In April 2014, at the age of 22, I was diagnosed with a severe tree nut allergy. Yes -- adult onset food allergies.
It started with just tree nuts, and I only reacted if I actually ate one. Then, my allergy to tree nuts became airborne, which meant, if I was in the same room as a tree nut, my throat would close. Bad, right? It gets worse. Within the last two years, I’ve developed airborne allergies to not just tree nuts, but also peanuts and shellfish.
I’m a self-sustaining woman; I live on my own, I am in graduate school, I work full time, and I have a man-child (my boyfriend). My world was pretty much turned upside down by these food allergies, and aside from the insurmountable learning curve I have had, and continue to endure, everyday life still proves to be a challenge in ways that most people without food allergies don’t even think about. So, the next time you encounter a person with food allergies, I hope you remember some of these points -- even just one would be helpful to know.
1. The food allergy life choses us, not the other way around.
Who would volunteer to have a food allergy? Nobody? No takers? Shocking.
2. Food allergies are not a joke.
Just because I carry an Epi Pen, doesn’t mean I want to use it, nor does it mean it’s 100% effective. People can still die from a reaction to food after using an Epi Pen.
3. Let’s talk Epi Pens.
I think everybody should carry them, but what do I know? My food allergy developed literally spontaneously. I ate a macadamia nut granola bar the day before I had a violent reaction to a macadamia nut cookie.
After using an Epi Pen, I’m exhausted, and it’s not just the simultaneous dose of Benadryl that’s knocking me out. I feel like I just sprinted a marathon. Also, Epi Pens take up a lot of real estate in a girl’s purse.
4. Trying new restaurants is like playing Russian roulette, and it gives us anxiety.
We have a few “safe” restaurants, so we just stick to eating there. Again, just because I have my Epi Pen, doesn’t mean I want to cause a scene at the restaurant and use it.
5. Food allergies are humiliating.
Speaking of going out to eat, try being called “peanut lady,” or having somebody look at you like you just verbally assaulted them when you tell them you have a nut allergy. The response I get 99 percent of the time to, “Please let the chef know I have a nut allergy” is this: “You have what?” plus the look described above.
6. Read the labels -- always.
Big companies change their ingredients and/or manufacturing processes all the time. Just because I can have Twizzlers doesn’t mean I can have the special holiday bite-sized Twizzlers. Limited edition products are often produced on shared equipment. So we need to read the labels over and over, and over again. You will certainly catch me on my phone Googling manufacturing processes of a product while in the grocery store, and no, I don't care if you're annoyed by that.
7. Meetings at work.
As a health care professional, I meet with people all day, but the meetings that occur around lunch time are the worst. I have to email, call, text ahead of time reminding everybody not to bring allergens to the meeting, or even eat them before hand, since I’m airborne (circle back to #5).
8. If you’re dating someone with a food allergy, you also have that food allergy.
Yup, sorry. My boyfriend is a saint, and I couldn’t tell you how thankful I am for his attentiveness regarding my food allergies. His apartment is always “Kimberly safe,” he watches the ingredients in his hair care products, and he doesn’t eat foods with allergens on days he knows he is going to see me. He essentially has to adopt the food allergy way of life.
On a side note, proteins from foods stay in your salvia for an average of four hours after eating them. It’s really dangerous to kiss your significant other if you’ve consumed foods that he/she is allergic to.
And I’m about to blow your minds with this last one.
9. Peanuts and tree nuts are totally different.
This is one of my personal and largest peeves. Peanuts are not tree nuts, and tree nuts are not peanuts. You can be allergic to one, and not the other. You can also be "blessed" with an allergy to both. Point is, they’re different.
When I go out to eat, I purposely state “nut allergy” to see if the person I’m entrusting with my food, and ergo, my life, is smart enough to ask, “Peanuts or tree nuts?” I’m almost always let down, and anxiety goes through the roof (circle back to #4).