6 Things to Know About Living With Food Allergies
I have adult onset food allergies. It’s taken me years to admit to this. I know you’re probably thinking, “Allergies? So what?” Then you start factoring how much food influences our lives, or really how much we let it influence our lives. Imagine if every time you put food in your mouth you had to take a second and make sure your mouth wasn’t getting itchy. Imagine if you loved that food, but then realized your body did not like that food too. You want more, but you know it could literally kill you. It’s a new level of self-control, because really, your life depends on it.
It’s taken years of getting sick all of the time and not knowing the cause of my body rejecting food. Adult onset allergies aren’t something you are born with, but rather something that develops later in life. So what does that mean? It means I went my whole life eating whatever I wanted until my early 20s when I started getting allergy symptoms. So yes, I know exactly what I’m missing out on. I know the foods I loved, and I’ve been forced to accept I can’t eat them anymore. It’s a lifestyle change.
The thing about allergies is that the more you are exposed to them, the worse your reaction gets. So I could be eating foods that are “repeat offenders” that begins as something as simple as sneezing. Maybe I have it the next time and get sick. Then after eating it again and again, I could go into anaphylaxis and die. That’s how eggs were for me, which turned from eggs to all egg-derived products. To those of you who don’t know what that means, start looking at food labels – you’ll see most foods contain eggs. Since my egg allergy I’ve also developed allergies to all peppers and tree nuts, amongst other foods.
The top six things no one tells you about food allergies:
1. Having severe food allergies not only impacts your whole life, but those around you. It means your family catering to your allergies at every family event. It means your extended family of 30+ people knowing about your allergy and knowing what they can and can’t bring to those events. It means them having something there for you to eat and having to plan specifically for you. That’s if you have a supportive and understanding network of family – luckily I do. Sometimes it can mean bringing your own food with you.
2. It means having to plan for all social events and wondering if there will be food there you can eat. It means planning for a friend’s wedding and having to ask about the ingredients in every single food, from the breads to the entrees and desserts. It means either asking the host, the host’s parents or the servers about it mid-party because you know it’s their special day and no one wants to call an ambulance because you were negligent or embarrassed.
3. It means your friends understanding you need to warn every server about your allergies every time you go out to eat. It means going on a date and having to leave the restaurant after your water gets there because you realize there’s nothing you can eat. It means them hearing the “can you check the kitchen to see if the ____ has _____ in it” every time they go out to eat. It means waiting to order because you have to wait for a response from the kitchen, and that’s assuming they actually know. I’ve had experiences where the chef either didn’t know or made an assumption. That assumption led to an ER trip for me.
4. The debilitating anxiety of a going into anaphylaxis. The questioning of “Do I need my epi pen?,” “Is this going to pass with Benadryl?” or “Will this be the time I should have taken it but waited too long?” It’s the fear of not knowing how your body is going to respond to food and how long you should wait. It’s your heart racing and your mind wandering, and trying to decipher if it’s anxiety or reality. It means learning to trust yourself and your body, even when you’ve been hospitalized three times since this year started.
5. The sheer embarrassment of when an allergy is happening. Let’s say for example you’re at work – who are you supposed to tell? Do you let them call an ambulance for you? When you’re trying to slip under the cracks with food allergies and don’t want them to be noticed…then suddenly you’re the center of attention. Well now it’s certainly brought to everyone’s attention, and you’ve been noticed all right. Yes, it’s a medical disability according to the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that doesn’t need to be anyone’s business. Food is personal.
6. Being in a relationship and living with food allergies. It means that person has to be mindful of everything they eat as well, because kissing you can give you an allergic reaction. Yes, kissing someone who ate something you’re allergic to can trigger the allergy. It can linger for hours, even after brushing their teeth. It means them not ordering food you’re allergic to when you’re with them, because allergies can be airborne and breathing it in can make you sick. Let’s not forget about living together, because that in itself is its own obstacle when you have to have an allergy-free kitchen. That means this person is not only committing to you as a person, but committing to living with your allergies and catering to those needs.
I’m hoping this article can bring light to living with food allergies. I’m hoping it can help loved ones be more understanding. I’m hoping it can make food servers more aware. I’m hoping it can make people take allergies more seriously and realize the consequences. Lastly, I’m hoping people with allergies can read this and realize they are not alone.
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Thinkstock photo via ViewApart.