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Stressing the Importance of Food Allergies

This is a collection of personal stories and experiences on why it is necessary to stress the importance of food allergies. From social experiences to emotions, this post will cover a variety of discussions that people with food allergies can relate to universally.

teen girls talking

By Zerrin Dulger, Emily Sheridan, Lauren Cohen, Hanna Le, Catherine Walker

My name is Emily, and I am a teen from North Carolina who is allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. I have been on FARE’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG) for one year, and I also run the Instagram account @nallergy, which is a food allergy awareness account. When I am not advocating for food allergic individuals, I enjoy playing piano and ukulele, singing, traveling, and baking.

It’s really important to take allergies seriously, no matter how severe or mild they might be. One allergic reaction doesn’t define how severe another allergic reaction might be, and mild reactions can even turn into severe reactions. 

I found out I had an allergy by going into anaphylactic shock. It was not a good experience. But before I ever had an anaphylactic reaction, my lips would sometimes swell up for “no reason”. Well, now we know that the reason was because I was eating things that were cross contaminated with my allergen. If we had gone to an allergist to figure out that I had an allergy beforehand, I might not have ever gone into anaphylactic shock that night because I would have known to not eat my allergen. 

The point of all these stories is to take your allergies seriously, even if you think they aren’t severe. One reaction doesn’t define how severe the next reaction might be. Always avoid your allergen(s) (unless you are working with an allergist who is directing otherwise!), and take your epinephrine auto-injector wherever you go.

My name is Lauren, I am from Ohio, and I am allergic to dairy, egg, and kiwi. I am 15 years old and have been a part of FARE’s Tag Team for two years to spread food allergy awareness. I enjoy reading, writing, and volunteering.

I have lived with food allergies my whole life, and I have encountered many situations where there is a large disconnect concerning people’s understanding of what it is really like to live with food allergies. Especially when I was younger, the only thing people knew about me was that I had food allergies and it began to define me. As I have grown older, people have made more of an effort to get to know me for who I am, but it is very difficult to explain to people exactly what it is like to have food allergies and how seriously they need to be taken. One of the most common things people say about my food allergies is, “Oh, you are only allergic to milk and egg? That’s it?” What these people are imagining is that I only cannot drink a glass of milk or eat an egg. They do not realize that most of their diet probably consists of foods that contain milk or egg. This assumption is a problem for people with food allergies because it leads to not being able to have the same foods as others or feeling left out. It is so important to understand what it is like to live with food allergies so people can be more aware the next time they bring in food to share with classmates or colleagues, when they invite a friend with food allergies to an ice cream shop or restaurant, or to help food allergic people feel included and understood. 

My name is Catherine Walker. I am 16 and I live in Hudson, Ohio. I have food allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and quinoa. I have been involved in spreading food allergy awareness in many ways and use my experiences to teach people more about living with food allergies. I published an allergy friendly cookbook called: “Cook It Up! Delicious Recipes for Healthy Cooking” and use cooking to help promote food allergy awareness. In school, I am on the varsity tennis team and am involved in an acapella group and love spending time working on my photography portfolio.

I have lived with food allergies for my whole life and dealing with them definitely isn’t easy, especially when people don’t understand what you are going through. Living with food allergies is hard enough, but trying to convey their importance and spread awareness to others is a huge challenge. From my perspective, I see so many people who think nothing of food allergies and think that they are something small and easy to manage. In reality, 32 million Americans deal with them everyday, not just as a diet, but as a lifestyle. They don’t understand. They don’t have to deal with being scared of a reaction, touching a surface or somebody’s hand. Food allergies have become more and more normalized and now, in 2020, most people are aware of them, but don’t fully understand what people with food allergies face on a daily basis. I see people confuse having an intolerance with having food allergies. The fact that people don’t know the difference shows lack of education on this topic among people without allergies. I think it is crucial that people are fully educated about the reality of having food allergies, not only to help the food allergy community, but to promote more allergy awareness.

My name is Zerrin Dulger, I am 15 years old and I live in New Jersey. I am severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and legumes. I have lived with Food Allergies for practically my whole life and it is a dream of mine to have a world that is more Food Allergy Aware! I founded the Food Allergy Awareness Club at my high school and enjoy reading, writing, and playing soccer and piano. In my free time I also run my personal Food Allergy Awareness Blog.

I believe that everyone who has Food Allergies can understand the feeling of being misunderstood for their Food Allergies. With my experiences I have found that many people are unaware of the seriousness of food allergies as well as the measures one must take to ensure their safety with food allergies. It is not just a food that we avoid, it can be a life threatening condition that must be cared and planned for constantly. 

I have lived with food allergies for almost 16 years, and the lack of awareness about food allergies within the general public has made them difficult to deal with at times. It is a necessity that the importance of Food Allergies is stressed to the masses because if not people's lives are put at a risk. For example I have had many people tell me, “Wait you can die if you eat that!?” as if they are shocked and never heard of a food allergy before. I have gone to restaurants and had waiters go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah” and be dismissive when I tell them about my allergies. I have had to explain to family members that if they used the same knife to cut walnuts that they use to cut the cake, I cannot eat the cake. The truth is a lot of people are uneducated on topics such as anaphylaxis and cross contamination. It can make those living with food allergies feel like they are not cared for, or that their value is undermined. This is why it is important to always stress the importance of food allergies. 

To state it bluntly people can die. People need to know that. When I was 12 years old I had my first anaphylactic reaction. It was scary. The feeling of being in a hospital bed and throwing up wondering if I was going to be okay is something I will never forget. It is an experience that I have grown and learned from, but many people have trouble grasping the idea that food allergies can be fatal. 

By the same token that people are shocked and unaware about my food allergies they can also be judging. I’ve had the conversation, “I’m sure you don’t have to bring your own food” or even “You’re fine right? It’s not a big deal”. The truth is it can be a big deal. This why myself and many other Food Allergy advocates stress the importance of Food Allergies. 

Stand up for yourself and take assurance in knowing what you can and cannot eat. Do not feel undermined or not cared for. Remember that Food Allergies are Important. 

My name is Amanda Sweeten, and I am 17 years old. I was diagnosed with several food allergies to milk, tree nuts, and fish at a very young age. I was diagnosed after eating dairy products as a baby and suffering through a severe reaction. I want to use this opportunity to convey the importance of allergies and share my knowledge of how to deal with them. 

As a teenager growing up with severe food allergies to milk, tree nuts, and fish, life has not been easy. I was diagnosed as a very young child after ingesting a dairy product and then suffering through a severe reaction. Since then, I have been confirmed by my allergist to be allergic to milk, tree nuts, and types of freshwater fish. When I ingest milk or tree nuts, my body starts to swell up, and I go through an  anaphylactic reaction. I have to use my epipen immediately thereafter and be rushed to the hospital for treatment. Fortunately, these incidents do not happen often because of the serious caution I take with food, but I find it shocking that many people seem to not take food allergies as seriously as they should. It is unfortunate, but people with food allergies have fallen victim to careless cooks and peer pressure. I know because I’ve had to deal with both. 

One of the most important ways to help people with food allergies is to simply be educated. Almost all of the allergic reactions I’ve had to suffer through have been caused by carelessness and lack of knowledge at restaurants. I always explain my situation to the waiter before ordering food, but most of the time they brush it off or half heartedly agree. It was usually contaminants on a bun, or a vegetable sautéed in butter that made me sick after simply tasting it. None of my reactions at restaurants were ever a cause for a trip to the hospital, but it would make me throw up, and I’d have to give myself medicine and an inhaler. It’s such an awful experience, and I wouldn’t wish it for anyone. If waiters took their customer's allergies seriously, then people wouldn’t have to suffer through allergic reactions and could enjoy going out more. 

Peer pressure is also an issue that could be resolved if people understood more about allergies. When I am out with friends or peers, they often encourage me to join them in making food or going out to eat. Even though they know about my allergies, they always downplay them and are disbelieving in the fact that my milk allergy could kill me. Some of my friends have been very understanding, but others have since stopped inviting me on their outings. Or, they try to convince me to join them in food related activities because “a little bit won’t kill me.” I always have to hold my ground and refuse anything that could be a potential risk to my health even if I can’t participate with my friends. 

My name is Hanna Le. I am 14 years old, homeschooled, and I live in Texas. I was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy at a young age after I touched a shopping cart with a cookie in it and had an anaphylactic reaction. My goal is to spread awareness about what it is like to have food allergies, and that they are very serious, and not to be messed around with. In my free time, I do screen and stage acting, competitive gymnastics, filmmaking, and dance. I also love writing novels and screenplays, and I wish to use these arts to help others understand how important food allergies really are.

Studies show that approximately 32 million Americans have food allergies. And only about half of the population have any idea of what food allergies are.

Why are food allergies important?

I was diagnosed with severe food allergies at a very young age. Since then, I’ve had to triple-check every label, make sure which restaurants are safe for me to eat at, and always carry around my epinephrine injector. Even though I’ve tried to be as safe as possible with my allergies, I’ve had severe anaphylactic reactions in the past. Sometimes these were linked to foods I’ve eaten that I thought were safe. Other times, the exact cause was unknown, although it could’ve been from accidentally touching my face after an allergen or breathing in the airborne allergens.

Living with food allergies has been stressful, and will always be – at least a little. But the most stressful thing about it is not the fact that I have to read every label to whatever I eat, nor is it because my allergy is severe. Rather, what worries me is that some people don’t believe in food allergies. And some even go as far as to accuse others of faking their allergies, or physically bully them with their allergen(s). That kind of behavior is wrong and can have life-threatening consequences. Food allergies are real and should be taken seriously.

Some people, however, might not know about food allergies. Or they might have incorrect knowledge about them. I’ve met people who think the worst that can happen during an allergic reaction is itching or swelling of the skin. But that is far from the truth. More than 40% of children with food allergies have had a severe or life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to their allergen.

I think that we should raise awareness about the importance of food allergies. The better that everyone understands them, the less scary they’ll seem, and the safer it’ll be for those who have food allergies. Because people with food allergies are still people, and we’re just as important and capable as everyone around us. Our allergies do not define us. We do.

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