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.

 

 

Keeping friends who understand food allergies close

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A few days ago, I wrote a post about my emotions around food allergies and how I have learned to from my experiences. I shared with you that I cope with fear by asking for help. I am not afraid to ask for help and know that if I don’t feel safe, then I don’t challenge or question that feeling. I have learned to trust my gut. There were a few comments shared around people who truly understand your allergy, or that of a loved one. About trust. These comments had me thinking… I am very fortunate to have the friends I have, who I can trust with my food allergies. They are the ones who will go out of their way to make sure I am safe and feel included. These are the friends we all need to keep really close.

I little while back, a good friend of mine invited me to her child’s birthday party. My friend knew I would not be able to eat the cake and asked me what cookie or muffin would be safe for me so she could get it for me. She went searching for the one brand of cookie I completely trust; Benjamin Bites. Little did I know, she had driven to several different grocery stores to try and find the cookie which they sell in individual packages, because it was not sold in every store or was out of stock. She is one of the friends I trust with my life. A friend I know will take every possible precaution when having me over for dinner to ensure that the meal is safe. A friend who will wipe down every single surface before I arrive to make sure that there wasn’t any peanut butter from the day before on the table, or a counter top. A friend who is not afraid to pick up the phone to call and double and triple check ingredients with me and precautions to take.

I have several friends that I often think might even take more precautions than I do; and I love that. I always feel safe. Even though I feel safe when these friends cook, I still ask questions, as I never want to let my guard down. That’s when accidents happen, accidents which could cost me my life. If my friends prepared the food without me in the kitchen, I ask about the prep, I ask about the ingredients that went into the meal, if there are labels, I re-read them all. Good friends never judge. They never question. They never feel that you don’t trust them because you want to re-read labels or feel uncertain about the utensils used to make the food. They want you to feel safe, and have a safe meal. They want to make sure you feel relaxed, and are not stressed. These are the friends we need to keep close. The friends we need to send thank you cards to out of the blue, just to let them know that their caring means so much to us. Openness, gratitude and appreciation go a long way.

Which friends would you trust with preparing food for you, or a loved one? Do they “get it”? How do you know when you can trust someone?

A roller coaster of emotions for those of us with food allergies

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Anxiety. Fear. These are some of the things that those of us with food allergies feel or have felt on numerous occasions. Fear of a severe allergic reaction. Anxiety over the fact that the food may not be 100% safe for us to eat. We have all felt it. Sometimes we might even question how safe food prepared by a loved one is. And that is not because we don’t trust that person, might it be a parent, family relative or really close friend. It’s hard to explain. I’ve questioned food prepared by loved ones before. No one ever gets hurt by my asking. Often times, I just need to know what is in the food. I need to know exactly what went into it, what knives were used, what surfaces the food was prepared on and who prepared it. To some people it may seem like we are crazy. And that we are extremely anxious. Some might think we are too anxious. That we are worrying too much. Please do not worry about what others think. Let them think whatever they want. I know from my own experience that if I feel unsettled or feel some nerves before eating something, that the only way to settle those nerves is to find out exactly what I am eating, who prepared it and what was used to prepare it.

When you live with severe food allergies, there are times that you start to question everything. You wonder if the cereal you eat might have been made in the same facility that other products you are allergic to are made in, even if you or your parents called the manufacturer to inquire. We all have times in our lives, whether you have food allergies or not, where we feel more vulnerable. Sometimes we are scared of letting our guard down due to a recent close call. Other times, we are just in a different head space and anxiety kicks in. We start to question everything. When that happens, having family and friends close by to re-assure us and be our eyes and ears is the most important. We need to feel safe.

We hear about safety in the media; safety precautions with severe weather and when in dangerous neighborhoods after dark, safety at work, and staying indoors when there is a threat, only to name a few. For those of us with food allergies, we also experience fear over our own safety. No one can compare levels of anxiety or fear from one situation to another, because each situation is unique. Each situation likely had very different triggers or circumstances. It isn’t even fair to compare two different allergic reactions, even if it was two of my own reactions. I am always reminded to focus on the present. Not to dwell in the past. I use experiences from the past to help me in my present and in my future, however I do not let it consume me. Allergic reactions I had when I was a child have stayed with me. I remember exactly what happened, the drive to the hospital, and the fear that I might not make it to the hospital.

When I am extremely anxious about my food allergies, or get stressed out in a situation when someone is trying to make me safe food, I feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster. Do you ever feel like that? I can feel calm, confident and collected one minute, then the next, I can be anxious and emotional. I don’t understand it. Someone out there might… I cannot explain it. All I know is that it’s ok. It’s ok to feel scared. It’s ok to be worried. It’s ok to feel emotional, and to shed a few tears. We are all human. We all have emotions. And we all have different triggers.

For those of us with food allergies. We fear a severe reaction. I have always told myself to embrace fear. To not let it overcome me. To use fear and anxiety in a positive way. To use it as a learning experience. When I look back on times when I feared a reaction and was emotional about it, I see the actions I took to make sure I was safe. I give myself a pat on the back for asking questions, for making sure everything was safe. When I am anxious, I tell someone. I don’t go it alone. Sharing the reason for your fear and anxiety with someone is the best thing you can do. So I urge you to please talk to someone when you feel scared. When you feel worried or anxious. You do not have to overcome that fear alone. Talk to your parents, your friend, someone you trust. Together you can figure out ways to manage your feelings and cope. Asking for help takes courage. Please do not be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone.

I have learned to speak up and ask for help. That is my greatest lesson learned.

Will you ask for help?

Spring time sweets!

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http://www.surfsweets.com/our-candy/spring-mix-jelly-beans/

If you live in Victoria, British Columbia, you know that spring is here! The Cherry Blossoms are in bloom as are many other flowers and trees. Unfortunately for many of us this means our seasonal allergies are starting to ramp up.

Looking for something to brighten your day from all your sneezing and nose blowing? Surf Sweets has a Spring Mix Jelly Beans which includes flavors like Tropical Punch, Lemonade, Watermelon, Mixed Berry, Tangerine and Pineapple! I don’t know about you, but I will be sure to pick up a bag. :)

Surf Sweets are the ONLY candy I eat and here are a few reasons why I love Surf Sweets so much!

  • Free of the 10 Most Common Allergens
  • Made in a Nut-Free Facility 
  • Dairy Free/Casein Free
  • Soy Free
  • Gluten Free

Homemade Valentines Day Chocolates with Strawberry Ice Cream! A Success!

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Wow! My attempt to make chocolate covered strawberry ice cream bonbons in the shape of hearts was a HUGE success!

I’ll post the recipe shortly! I had to make a few small changes to the one from Allergy Free Alaska as strawberries don’t have as much juice as raspberries do.

Did you have a safe Valentine’s Day?

Chocolate Covered Ice Cream Bon Bons for Valentine’s Day

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Last year on Valentine’s Day I went looking for something I could make for my Valentine. The first place I went looking was Allergy Free Alaska‘s website as she has wonderful recipes and every single one I have tried to date turns out to be delicious! If you have never visited Allergy Free Alaska’s website, I highly recommend that you head on over there! A whole recipe index awaits you!

I went out and bought a mould for chocolates in the shape of hearts! They made perfect bite size chocolate bon bons! Our favourite were the raspberry ones! This Valentine’s Day, I am making a strawberry filling. Stay tuned to find out how they turn out :)

If you want to have a look at the recipe, click here!

These are free of the top 8 allergens! A must have! I make them with Enjoy Life’s small chocolate chips. Mmmmm off to the kitchen I go to make these delicious treats!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

A Valentine’s Day you will Remember – For all the Right Reasons!

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, wherever you go, you are likely to see boxes of chocolates in heart shapes, pink and red decorations and flower bouquets on sale for the special day. To be quite honest, I prefer a nice home cooked meal in the safety of our own home. No stress. And for flowers, my boyfriend is always careful as some smell very strong and can trigger my asthma. We like to keep Valentine’s Day simple. On Valentine’s Day, I like to stay in.

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

Click one of the following links below to see a few tips to prepare you for a wonderful Valentine’s Day, if:

You are the one with Food Allergies

Your date has Food Allergies

** Remember, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be all about food. You can go on a romantic date without any food! Like a nice skate, or ski or walk in the park. Perhaps even a hike, or if you live in Victoria, BC where there is not snow… A nice paddle. :)

Be safe and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

I know I will! :)