Living with Nut Allergies
A few years ago, my dear friend’s little boy was diagnosed with a life-threatening peanut allergy. Up until then, I knew little about nut allergies. I had heard of people who were allergic to peanuts and other nuts, but I didn’t really understand the seriousness of it or what it was like for people to live with nut allergies. As I watched my friend learn how to cope with a child severely allergic to peanuts, I began to understand just how difficult nut allergies can be.
Food allergies are becoming more and more common. Some allergies are more serious than others, but all food allergies affect a person’s quality of life. Nut allergies can be especially life-altering because many people who suffer from nut allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction. People experiencing an anaphylaxis reaction may cough, wheeze, and have difficulty breathing. They may become itchy, break out in hives, and/or have swelling in their face, tongue, and throat. Their pulse weakens; they can turn pale, and may become dizzy or faint. If anaphylaxis reactions are not treated immediately, they can lead to respiratory and cardiac arrest. Treatment for an anaphylaxis reaction is an epinephrine pen prescribed by a doctor. Epinephrine pens are shots of adrenaline, usually administered in the thigh, that increase blood flow, relax muscles, and improve heart rate. People with severe nut allergies should carry an EpiPen with them at all times. Even if an anaphylaxis reaction is treated with an EpiPen, it is still recommended that you call 911 or take the person to the Emergency Room as quickly as possible.
I recently asked some of my friends who live with nut allergies to share some of their experiences with me. Here are a few examples of what it is like to live nut allergies.
“I'm so severely allergic that I couldn't walk in the school lunch room in elementary because of all of the home-packed PB&J's. My friends would take turns getting my lunch for me and I ate in the school office every day.
I remember having to give away about 2/3 of my Halloween candy as a kid. One Easter, my grandma gave me a chocolate bunny and no one checked the ingredients. I spent the day at the ER because I took one small bite and went into anaphylactic shock.
In high school, my friends on the football team ate PB&Js in almost every class. I'd sometimes have to leave the room, even if it was the class period after, because the smell lingered and my throat would start closing.” – Celeste Miller
“My brother is severely allergic to peanuts. His kindergarten teacher knew that. Once the kids did a class project that entailed spreading peanut butter on a toilet paper roll, and then rolling it through birdseed to make a bird feeder. The teacher thought it would be okay since he wouldn't be consuming the peanut butter. He had an allergic reaction in class and had to be picked up from school and rushed to the hospital.” –Samantha Walker
“My tree-nut allergy kid will only eat baked goods that have come out of my kitchen, or packaged products only if the label is still around for him to read…We don't take him with us to Indian or Thai restaurants (our two absolute favorites) because there are many items that have tree nuts or nut paste, and I don't trust them to not cross-contaminate…At family gatherings, I ALWAYS bring a dessert/treat that I've made that's safe, because nobody ever remembers and the last accident he had was at a family party when somebody gave him a cookie but forgot it had walnuts. He LOVES chocolate, but can only eat certain kinds/brands because of the ‘processed in a facility that also handles tree nuts’ or similar warnings. (He) generally misses out on a lot of treats.” –Ariana Duke
“I tend to avoid potlucks, and if I do go, we eat before and just come to socialize. I always ask if things contain nuts at restaurants- they aren't always listed. I make sure that both me (I'm lethally allergic to walnuts) and my daughter (allergic to peanuts and walnuts) are always carrying an EpiPen and Benadryl. Children's Benadryl, because the liquid works faster. I tend to not trust that proper precautions are taken because cross-contamination is so easy.
People also tend to underestimate allergies, or act like they are psychosomatic, which is extra worrying because there are some who will actually give things containing nuts, knowing about the allergy and then get offended when you don't eat it (this has happened to me several times).
My daughter's school, even with the 504 plan in place, is not very understanding when she has to miss after having had a reaction. I make sure to be notified when class parties happen and make sure that the teacher reminds the parents about no nuts, even though my daughter doesn't eat anything but what I send her with.” –Andrea Rice
So what can we do to help people with nut allergies? I think it begins with awareness, which is my main purpose in writing this article. When you begin to understand how serious these allergies can be, you begin to understand why people with nut allergies take so many precautions. They are not being overly sensitive; they are protecting themselves (or their family members) from a life-threatening situation! You would not place a small child in a room full of marbles unsupervised. So why would a person with nut allergies put themselves in a similarly dangerous situation?
Secondly, as my friend, Celeste Miller, put it, “… a little kindness goes a long way!” When you become aware of people in your circle of influence with nut (or other) allergies, be considerate of them. Don’t bring foods with nuts to potlucks, schools, or other social gatherings. If you are having someone over to dinner with a nut allergy, pay attention to the food labels of all the ingredients you are cooking with. On Halloween, have a separate bowl of safe candy for kids with nut allergies. (See sources below to learn about the Teal Pumpkin Project). And certainly don’t become offended when someone with an allergy may refuse certain foods or have to leave a gathering because of a possible reaction. There are far too many food allergy- related tragedies that occur as a result of negligence. Let’s all do our part to help keep people with nut allergies safe!
- Personal conversations with Celeste Miller, Samantha Walker, Ariana Duke, and Andrea Rice.
Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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