Allergies, You Take My Breath Away

Allergies%2C+You+Take+My+Breath+Away

Maya Lyou and Casey Hartley

Maya Lyou

Itching. Rashes. Nausea. Vomit. I can’t breathe. All of a sudden, my body starts to fail me. 

This is what I fear every day. I live in fear that one day I’ll eat something- anything, even with the slightest trace of peanuts, that will be the most terrifying moment of my life. 

Peanuts, macadamias, cashews, walnuts, pecans, the list goes on and on. If I were to consume any of these, I’m at risk of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. 

I am just one of many children, teens, and adults who live with food allergies. Some are lucky enough to live with a single food allergy while others, including myself, live with multiple, all ranging in severity levels.

According to FARE, Around 5.6 million kids under the age of 18 in the U.S. have allergies, and about 40% of those children have more than one food allergy.

Specifically, the most life-threatening allergic reaction is what is known as anaphylaxis.  

Below are two reports of students who have experienced allergies in a daily way.

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Leila Hill, Age 16, Da Vinci Design, Allergic reaction to meat:

“I’m a vegetarian and a lot of people assume it’s just by choice but really it just makes me sick to my stomach. If it’s cooked, it smells good but even [the smell of] raw meat makes me gag. There aren’t a ton of options for people who can’t eat meat and a lot of the time at restaurants you have to ask what they have that’s vegetarian and that’s making them do something extra. I get nervous about telling people that I’m vegetarian because they will be weirded out or think I’m a hippie or something when in reality, my body decided it doesn’t want meat.”

“In like 4th grade, I would feel sick all the time so we went to a holistic kinesiologist and he said that having a turkey sandwich every day for lunch was making me sick and when I stopped eating that, I was way better. I’ve tried to eat meat again but I just threw up or felt gross after.”

In Hill’s case, her allergy often results in others believing her inability to eat meat is a choice. Meat (in general) is an uncommon allergy, and Hill seems to have an even rarer case: a reaction to turkey. 

Allergies to red meat have been recorded as more common than poultry meat. About 93% of people with an allergy to red meat are also allergic to milk, presenting a possible connection between red meat and milk allergies. As for Hill, an allergy to turkey has been documented as being a “co-allergy” to eggs, but in most cases, they are not also allergic to eggs. (Meat Allergy | Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment)

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Annette Nguyen, Age 16, Da Vinci Science, Allergic to seafood and walnuts:

“In my daily life, sometimes it would be kinda sad because if I’m at a party or gathering and the food that they’re serving contains the food I’m allergic to, the host or whoever feels bad and has to try and get an alternative for me or I can’t eat at all. This especially happens at family dinners/gatherings since I come from an Asian household and a lot of dishes have seafood in them.  Sometimes I’m just super anxious to eat things because it might cause a reaction and that will cause more problems to not only myself but also the people around me.”

Nguyen, similar to many others with food allergies, experiences slight anxiety because of her allergies. Not only is she constantly worrying about what not to eat, she worries about social interactions with others and how it affects them. Nguyen doesn’t want to cause extra concern but doesn’t want to suffer being hungry or unable to eat food provided to her. People with food allergies are forced to refuse food offered to them, which oftentimes is seen as rude. Although it’s explained that the reason is food allergies, others don’t take it seriously or believe it at all.

About one in every 100 people has a seafood allergy. Similarly to red meat and poultry meat, if someone is allergic to a certain fish, they are more likely to be allergic to multiple types of fish. Seafood allergies are most commonly shellfish allergies. (Shellfish and fish allergies)

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Casey Hartley

I can consider my social life ruined the moment my allergies flare up.  A mere night out to dinner can result in disaster if I so much as to eat something that disagrees with my allergies.  My allergies are digestive, so one wrong move can give me crippling abdominal pain.

My allergies aren’t flaring, but rather sustaining.  A simple error can cause pain that lasts for days. From then on I have to worry constantly about my digestive issues hurting me in public, or any place that I might not be able to lay down or take medicine.

The issue with having a multitude of allergies is that it’s often difficult to tell which allergy is the culprit.  My allergies to specific foods, like garlic or cane sugar, can be very mild on their own. However, the mere quantity of consuming such foods can result in days of digestive discomfort or pain.  Foods that are small or difficult to detect can be hidden causes for discomfort.

Allergies can be seen as a joke by some, and the issue worsens with how severe a person’s allergies are.  I myself haven’t had too many experiences like this, at least not major experiences, but I’ve seen them firsthand.  Those who have food allergies that can be triggered merely by smelling or touching the specific food can be at a major risk for bullying.

I’m sure a lot of people have seen kids get made fun of in elementary or even middle school for having foods they can’t eat.  It’s not strange to see kids wave foods in allergic kids’ faces, in hope they get some sort of reaction out of it. A lack of awareness in the kids or school can result in serious consequences.

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Maya Lyou

In my early days of elementary school, I was separated from my friends during lunch and forced to sit at a table specifically designed for students with nut allergies. Sure, I appreciated that the school didn’t want me to get an allergic reaction from other students eating a PB & J, but I felt isolated. By the time the school allowed me to sit with my friends, I would get anxious being around anything I was allergic to. I had the ability to sense peanut butter from a mile away- and it made me nauseous. If any of my friends had a PB & J or even an orange, I wasn’t allowed to sit next to them. I felt like I was being treated unfairly over something I couldn’t control.

My parents have been my people. People I can count on to keep me safe. To keep me away from nuts and my other allergens. My parents spend extra time in grocery stores reading ingredients, always double checking that none of my allergens are in said food or item. My family repeatedly buys the same foods and snacks for my siblings and I because they know that what we have is safe. Trying to find new foods is extremely difficult when so many different recipes, snacks, and other food items contain things like peanuts or tree nuts. 

My mom threw a huge birthday party when I was 12, where she offered different appetizers and snacks. She doesn’t often buy foods that contain my allergen, but in the rare chance that she does, she lets me know and warns me not to eat something. My mom had bought some cookies and biscuits and I picked one up and asked if it was okay that I eat a cookie. She told me it was fine- she had checked and there were no nuts. I didn’t particularly like the cookie so I decided not to eat another one and a couple minutes after consumption, my tongue and lips started to tingle. Welts started to form and my tongue and lips were partially swollen. I told my mom, and in a panic, she re-read the ingredients to find that it contained a slight amount of pecans. She felt awful, and I felt sick. I spent the rest of the night in my room, epi-pen by my side. Family members and friends checked on me, and they felt bad but all I truly wanted was to be able to celebrate with them. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want to have an allergic reaction.

As an athlete, I’ve attended countless soccer games, cross country/track meets, and swim meets. Many recommend that athletes eat nutritious snacks right before or during their events. It’s very common that when parents or coaches bring snacks, they include granola bars, almost always containing peanuts or tree nuts, oranges, nuts themselves, etc. It’s always predicted that those will be the snacks offered, so I provide for myself by bringing my own food, although it never seemed to feel the same.

There’s a social stigma around food allergies-  should others have to specifically accommodate for one child? Should people feel obligated to offer alternatives? If they do not have food allergies, why should they have to give up something for someone else? Why should they be affected by something that has nothing to do with them?

Growing up, kids with food allergies convince themselves they’re a burden to others. They get used to the fact that, in many situations, they will be excluded and/or have to refuse food or ask for alternatives. At all types of functions- parties, classroom potlucks, sports events- children with food allergies often find themselves outcasted from the others when they come to a realization that they can’t share what all of their peers are enjoying together.  

According to the Huffington Post and a study done with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that an estimated 50% of children in grades six through ten were bullied, teased, or harassed because of a food allergy.

Many kids see this as a clear message that they’re different- they don’t “fit in”.

For a very long time, being allergic to something designed by nature as food was either undetectable or excessively improbable.  Now, food allergies are more common than not and can be the result of mountainous anxiety for some. So, while your chocolate-glazed triple-layer peanut-butter-cheesecake with five different kinds of tree nuts sprinkled on top looks so beautiful it’d make Gordon Ramsay tear up, some people can’t eat it.  Their antibodies said no.

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