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

20150618_122313

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.

 

 

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

Erika Profile - China Beach

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?

Victoria Regional Transit Commission votes to keep existing pets on buses policy

Yesterday, after presentations from 3 delegations and a thorough report presented by one of the Commission members on the topic of whether or not to allow dogs on leashes on buses a decision was made. That decision was to keep the existing policy wherein working dogs are allowed on buses at all times, however other pets are only allowed on buses when in carriers.

This was a very interesting meeting to be present for as we heard about the research they had done, the surprising response to their survey that was posted in the fall and more about what other cities have as policies around pets.

The survey asked questions around how often you use transit on a weekly basis, how would this change if dogs on leash were allowed on buses and so on.

Over 50% of the public who responded to the survey said they did NO to a policy change which would allow dogs on leashes on buses. A little over a third said YES to allowing them and 10% said Sometimes. The response was even more overwhelming with Transit Operators with well over half of them saying NO to the idea of a policy change.

In both my research and that of the Commission, it was clear that some transit Commissions across Canada have not opened up discussions to the public on the matter. I would like to thank the Victoria Regional Transit Commission as well as Vancouver for opening up this topic to the public, as we all have a right to speak up when it is a matter of public safety. They are going above and beyond to ensure that they make an educated decision and incorporate the public’s opinions in their decision. With surveys, presence on various social media platforms asking these important questions, accepting letters and emails and phone calls on the topic.

They have agreed to keep the policy at this time, however they may reconsider once Vancouver has made their decision about their own Transit Policies.

Watch the Video Clips from Chek News and CTV News to learn more:

No leash dogs allowed on Greater Victoria buses – Chek News

No pups on public transit, unless in a carrier – CTV News

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

IMG_7288

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! :)

Valentine’s Day if your date has Food Allergies

If your date has Food Allergies, I have a few tips for you below.

Going out for a Valentine’s Day dinner?

  1. Your date may want to call the restaurant ahead of time to find out if they can accommodate their Food Allergies; some restaurants will not.
  2. Even if you wanted to keep the name of the restaurant a surprise, if your date asks, know that they will feel safer and more relaxed knowing that it is a restaurant where the staff is prepared to accommodate their Food Allergies.
  3. Lastly, order a meal that would also be safe for your date to eat. Your date will feel wonderful knowing that you want to eat something that is safe for them, and will make the evening more relaxed. Who knows, might even mean you get a nice kiss for being so thoughtful :)

Staying in for Valentine’s Day?

  1. Be sure that the ingredients used for your dinner are safe and there is no cross-contamination
  2. If your date asks to help you in preparing dinner allow them to help, even if you wanted to make dinner for them. Or, show them all the ingredients you plan to use and have your date help you ensure the kitchen is clean and they feel safe with the utensils, pans and dishes you plan to use. Personally, I feel safer using metal cooking utensils over plastic in a kitchen where my allergens may be present.
  3. If your date would like to clean utensils, pans, cutting boards and dishes before making dinner, go with it. Help them feel safe and relaxed. It’ll make the evening even more romantic and enjoyable if they feel supported and understood.
  4. Avoid eating things your date is allergic to for the one night. You can have them tomorrow. Keep this evening relaxed, fun and safe.
  5. If your date asks to have the evening free of all foods they are allergic to, don’t question it. You will have a wonderful Valentine’s Day evening without worry.

Wanting to give chocolates or another edible treat? 

  1. Double and triple check the labels – Look for a may contain statement which may not be close to the ingredient list.
  2. If you feel uncertain, skip the chocolates. Make homemade chocolates or buy some roses, write a nice card or be creative. Valentine’s Day doesn’t always have to be about chocolates and candies.
  3. Tell your date that you tried to find chocolates however you were not sure if any of the ones you had found would have been safe. Your date will appreciate knowing that you wanted to find chocolates or candy or other however at the end of the day, you chose a safer option.

When in doubt, just speak up! :)

Have a safe and romantic Valentine’s Day and please leave your thoughts and comments below!

Valentine’s Day if you are the one with Food Allergies

If you are the one with Food Allergies, I have a few tips for you below.

Going out for a Valentine’s Day dinner?

  1. Call the restaurant you are going to ahead of time.
  2. Prepare a cue card listing all your allergies and level of severity before you go
  3. Talk to the waiter/waitress when they first come to your table and ask for drinks; that way, they may notify their manager about the allergies before you even order.

Staying in for Valentine’s Day?

  1. Be sure that the ingredients used for your dinner are safe and there is no cross-contamination
  2. If your date wants to make you dinner and you feel a little uncertain about cross-contamination in their kitchen, tell them that you trust them, however you would feel more relaxed if you could help prepare and cook – They will understand
  3. If you are concerned your date may eat something you are allergic to and then kiss you, speak up. Please do not sit all evening feeling stressed or anxious about what may or may not happen.
  4. Ask to have a completely safe evening, with only foods you can have, so you can kiss and not worry about what they may or may not have had

Receiving chocolates or another edible treat? 

  1. Double and triple check the labels – Look for a may contain statement which may not be close to the ingredient list.
  2. If you feel uncertain, let your date know that you appreciate the gift, however you’d feel more comfortable after calling the company to confirm that it was made in a safe facility without cross-contamination.
  3. Ask that your date not eat them either, in case they are not safe for you; tell your date that you would feel more relaxed knowing they had not eaten anything you may be allergic to.

When in doubt, just speak up! :)

Have a safe and romantic Valentine’s Day and please leave your thoughts and comments below!

Milestone’s – A Restaurant Chain I Trust with my Food Allergies!

IMG_6760

Have you found a restaurant chain that you trust with food allergies, whether it be your allergies or perhaps a loved ones allergies? There are only a few chain restaurants I trust very much with my allergies. Milestone’s is one of these. I have been to Milestone’s 3 times now in the last 2 years (Yes, I do not eat out much) and each time the waiter/waitress, chef and kitchen manager have gone above and beyond to make me feel understood and feel safe.

A little over a week ago, my boyfriend, my brother and I all went to the Milestone’s on 1210 Denman Street in Vancouver, BC and we had such a wonderful dinner experience. From the very start our waiter, Steve B. made me feel understood. After providing him a hand written list of all my “life-threatening” food allergies as well as my “sensitivities” he went over each with me, explaining where they might be found in the kitchen. I discussed with Steve B. whether or not he thought I could have a salad and if they could ensure that there was no cross-contamination. He promised that he would advise the chef of the severity of the allergies and minimizing cross-contamination. He spoke very confidently and was very re-assuring. I felt that that Steve B really cared. That in itself made me feel less anxious. Still on my guard but not as worried.

A few minutes later he brought out an amazing salad for me, that the chef, Michael had prepared for me in a separate area. He advised that the chef was wonderful and truly understood allergies.

WP_20150125_015Now, a week later, we had dinner at a Milestone’s on 700 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Ontario. Our wonderful waitress, Alisha A. was very understanding as well and spoke with the kitchen staff and manager upon our arrival and provided the kitchen with a list of all my “life-threatening” food allergies as well as my “sensitivities”. Alisha A. was very caring and made me feel like my allergies were nothing to worry about and that the kitchen would be as careful as possible. I ordered the same salad I had in Vancouver with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to be safe and a baked potato.

Dinner was amazing!! I wanted more! :) Wouldn’t you?!?

IMG_6747

Have you ever been to Milestone’s with food allergies? Please share your experiences in the comments!