be the fungus that grows on it instead, or something like that. I let them know I was not comfortable with it, and they assured me it was alright and important I be tested since I had never had allergy testing before. I eventually was talked into being tested for peanuts by a few doctors or nurses there. They explained they wanted to do a prick test on the underside of my forearm where they would be able to differentiate it from the rest of my testing. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t leave the allergist right then. I felt like I didn’t have the choice, when I absolutely did.

A few minutes later, they let me know I was not allergic to peanuts. It seemed crazy, but I saw it with my own eyes as well- my arm had no reaction whatsoever. Around this time, they let me know I was highly allergic to cockroaches, dust mites, birch trees, oak trees, mold, and some other environmental allergens, based on the large welts on my back and arms. I wasn’t going to let them breeze past this new information though, I knew this peanut diagnosis was incorrect. I explained that I am very allergic and also baffled, but that it’s not right. They wanted to test me a second time for peanuts. I was feeling a little strange, but chalked it up to stuck by a ton of needles and uncomfortable with the situation.

They tested my same arm a second time, this time closer to my wrist, and left the room. I still could see no visible signs of a reaction on my arm, and there never was one. I regrettably posted a very confused facebook status about not being allergic to peanuts, and was on my phone taking pictures of my arms and back with a weird puppy poster behind me, when suddenly I was overcome by a strange sensation moving up my spine into my head. The last thing I remember is walking out of the room into the hall and asking a nurse for help because my vision was going out and I was getting very faint and hot. I knew what was happening, she knew what was happening, but there was no way for me to stop it. I was adamant about always carrying my epi-pens, but I didn’t even know what direction I was looking in after going to call for her. I know I had a near death experience.

Next thing I knew, it felt like I was underwater, and everything went pitch black. I’d lost my hearing and could literally feel the insides of my ears swelling. I recall the staff helping me lower myself onto the table as my vision went fully out from pressure. Everything was silent. I couldn’t hear or feel myself breathing. I couldn’t feel the usual weight of my body or my extremities. I felt very calm and honestly, I felt like I was dying and making peace with everything in my life up to that point. I had some type of experience where I saw myself floating away from my own body into darkness, it almost looked like someone floating in outer space.

Suddenly, and I don’t know how long I had been out, I’m estimating 15 minutes after they had administered 3 epi-pens and a steroid shot, I could see the ceiling lights above me. I still couldn’t hear anything, but I knew I was regaining my vision. I was thrilled but also concerned, since I could see my extremities were an unnatural purple-grey color. Everyone around me was celebrating, there must’ve been at least 5 people assisting me in the room. I was drenched, and immediately had to use the bathroom and let them know. I realized my hearing began to come back and they had me sit up and take oral steroids out of a medicine cup. I am awful at swallowing pills, but I threw them back without water. I remember one of the first things I heard the nurse say to me was that, “this was the absolutely best place to go into anaphylaxis” and that they had to give me 3 epi-pens. They wanted to monitor me there to make sure I didn’t need a 4th, which they warned me would likely put me into a heart attack. I remember calmly accepting the news about that. They let me walk into the bathroom very slowly and I had to leave the door cracked. I looked into the mirror and felt my face, which was getting coloring back, but I looked awful, like a zombie.

They told me that sometimes on the specific part of my forearm where they tested, “false-negatives” can occur on the skin, which made me immediately question why they ever would’ve given me the prick test there. I’m sure they were trying to keep it away from my other allergens being marked, but it seems like such a risky location. I also learned that I was not a candidate for allergy shots in the first place, and that receiving them wouldn’t have been able to lower my histamine levels for my peanut allergy in the first place. So basically, the whole reason I went was not even an option, and could’ve been avoided.

I stayed in the office well past their closing hours, somewhere around 7 hours total, I later calculated. It is all a blur that I wish I had documented more carefully. They let me drive myself home. I immediately called my mom, and she was horrified. She asked if they took me to a hospital, and I said no, realizing this seemed a bit odd. “They didn’t call an ambulance?” No. I was prescribed a steroid for 30 days, and instructed to take Benadryl regularly for at least the next 5. The following day I remember my roommate and his mom checking on me, and I was depressed. I didn’t know what had happened, if I should be happy, sad, or angry. Sleeping on steroids virtually didn’t happen, and the next 30 days were a real struggle.

I paid over 700.00 for that visit. I tried to dispute it and they wouldn’t negotiate with me, and told me I’d signed all my rights away while there in the initial paperwork. I am not the type to sue, but it has crossed my mind for many years now. I still have an outstanding balance with them for 80.00 that I don’t plan on paying, they told me that I can’t come back unless it’s paid, which I am a-okay with.

I honestly feel lucky to still be alive, and from this and many other experiences, I have learned how to better stand up for myself. I never have to accept medical treatment or testing that I don’t want. I tend to base a lot of my peanut-related actions on my intuition, because you know yourself and your body best. I also will never hesitate to run things by my mom now, she has been advocating for me since day 1, after all.

This story I wanted to share with others, not only because of the potential allergist experience others may be able to avoid, but it also marks a turning point in my allergy. Before this visit in 2013, I knew I was airborne allergic to peanuts and needed to watch out for cross-contamination, but didn’t really know either were a real thing. I’d never heard of people experiencing airborne allergic reactions, or having to be careful of trace amounts, but I did.

I did read labeling extremely carefully for ACTUAL peanuts, but was not nearly as knowledgeably about the potential risks of ‘may contain’ as I am now. After going into anaphylaxis at the allergist’s office, my reactions were stronger and I could feel my sensitivity growing. I was reacting often to what I now know were cross-contaminated products, and airborne/peanut-dust exposure. Instead of having my normal hives or gastrointestinal symptoms, I would experience other symptoms like facial numbness and swelling. Within the following months, I began researching labeling laws in the U.S. and slowly began cutting out items that weren’t labeled for peanut products. I will admit, this process took me a long time to fully commit to. I didn’t have peanut allergy Facebook groups to refer to like I do now, or a trusting allergist to ask, so I took it upon myself to create my own rules based on allergic reactions.

Only after having 2 other severe reactions around 2014-2015, which included being rushed to a hospital for a steroid injection, did I fully decide to cut out items that were made on shared equipment as peanuts, that ‘may contain’ peanuts, or weren’t labeled. It sounds simple, but since food manufacturing companies don’t have to label, this means I am often contacting companies to ask about their facilities, and getting a lot of non-answers. It is a daunting task, and I still struggle to not get discouraged about having to do this. I’m really lucky, because my friends and family have started helping me with this task as well, and there are Facebook resource groups, blogs, and forums online that also post this helpful information. Even if I just have a lead on a company that labels, that is better than having nowhere to start.

It sounds silly now that I was acting so risky before in my actions, but 5 years ago the peanut-allergy community wasn’t large enough for me to find. I’m so grateful now for its existence, allowing me to connect with other individuals with severe peanut allergies or with family members with peanut allergies. I’ve learned so much, and it’s impossible for me to say that I did it all on my own. There may not be official peanut-free guarantees, but there are many more resources out there now than there were when I was a kid, or in 2013, and I hope my blog can serve as an additional resource for anyone who needs one. Thank you for reading, and I’ve now added a ‘resources’ page to my site that includes my own personal ‘may contain’ food item list for peanut products that I hope can be of assistance!

-Zoë

Hello world!

Hello world!

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.

1990

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.

Childhood

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.

High School

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.

My personal goal is to share at least 1 post a week, so stay tuned!

Until next time-
Zoë