13 Things I Wish Others Understood About My Food Allergies

13 Things I Wish Others Understood About My Food Allergies

1. I’m not picky or looking for attention

My long list of food allergens is not due to attention seeking behavior or taste aversion – it is due to abnormal levels of antibodies in my blood.

2. It is hard to make spur of the moment plans

Having food allergies means not always knowing if and when safe food will be available. Because of this, it is helpful to make plans ahead of time so that I can plan accordingly and bring my own food.

A weekend's worth of food

A weekend’s worth of food

3. I can’t just have a bite

I know so many people who claim to have allergies that constantly (knowingly or unknowingly) eat bites of things they are “allergic” to. People with food allergies can’t just have one bite because even tiny levels of allergen protein can cause an anaphylactic reaction. Please, don’t be offended if I don’t want to try one bite of your dish to see if it is safe for me.

How I avoid cross contamination at family parties

How I avoid cross contamination at family parties

4. My Epipens are for emergencies only

A lot of people ask me if I can just eat what I am allergic to and then use my Epipen the way people who are lactose intolerant can sometimes take a lactaid pill if they want to drink milk/consume lactose containing products. Epipens aren’t meant to prevent reactions. I carry my Epipens incase I have accidental exposure to my allergens in which case I can use them to buy me time before the ambulance arrives.

5. Peanuts aren’t the only food allergy

Peanuts are a common allergen but so are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. The reality is though that people can be allergic to just about anything. While it is great there is so much awareness about peanut allergies, just because something is peanut free doesn’t mean it is safe for me or everyone with food allergies.

6. Intolerances and allergies aren’t the same thing

When I tell people that I am allergic to milk, people often ask if I am lactose intolerant. The answer is no, I am not. I am allergic. People often confuse allergies and intolerances. Allergies have to do with an immune system reaction to a protein whereas intolerances have to do with lack of enzymes in the gastrointestinal intestinal tract which breach down specific sugars (such as the lactose in milk). Allergies can be potentially life-threatening whereas intolerances are typically just uncomfortable.

7. Food allergies have caused me to have trust issues

Staying safe with food allergies is a group effort. As much as I try and avoid what I am allergic to, I also have to trust that my family, friends, and food manufacturers will not accidentally (or intentionally) feed me my allergens. If I question you multiple times about the way you prepared the food you made specifically for me, please don’t be offended. Or if you offer to make me a safe meal and I decline the offer, it isn’t because I don’t trust you. It is because I know how hard it is to avoid my allergens. The bottom line is I just want to be safe, it is nothing personal.

8. If you are in my life, you are a superhero

Like I said, food allergy management is a group effort. Unlike most people, when I look at my friends and family I see superheroes. I see people who have spent hours in the ER with me, who have memorized my long list of allergens, who take extra precautions to make sure their hands are clean before touching me, who see me as me and not as allergies…I could go on and on. When I look at my parents, I see people who have sacrificed everything and would do anything to keep me safe. Without my parents, family and friends I would probably be dead. If you are my friends or family, I want you to understand how grateful I am for you.

9. It gets tiring being vigilant all the time

Living with food allergies is tiring. Preventing reactions is more than just not eating food that obviously contains allergens. It involves making sure surfaces are allergen free, that allergen free food hasn’t been contaminated by allergens, and being careful of who touches/hugs me. When you have food allergies, letting your guard down can be deadly.

10. Anaphylactic reactions suck

The best way I can describe having an anaphylactic reaction is that it feels like my body is on fire. I get so itchy it feels like I want to peel my skin off. Then I start to have trouble breathing and my throat, tongue and lip start to swell. I start to feel like I am breathing through a straw that is progressively being pinched tighter and tighter. Part of me wants to use my Epipen because I want to make it all go away. The other part of me though doesn’t want to use it because I know once it gets used I will have to call 911 and go to the hospital which I hate.

11. My allergies aren’t anyone’s fault

My food allergies aren’t a result of my eating habits or the things my mom ate while she was pregnant with me. My food allergies are the result of a random biological phenomenon and until the exact mechanism is determined, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t make accusations (unless you are a scientist curing them) as to what caused my food allergies.

12. Don’t feel sorry for me

Almost every time I tell someone about my food allergies they tell me they are sorry. Honestly, there is nothing to be sorry about. As frustrating as they can be sometimes, food allergies have taught me who my true friends are, to be thankful for every breath I take and have made me a stronger, more caring person.

13. I don’t need to not live to stay safe

An ER nurse once told my mom she was stupid to let me go away to college because I would probably end up accidentally killing myself. The truth is, despite my food allergies, I can do whatever I want to do. I might have to do it differently, but I can make it work. Please don’t ever try and limit me because you think you are keeping me safe. Only I know my limits.

Steering my life since day one and I don't plan on letting food allergies or anyone else take the wheel from me.

Steering my life since day one and I don’t plan on letting food allergies or anyone else take the wheel from me.

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