A New Job and Labradoodles

The last 3 weeks have flown by. I started a new job back on the 22nd of September and am already into my 4th week with the company. When I started, I made sure to mention my food allergies, sensitivities to fragrances/perfumes. One thing I forgot to ask about, which has worked out great in the end was whether or not it was a pet-friendly office. As it turns out, there are two dogs which are often in the office. When I found out on my first day of work, instead of getting all worked up, the first thing I asked was what breed they were and was told they were Labradoodles – a very hypo-allergenic breed, similar to poodles. I decided to stay calm and see if in fact I reacted to them because poodles hadn’t triggered as severe symptoms as other breeds had for me.

At the end of day one I was extremely excited. I mean it. On the bus ride home I was researching Labradoodles on my phone, curious about the breed. Now some may wonder… why are you excited about not needing antihistamines or inhalers with the dog in the office. Well, for me it was a HUGE win. For those of you who have done immunotherapy before, I considered this as an opportunity for me to build up my tolerance with dogs. Consequently, for me, knowing that I’d be spending lots of time in the same environment as these dogs was an opportunity. I know that’s a crazy way to think about it, however some of you may appreciate my  thinking process.

I did learn that I should write down things I need to bring up so I don’t forget something. It’s amazing all the things someone with asthma and severe allergies – environmental and food, needs to consider when it comes to a new job.

When I saw my allergist recently for my dust mite subcutaneous injection I shared with him the news about the dogs at work and the fact that I hadn’t reacted or needed antihistamines. I felt extremely happy about the situation and almost felt like a kid on their birthday, excited about the presents and friends and relaxed. Has anyone else had experience with a dog in the workplace? Or perhaps have a Labradoodle?

 

 

 

Food Allergies and Anaphylaxis- No Joke

Many of you know that Severe food allergies and Anaphylaxis are no joke. There are still many people out there that do not realize how serious and life-threatening a food that may seem so innocent, like a peanut can be. We need to raise awareness.

Below is yet another sad story of what happens when us severely allergic people ingest these foods and a reminder of how important it is to take every possible precaution possible. When your life is on the line. Be as safe as you can be.

Amy’s nut allergy devastates family and friends

These stories need to be shared. We need to raise awareness that food allergies are no joke.

 

Better get ready. Fall is just around the corner!

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If you suffer from pollen allergies, you might be on antihistamines right now as summer turns into early fall. When I lived in Montreal, I would get serious allergies every fall, from Ragweed. Spring and fall used to be brutal. I remember years when my father and I were completely out of commission! It was terrible. And on top of the itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing, I’d have my asthma flaring up. Talk about a gong show! People thought I was sick with a cold. Nope. Gotta love allergies and asthma in the fall!

Moving to Victoria, British Columbia, my seasonal allergies changed. It seems like I am not as severely allergic to the pollen out here. What a relief! Or so I thought. One thing about being out in beautiful BC is that the climate is very different. It is damp and humid and that means there is a lot more mold. So every fall, instead of dealing with pollen, I’m trying to keep my body as strong as possible, heading into the damp fall and winter because there is so much mold and it ALWAYS triggers my asthma.

Now the other battle students with asthma face is”back to school” I remember when I was younger, I would be off my asthma medications in the summer and then start up on them as fall approached in anticipation of school starting. With school starting there are so many colds going around and confined environments (classrooms that have been closed all summer) so there is a lot of dust; one of my major triggers. I recall numerous ER visits for my asthma. When I was younger, I had my own nebulizer at home and another at school and fall/winter I was very careful not to miss a treatment. Some days I’d be on the nebulizer three times a day! I am thankful that I haven’t needed regular treatment using a nebulizer in some time.

Do you get triggered in the fall?

Do your seasonal allergies flare-up?

Does your your Asthma flare-up?

Severe allergic reaction to lunch meat

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Yesterday I shared that the last wee has been a scary one which has seriously impacted my ability to trust labels and kitchen staff. Well, I have shared my close-call at the restaurant, and thought I’d share the severe allergic reaction I had on Wednesday with you.

Wednesday was one of those busy days where I didn’t pack enough food for the day and by 3 pm my stomach was growling and I needed food. I decided to stop at a grocery store and pick up some rice crackers and sliced meat that I trusted, to tide me over until dinner. Well… something had changed in their product because within 10 seconds of ingesting the meat, my throat was insanely scratchy and getting worse. The afternoon and evening consisted of antihistamines, trouble breathing and swallowing and full body itchiness as well as a trip to the hospital, where they kept me under observation to make sure my symptoms didn’t get any worse. This was the first allergic reaction of this severity in almost 3 years and it scared me! I was mostly scared because I don’t know what it was I reacted to. Nothing on the label stands out as a trigger for me, so I have no idea if it is a new allergy or perhaps it was something undeclared like soy. It’s even possible that it was contaminated. I have no idea! All I know is that I don’t trust much right now.

Two days later I am still recovering. When an allergic reaction triggers your asthma and upsets your stomach and your throat, it doesn’t just go away the next day. It takes time. I also feel exhausted. It’s quite an event for your body to recover from. At least in all my experiences it has been.

So what to do next. Yesterday I decided I would take the meat to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for testing and inspection of the factory. They say they will follow up with me when they have more information and I seriously look forward to knowing what happened! I know for sure I won’t trust that company anymore. No matter what the result.

Have you ever had a reaction and taken the sample to be inspected? What happened?

From all this I have definitely learned that I need to organize and plan even better so I have snacks I can grab on the go. That is my big lesson learned from this. Also, not to trust certain items and companies…

 

 

 

A whirlwind of a week – cross-contamination and a severe allergic reaction

In the last 6 days I have had one insanely close call with cross-contamination at a restaurant and a severe allergic reaction yesterday afternoon. It’s been quite a week. And my trust in labels and restaurants has dropped drastically.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends who have helped me through both of these incidents. The first incident occurred last Friday, at a family-friendly restaurant here in Victoria when I almost ate a chickpea that was in my Greek salad. I had taken as many precautions as I possibly could have, and the kitchen messed up. Here are the precautions I took:

1) Called the restaurant ahead of time to discuss my severe food allergies – They assured me it should be just fine, we have people in with allergies quite often and accommodate, and that all I would need to do was talk to my waiter. After that response I felt comfortable eating there.

2) Told the waiter the minute he came for our drink order - I told the waiter immediately when he came to the table for our drink order that I had life threatening food allergies and his response was, “ok, I’ll get that later when you order your food”. Not too reassuring, however when he took our food order he did go back to the kitchen with my list and reassured me everything in the Mediterranean salad – with no feta or bread would be ok.

3) Wrote a list of all my food allergies and gave it to the waiter -  I always give a list to my waiter with all my food allergies. I wrote “deadly” next to the 4 things (peanuts, tree nuts, soy, legumes – peas, beans) that could send me to the hospital. And wrote “sensitive to: dairy and gluten” so as not to confuse them.

Now, everyone’s meals arrive together and another waiter or staff (not our waiter) places a salad in front of me with feta cheese on it. I call our waiter back immediately and say “I told you I cannot have feta”. He says “yes, I am sorry the kitchen made a mistake I will get you a new one right away”. I feel comfortable enough that the next time everything will be safe. Well… The next salad came and everything looked ok. No feta on this one. I tested the salad dressing to make sure I didn’t react to it (as soy is often found in dressings) and it was fine. So I started eating. The salad was good and we were having great conversation, when all of a sudden, I realized there was a chickpea in my salad. I was terrified! They called the waiter back immediately and we told him about the chickpea and I told him that I had specifically warned him about my life-threatening allergies and that this chickpea would have sent me to the hospital. The manager spoke to the kitchen staff and sorted it out. They made a brand new salad from scratch and made a new chicken breast for me and didn’t charge us for the meal. The whole car ride home, I worried about a delayed reaction from the fact the chickpea had been in with the salad that I had eaten. I took antihistamines and stayed up for a few hours with my boyfriend in case I would have had a delayed reaction. I didn’t.

I am now scared to trust restaurants with my food. It has traumatized me. How could such a thing happen when you take so many precautions? I don’t plan on eating out for a while.

Have you had any close calls?

 

 

The Camping Trilogy: Part 2 – Asthma and Environmental Allergies

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I’ve already shared a post about managing food allergies and this one is about managing your asthma and environmental allergies. A few of these things I hadn’t even thought about for this camping trip, which, I have learned my lessons for next time and will need to plan a little better. This was the first time camping in a long time and that is about to change as I now have the “camping bug”!!

A few things asthmatics need to consider when going camping:

Will you need to borrow camping equipment? 

If you don’t have a tent and air mattress and plan on borrowing camping equipment and have environmental allergies, be sure you find out if there have been any cats, or dogs in the tent. That result of using a tent that may have had a cat or dog inside could ruin your camping trip if your allergies are serious. This could also trigger your asthma which is definitely something you want to try and prevent when at all possible.

Where are you going camping? Is it inland or by the ocean?

We went camping near China Beach which is right by the ocean, and it was EXTREMELY humid so my asthma was worse than normal. We were in the fog cloud and it was the most humid climate I have been in. I was lucky though as I had my inhalers and was able to control my asthma fairly well. It is important to know where you are camping especially if the humidity will be higher than where you live now. Luckily, with camping, you don’t really need to worry about air pollution as camping means going away from the city into nature, away from it all.

What time of the year are you going camping?

This is a really important one! Especially if you have a serious allergy to say ragweed and plan a camping trip in peak ragweed season! Be aware of the peak seasons for your environmental allergies. Out here on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, my asthma usually flares early fall, when the weather flips from beautiful hot summer, to wet, cold fall. I have a serious mold allergy and the mold spores are what make my asthma worse, so I need to plan appropriately.

Will you be hiking a lot?

When I think camping, I associate it with hiking, especially here on the beautiful West Coast! Physical activity in a more humid climate triggers my asthma. It may trigger yours too. If you don’t know whether your asthma may be triggered exercising in a more humid climate, ask your allergist or a doctor ahead of time. This is all part of the planning process.

The nice thing about all this is that once you’ve figured out what makes your asthma worse, you already have a plan to minimize the flare-ups and know how to control your asthma. Camping is sooo much fun and with a little planning you can have a wonderful weekend getaway like we did and not have any worries. That’s the best thing about planning. It’s a lot of work upfront but means that you can actually relax when you are there because you are ready!

I am looking forward to a whole lot more camping and hiking this fall! Will you be camping?

 

 

The Camping Trilogy: Part 1 – Managing Food Allergies

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This weekend Mike and I went camping near China Beach, on Vancouver Island. I have been wanting to go camping for quite sometime however a busy work schedule and chronic pain has limited our ability to go camping until now. However, we were able to have a wonderful weekend with some short hikes along the coast and the beach.

As many of you know, when you have food allergies, asthma and/or environmental allergies, a camping trip requires a fair bit of planning. With all the preparations you need to make, it is easy enough to feel overwhelmed even before you hit the road! However I have found that the easiest way to minimize that overwhelming feeling is to make a to do list, or even a couple different lists.

Tackling the food allergies: I started by making a list of how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners we would need. Then I tried to think of what foods we could have that wouldn’t require too much cooking, so we would have more time to hike and enjoy our time in the outdoors. We planned simple dinners, like gluten free pasta and a homemade sauce (which I made the day before) and decided to have breakfast sandwiches as a nice treat as we don’t have those very often. Having food allergies does not in any way mean you should have to miss out on treats and a fun camping trip! It may require a little more work but I assure you it is worth it!

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Everything we brought was “Erika-friendly” when you are out in the woods with no cell phone reception, it’s important to limit or entirely restrict the chance of an allergic reaction. I ALWAYS trust the Enjoy Life brand with my peanut, tree nut and soy allergies as well as my gluten and dairy sensitivity. So I packed some of their granola and their “no nuts! Fruit and Seed Mix” which we love! I knew that those would be safe. Whenever I travel on a plane or am far from medical care, my golden rule is; “only eat products I have eaten before and trust the company and their labels”. This may seem limiting, however all it means is that you should try things you want to take with you well before you go away. So really in truly, the only difference is no new treats on your trip.

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If you are camping with friends and/or family, it is up to you what you feel most comfortable with. In the past, I have always asked that those I go camping with please not bring foods I am allergic to. To this day, I have not had any disagreements or had anyone argue with me over it, because I have always been 100% honest with them and explained that being so far away from medical care, the chances of cross-contamination were too risky for me. Especially when going out into the back country. It is only a few days, and people who care about your well-being should be willing to discuss this topic and perhaps share some other ideas they have in terms of mitigating the risks. Perhaps you can provide the food and they can each give you some money towards the cost…

What do you do when camping with food allergies? When camping with others, do they bring food you are allergic to?

Stay tuned for:

The Camping Trilogy: Part 2 – Asthma and Environmental Allergies

The Camping Trilogy: Part 3 – Managing Chronic Pain