From allergic to not: The many emotions around an oral food challenge

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It’s been quite some time since my last post. I have been meaning to post, however summer is always the busiest time of year for me as Director of Youth Programs and Head Coach for all youth camps and sessions here in Victoria, British Columbia!

After being severly allergic to almonds and at risk for anaphylaxis the majority of my 26 years of life, the blood work and numerous prick tests for almonds my allergist did over the last few weeks came back negative. My allergist said it was time to do a oral food challenge to see if in fact I was no longer allergic to almonds. My almond challenge was last week. My last series of oral food challenges, done at the hospital under supervision of my allergist and a medical team was almost 10 years ago. After such a long time of no challenges I wasn’t sure what to think or feel leading up to this challenge!

Not sure what an oral food challenge is? Click here

A few weeks before my challenge at my allergist appointment I made sure to confirm if there was anything I should do leading up to the challenge. Specifically with antihistamines or other medications.

The day before my almond challenge I was thinking how being able to eat almonds would mean I would finally have another easy source of protein. I was also thinking that there was a chance that I would react. For that matter, I didn’t want to get my hopes too high so I wouldn’t be so let down if I did not pass. Instead of being too fearful, I told myself that it was important for me to go into the challenge well rested and not stressed. As acupuncture really helps me relax and de-stress, I had acupuncture the day before my challenge. I went to bed early the night before, so I could get a good night’s sleep in.

The morning of my challenge I headed to the grocery store an hour before my challenge to buy some almond butter and almond milk. I must say, it was really weird buying something I hadn’t eaten in years, especially something that had sent me to the ER a few years back! I knew my allergist had taken every precaution possible with numerous prick tests, blood tests and I knew I could not be at a safer place to do my challenge. I held my head up high and purchased my almond products with a smile on my face. My hope was that I would be back for more. For me, being mentally prepared is so critical. My backround in competitive sports has proven to me how beneficial it is to be prepared mentally; especially in reducing any anxiety one might have.

Challenge time. I walked into my allergist’s office with a smile and ready for the challenge. I knew I had done everything I was supposed to leading up to the challenge and felt safe at my allergist’s office. If I was going to react, I knew I had my 2 epinepherine auto-injectors at the ready, and they had multiple doses on site as well. I was the most ready I could be mentally and physically. They did a prick test with the almond butter and almond milk. Neither reacted.

The first dose went down fine. As I had never had almond butter before, or any other nut butter, I had no idea what the consistency would be like. It was so foreign. I drank lots of water and sat down to wait and see if anything would happen. Nothing happened.

It was time for the second dose, so I grabbed my water bottle and went for more. Once more, the nurse checked my body for hives and confirmed with me that I was not feeling any different since the last dose. This time, I started to realize I really should have brought something else to take it with. I was not used to something so sticky and gummy.

While waiting to take my third dose of almond butter, a younger girl there for her challenge started to have symptoms of anaphylaxis. They treated her with epinepherine and kept her under very strict observation. Seeing this happen while I was also doing my own challenge as tough. As the reality was that it could have happened to me too. The little girl was so strong. She kept her smile and after treatment, she read a book and it was like nothing had happened. Through all of this. I reminded myself to stay calm and not worry. To focus on my own challenge and be fully in tune with my body so I could recognize if in fact I was reacting to the almond butter.

Two more doses of almond butter later I started to really wish that I had something else to help get this almond butter down. Let’s just say I had quite the protein filled morning! Eating 1 whole tbsp of almond butter with only water to wash it down after never having eaten it before. Quite the challenge I tell you!

Everything seemed to be going ok, until all of a sudden I felt a weird feeling at the back of my throat. It was not the same feeling I have had when I have had anaphylactic reactions. I told the nurse and my allergist right away and we decided we would wait before taking another dose. They immediately did a pulmonary function test and my airways looked great. They checked me for hives or other symptoms and nothing else was apparent. I decided that I wanted to have some fresh air to see if it would help, as I thought I was actually reacting to the office environment. With all my environmental triggers, staying in one place with lots of foot traffic for over 3 hrs could easily trigger me. It doesn’t take much; deodorants, shampoos, lotions, any of these could have been the culprit. We didn’t know at the time. While outside, I focused on my breathing to make sure I was not getting worked up and that I was staying calm, in case it was a reaction to the almonds. And so, after being outside for 20 min, my throat stopped hurting. The nurse brought me back in to see the allergist and we debriefed on the challenge. My allergist was certain it was environmental and told me I had passed the challenge. Just to be safe I stayed at the clinic a little longer. Better to be on the safe side. Sure enough, I was fine!

I thanked the doctors and nurses for being there for me for this first of a series of challenges. I have several challenges lined up between now and November as blood testing and prick tests seem to suggest that my allergies have gotten significantly better!

At 26 it is really exciting to think that things can change so much. After this first challenge I am really looking forward to the next challenges I have lined up with the great health care team I have. My allergist is supportive and knowledgeable and makes me feel confident that many of my allergies may in fact no longer be an issue. Next ones coming up are chickpeas, soy, pecans and walnuts! Stay tuned!

Looking back, I found it very helpful that I had a wellness plan going into this challenge. It may be my new favourite food! After a few days of feeling hesitant eating almond butter at home, I am comfortable and no longer worried about eating it. I am now eating almond butter daily and I love it. I must say it is extremely weird to get used to having this food I used to avoid with a 10 foot pole in my fridge! It’s like my world has just opened right up! :)

If you have any good recipes for me with almonds or almond butter, please share them! Unfortunately finding whole almonds that are free of all other tree nuts and peanuts is proving to be a little more difficult than finding safe almond butter.

Have you or your child had food challenges? How did it go? Are there any tips you would have for others going in for a food challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’d like to read a great article about preparing for an oral food allergy challenge, please read Demystifying Oral Food Challenges by Kids with Food Allergies.

 

 

4 thoughts on “From allergic to not: The many emotions around an oral food challenge

    • Thanks Michèle! I am so very excited! By the end of the year I should have most of the other tree nut challenges done! So here’s to hoping blue diamond almonds for 2016! :)

  1. Congratulations, very happy for you and thank you for sharing your story.
    I have a shellfish – shrimp* allergy, I am waaay too nervous to take the oral challenge. I have had an anaphylaxis attack two times and the thought of possibly going through that again is frightening…

    • Thank you for sharing Susan. For me, I had not had a reaction to almonds in years and had numerous blood tests and prick tests done to reassure me. I was nervous going in, but for me it made sense to do the challenge due to my history my allergist new this was the next step for me. Good luck with your allergies. Hopefully they get better. Stay safe. – Erika

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