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As Someone Who Has Anaphylaxis, Ignorance Puts Me at Risk

I was diagnosed with allergies when I was 15 and learned that these induced anaphylaxes when I was 16. I found that I quickly learned that people can be extremely insensitive. Sometimes they try to give you advice about your allergies, thinking it is helping you, but the reality is it is only making things worse for you. Most of the time people do not mean to not understand they just find it exceptionally difficult.

I did not grow up with anaphylaxis. I was the one who had to make others aware of my diagnosis and try to get them to understand. It has truly not been easy and even now, four years later, it is hard to get people to truly take it seriously.

I think one of the main issues people have is they think it is a simple case of just avoiding food that has the allergen in it. While this is a major part of stopping allergic reactions from happening, it is not the full picture. People often fail to realize that even trace amounts of food can cause issues. People also cannot seem to get their heads around the fact that it is not just ingesting the allergen that is a problem, but often people have the issue of their allergy being airborne or a contact allergy where simply touching something or even breathing in the allergen itself can cause major issues.

collage of photos of girl with allergies

If I were to think about what the hardest part of living with allergies has been, in my personal opinion it would have to be the lack of understanding others have. A lot of the time they truly think I am just plain and simply over-exaggerating when I look at the packaging on something and say “I cannot eat that as it may contain nuts.” Trying to explain it is more often than not like talking to a brick wall, or it will go in one ear and straight back out the other. It gets extremely frustrating as we are not talking about a simple reaction that involves a rash, we are talking about a reaction which if not treated properly could have dire consequences.

A few examples I found over the years of people just not understanding allergies and anaphylaxis are:

I was in my second year of high school. This was before I developed severe allergies but still suffered annoying allergies to food colorings which would make me come out in massive blotches which in turn would leave me scratching my skin, sometimes to the point where it would bleed. A boy in my class at school knew about my allergies. There was a bottle of blue food coloring sitting on a shelf. He grabbed hold of it, opened it and tipped it over my hand when I was not looking in his direction.

I automatically turned around and on realizing what had happened I asked why he just did what he did. He laughed at me and that encouraged others in the class to laugh too. He looked at me and said, “You’re a liar. Nobody has allergies to food coloring. Stop being such an attention seeker.” I tried to continue with class until the bell rang. However, within 30 minutes, I had to ask to be excused to the school office. My hand had swelled up and my body was covered in my usual itchy, blotchy rash. I was sent home from school and after a lot of antihistamines, I began to feel better.

leg and arms with rash

I remember dating a boy who had a best friend who also liked me. I would frequently end up in the hospital due to not only my allergies but my severe asthma too. I would have to cancel going out with the boy I was dating because I was too unwell. I would receive phone calls of his best friend shouting at me down the phone, telling me that I was faking it for attention. He would say I was just being over dramatic and nobody is that sick. When I would end up in the hospital, he would laugh at me and tell me I was just being a drama queen.

I remember going out to eat with the two of them. Before ordering my food I let the waitress know about my severe allergies. She left and the boy said to me that I was an embarrassment. It is just a peanut, it is not going to do anything to me and I should stop being so stupid. I remember being constantly upset because of all the comments he would make. At the time I felt so helpless and like I did not know what to do. Looking back, I realize what I should have done. I should have just walked away from the situation. I should have let him know that he cannot treat me like that.

I was once sat in my boyfriend’s flat. Like me, he lived in student accommodation and shared with six other people. We were in his living room and two of his flatmates, as well as one of their friends, were there. We were all having a drink together and one of his flatmates had asked someone to go to the shops to buy him peanuts. I said to him could he refrain from buying peanuts as I have a severe allergy to them. I went away for 20 minutes and came back to him eating a bag of peanuts. I stayed well away from him and made sure not to touch things he had come into contact with.

I think one of the problems with trying to make people aware is anaphylaxis as a condition is not very well known. For the most part, people know allergies exist, however more often than not they associate an allergic reaction as being an itchy rash or even as hayfever. Whilst these are both annoying they are not considered to be life-threatening.

I think more awareness needs to be raised about allergies and anaphylaxis and just how serious allergic reactions can be as well as how life-changing having an allergy itself can be. It can leave you feeling really alone, it can be extremely frustrating and can be absolutely terrifying at times. What you need to remember is your allergy isn’t your fault or the result of any wrong-doings you’ve done. However, I can completely understand that other people’s reactions can cause anxiety, upset and frustration.

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