How To Deal With Major Allergens


Susannah Otstott, Staff Writer

More Than a Sneeze– When people hear the word “allergies,”, often the first thing that comes to mind is pollen, sneezing, or the outdoors. They are often vaguely referred to as “allergy season” and used to describe the way a person feels. “The allergens are really bothering me today,” or “What’s wrong?” “Allergies.” While those phrases may still be correct, there is more to this word than just a sneeze, cough, or headache. Allergens often have major impacts on people’s lives. So, here are a few tips and tricks from someone who has dealt with allergies for a very long time.

Food Allergies– A food allergy is when a person reacts to a certain food. This is different from an intolerance. In an allergic reaction, the person’s body is physically attacking the food that they have eaten, considering it a threat and trying to get rid of it. An intolerance is when a person’s body cannot process a certain food sometimes due to an enzyme deficiency or a sensitivity to a certain food. The medical terms for these are IgE and Non IgE. IgE means the person is anaphylactic to a certain food; anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that results in the airway closing. Non IgE is an intolerance, or inability to process a food. The main difference is the reaction severity. Non IgE results in a stomach ache and discomfort, whereas IgE reactions are life-threatening.

Checking the Label– I cannot stress how important this is when you are dealing with food allergies, mild or severe. All allergens are listed on the back of the wrapper, and often listed at the bottom of the ingredient list. Please always check the label before consuming a product, some things may contain allergens that you would not expect. In these next few stories, I had checked the label for all of them but either did not catch the fact that they had one of my allergens or did not know I was allergic to the food.

My Reactions– I, personally, have had three anaphylactic reactions in my life. Before I begin, I would like to give a gentle warning to people who may not want to read the specifics of the reactions. I am giving details for the purpose of hopefully helping someone else should they experience similar symptoms. If you would rather not read the details, skip to the paragraph entitled EpiPen.

The First Reaction- This one was when I was three years old. I had been eating nuts for the last few years with no difficulties. It was before a Valentine’s Day party and my mom had bought chocolate peanut butter kisses. After having eaten one, the left side of my face and lips began to swell. I told her my tongue felt funny, and from more current reactions, I would compare it to letting water from the shower spray onto your tongue with a high-water pressure. It tingled, itched, and felt as though it was swelling too. Right before we left the house to go to the doctor, I was throwing up. That was when we discovered my allergy to peanuts, and after being tested we discovered I had since become allergic to every other type of nut as well. 

The Second Reaction– This one was much more mild. I was in fifth grade and eating lentils, which are legumes. At the time we did not know that lentils are closely related to peanuts and often cause reactions in people who are sensitive to nuts. I had a few before noticing that my tongue felt funny once again and I was having a hard time swallowing. My mom acted very fast to use the EpiPen, and by the time the ambulance had arrived all of my symptoms were gone.

The Third Reaction– This one was the most severe. It was January 2019, and I had just tested clear of almonds and pecans, meaning I had outgrown the allergy and had the ability to eat them. It was after school and we were at the grocery store. I was eating quite a few LaraBars at that time as they were healthy and I was able to find ones containing only almonds or pecans and no other nuts. I picked out a new flavor at the store, blueberry pie I believe, and I checked the label multiple times but missed a key ingredient that would later result in a major reaction. We arrived home around 4:00 and my mom left with my sister to take her to tutoring which was around 20 minutes away. 15 minutes after she had left, I decided to try the new bar. I remember it tasting different than the others but thought it was just prepared in a different way. A few minutes later, it felt as though something was lodged in my throat. The more I swallowed, the more it hurt and the larger it got. Panicking, I grabbed a glass of water and tried to swallow, but it wasn’t making anything better. I had already thrown away the wrapper so I went to the computer and looked up the bar ingredients. On the website, I saw it contained cashews. I ran back and grabbed the wrapper as I had not seen that when I checked the label. But indeed, there it was. The word ingredients was bolded, and the word cashews was bolded right next to it, so my brain had read them as one word. It was getting harder to swallow and my lips were beginning to swell. At this point, being home alone, I gave myself the EpiPen and called my mom. She drove home as fast as she could and I kept her on the phone until the moment she walked through the door. When the symptoms weren’t going away, I used a second EpiPen, at which point I started to feel better. Since the symptoms had fully subsided, we opted against calling an ambulance.

The Third Reaction Part Two– Later that evening, around 9:00, I took a shower and watched a show with my parents. I was under a blanket and feeling overly warm but figured it was the heat from my shower. When I got up to go to bed, my mom was shocked to see that my skin was bright red. She felt my forehead and said I was radiating heat. Holding her hand a few inches above my arm she could feel how hot I was. At this point, I began to get incredibly dizzy and could hardly stand up without falling over. I felt like I needed to throw up but my body physically couldn’t. We decided to go to the ER. By the time we arrived, my skin was still burning up, but I was freezing and shivering to the point of my teeth clattering together. They admitted us into the ER and the doctor gave me a heating blanket, which helped a lot even though it felt counter-intuitive. They tried to find a vein for the IV but my skin was swollen and the veins had shrunk. Once they finally did, they connected an IV and used another EpiPen. Then, I got the strangest symptom that not even the doctor knew about. My lower abdominals were shooting with pain. I could not lie still- they hurt too bad. But I also could not move because they hurt to do that too. The doctor had never seen that before so she refused to give any type of pain reliever. The EpiPen began to kick in; the redness went away and my skin was no longer swollen. The stomach ache lasted for what felt like forever, but I believe it was actually only one hour. It was around 11:30 pm at this point. I then got up to use the bathroom and threw up everything I had eaten. After that, all of the symptoms went away. My body had fought violently against the cashews until they were completely out of my system. The doctor kept me until 1am to make sure there wasn’t another relapse in the reaction. We were then sent to Dell Children’s for the rest of the night. By the next morning, I felt normal and had no traces of the symptoms. We left around 11am to go home.

On a Scale of 1-100– After reading my last paragraph, you may be surprised to know that on a scale of 1-100, which is how allergy severity is measured, my cashew allergy is a 13. Peanuts, however, are 100+. The allergy is so high that it goes above the provided scale. Now you may understand why food allergies are such a scary thing. I was hospitalized overnight with a bi-phasic (two part) reaction to a 13, so there’s no way to comprehend what a 100+ reaction would even look like. Food allergy reactions are the body physically attacking a certain food as though it were a threat, like a virus.

EpiPen– An EpiPen is the medicine used to treat a severe reaction. However, I found it interesting to learn how they work. It is not a medicine that combats the food or the reaction, it is actually a shot of adrenaline to get your body working in fight or flight mode essentially. It also increases blood flow through veins by constricting blood vessels and relaxes the muscles blocking the airway to allow breathing to return to normal. If ever you or someone you know is having a reaction, using an EpiPen is never a bad idea. The medication has no negative side effects if you are to use it and find out you actually weren’t having a reaction.

Staying Safe– Now that I have thoroughly freaked you out, my apologies by the way, I’d like to share a few safety measures on how to avoid reactions or deal with them if they are to occur. 

Checking the Label– First off, check the label on everything! And yes, I mean everything from food to candy to skincare. Anything that comes packaged will have a list of ingredients on the back and most include an allergen statement at the bottom. This often looks like “contains: milk, eggs, soy.” To be on the extra safe side, I would recommend reading through the ingredients and not just relying on the allergen statement.

Skincare– Yes, I mean skincare. It sounds crazy but there are allergens in everything. Many skincare products use nut oils such as almonds which can cause reactions. I, personally, have had my skin break out in hives and itch multiple times due to a skincare product containing something I’m allergic to. Be sure to especially check things like face masks, sugar scrubs, chapsticks, and moisturizers. These tend to have the most hidden ingredients that you could react to.

Cross-Contamination– This is something that many people forget about. When you are getting food from a restaurant and especially if you are getting a dessert, there is the risk of cross-contamination. This means that some of the other food may have fallen into the wrong container. For example, frozen yogurt toppings. Often if there is a tub of gummy worms and a tub of peanuts right next to each other, peanuts will fall into the gummy worms when people are scooping them, meaning you could accidentally be exposed to an allergen. In order to stay safe with this, always mention your allergies no matter where you are. The employees should be trained to help you and make sure you stay safe. Avoid picking toppings or food that may be right next to what you are allergic to.

Frying Oils– This is a weird one but incredibly necessary to mention. Many fast food places such as Chick-Fil-A, Burger Fi, and Five Guys use peanut oil to cook their food. This can cause reactions if you are allergic to nuts. If you’ve continuously felt sick after eating at one of these places, that might be why. Always ask about the oil used when eating out.

What To Do– In the event that you or someone you know is having a reaction, try to remember these things. First off, stay calm. Extra anxiety and freakouts are not helpful. Start to recognize your symptoms. Are they worsening or staying the same? Sometimes just freaking out can cause the feeling of not being able to swallow, which is why calmness is so very important. Take note of how you’re feeling. If you think you may be having a reaction to a food, stop eating and wait. Continue to monitor your symptoms to see if they go away, stay the same, or worsen. Second, don’t be afraid to use the EpiPen. As they say, it’s better safe than sorry. Third, call an ambulance. We learned from our mistakes on my third reaction- even if the symptoms go away, professionals are there to help you. Never be scared or ashamed to get help. 

Conclusion– I believe that is all I have to say, and three pages later I hope you have learned something that will possibly help you or others should you find yourself in this situation. If you have any questions about what I have written or want to know more about a certain topic, please feel free to google chat me. I’m here to help as I know how dangerous and scary these things can be. And remember that allergies are not something to down play. Though they may include a cough or a sneeze, they are so much more than that.