What I Learned From Two Food Challenges
“I’ve done two food challenges, for different foods, with different outcomes, after having the allergies for different lengths of time. But despite all those differences, the feelings I had were the same.”
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Mia Rossi
Has your allergist recommended you for a food challenge after you’ve done blood work and skin testing? You read about how much of your allergen you will eat, how long it’s going to take and when you’ll have to stop taking other allergy meds, so you know what’s going to happen. You’re excited by the possibility of being able to eat more foods safely, but you couldn’t be more in the dark about how it’s going to go.
I am allergic to eggs and peanuts, and for three years I was allergic to sesame. In June 2016, after blood work and skin testing in the months leading up to it, I did a baked egg challenge. I was 11 at the time, and terrified. I had been off my Zyrtec for a few days before the challenge and that morning my mom made the pancakes with eggs for the challenge. I went to my allergist with both of my parents, ready for the long day ahead. They got me checked in, and I went to the room, I talked to my doctor and a nurse, and I did a breathing test.
Then I had the first round of the food challenge.
I freaked out. This was the first time I had eaten eggs since I was a baby. I cried and my parents did their best to calm me down, and eventually I ate the pancake with eggs. And I was fine. The next time, more of the same, and the next time. It was the second to last ‘round’ of the food challenge when I started not feeling well. My face was getting red. They stopped the challenge. I was given Benadryl, and they watched me for a while before I went home. I was ultimately fine but unable to eat eggs.
A month later I found out I was allergic to sesame. In 2019, my blood work and skin testing indicated I could do a food challenge, so in November of that year I did. My allergist recommended it to me, and even knowing how stressful the egg challenge had been, I was more than willing, even excited.
The day before the sesame challenge, I’d gotten back from a school trip. I already wasn’t feeling well, since we’d been on a bus for more than seven hours, and I hadn’t been able to take my allergy meds leading up to the challenge. My mom packed up the chocolate-flavored tahini and crackers and I grabbed a book and headphones for the challenge. I got to the allergist’s office and got checked in and set up, just like three years before.
I didn’t think I would be as scared. After all, for most of my life I had eaten sesame with no issues. But I was just as scared.
As soon as the nurse put down the plate with the small, measured-out spoonful of the chocolate-flavored tahini I freaked out, just like I had three years before. The very friendly nurse left the room for me to finish the tahini, and it was awful. I probably cried the entire time I was doing the challenge. My mom was reading to me and distracting me to keep my mind off of it. The day dragged by. The last ‘round’ of the challenge finally came and went. I was fine. I passed. I wasn’t allergic to sesame anymore.
So, I’ve done two food challenges, for different foods, with different outcomes, after having the allergies for different lengths of time. But despite all those differences, the feelings I had were the same.
I’d been told time and time again that I wouldn’t be doing the challenge if the numbers for other tests weren’t low enough. I was at my allergist's office, literally across the street from an emergency room. But whether it was for my entire life, or for only three years, it was ingrained in me that this food could kill me. Each challenge felt like being in a life or death situation. It felt like jumping out of a plane or walking across a busy street at rush hour with none of the cars stopping, though admittedly I’ve never had either of those experiences. But you’re programmed to think that this food is going to kill you. It’s terrifying to think about.
(I should mention that I have always been rather on edge about my allergies. The idea of eating perfectly safe sunflower butter will bring me to tears because it looks, smells and feels so similar to peanut butter.)
Both food challenges were easily two of most terrifying things I have personally experienced, but if I was ever given the opportunity to do an egg challenge again, I would. Knowing whether I can or can’t eat egg would certainly be worth it.