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The Seriousness of Food Allergies


I admit it. I’ve been guilty of minimizing someone’s food allergy. When Eric and I were in a job working with Middle School students, there was a boy with a severe peanut allergy in the group. Unfortunately, we sided with our boss who said “He is old enough to know if he needs to leave the room because we handed out candy with nuts. We aren’t changing everything for one kid.”

That was six years ago, and we have learned and grown a lot since then.  We have friends with children who have life threatening  allergies, and have seen the fear and tears in their eyes as they share stories of close calls their little ones have experienced. We’ve seen someone we love gasp in pain and fear as her chest and throat began to tighten when something she ate was cross contaminated with shellfish.

Allergies are also all over the news. I’ve read stories of how kids are bullied because of their food allergies, and seen countless reports on how dramatically food allergies have risen in the past fifteen years.

The allergy issue has come into the spotlight for us this week through the story of our friend Kelsey.allergy-logical-fallacy

Comments on her news story have exploded from people on both sides of the issue. But when I  read comments like, “I guess the needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many” (a logical fallacy if ever I’ve heard one, I don’t think there’s anyone who NEEDS to eat peanuts in every class and every room in the school), I start to get angry.  I imagine how difficult it must be to live with a life threatening allergy to any food. You have to constantly be vigilant about absolutely everything you eat.

As I shared recently, I’m experiencing just a small hint of what the food allergy world is like while trying to protect my little nursling who has a dairy sensitivity. Going out to a restaurant is no longer simple, relaxing, or sometimes even enjoyable. I have to ask lots of questions, then try to decide if the server is taking my concern seriously or if they’re brushing it aside and don’t really know or care if the dish I’m ordering might contain a smidgin of something that can cause intense pain and screaming for my helpless baby.

But if I do accidentally ingest some that he can’t handle, it won’t kill him. It will cause him pain for days, and give me  several sleepless nights and a mantra in my head of what a horrible mother I am; but I don’t have to worry about either of us dying. It’s not an anaphylactic allergy.

Someone with a life threatening food allergy that leads to anaphylaxis must be CONSTANTLY vigilant. A little boy popping a pretzel in his mouth at a friend’s house without checking whether or not it was stuffed with peanut butter can end in tragedy.  A few weeks ago I was out to lunch with my mother-in-law and ordered fresh spring rolls. Without even thinking, I passed the tray to her. She took a bite of one, then glanced at the plate and gasped, “Diana, do these have shrimp?!!!” Miraculously, the bite she took was shrimp free and not cross contaminated, but a second bite would have meant shooting her with the epipen she carries and then getting her rushed to the ER before the epinephrine wore off and her throat closed up.

The world of food allergies is frightening, and I think that sometimes the lack of sensitivity toward people with food allergies is yet another example of the lack of compassion all too common in humanity. Unfortunately, nothing I do or say will change the minds of someone who chooses not to feel compassion.

But I also think a lot of people actually just don’t recognize the severity of food allergies and the difficulty, fear, and discrimination that people with severe allergies face. For these people, a group I used to be a part of, I hope that posts like these can help raise awareness.

There are simple acts we can all do to show we care about people with food allergies. Next time you make something for a potluck, make a little sign for your dish that labels the ingredients. If you know someone with a food allergy, ask what treats you can make or buy that would be safe for them, and surprise them one day. It may feel like a pain to try and accommodate allergies for your dinner guests, but if you take it seriously, your night of “difficulty” can really make the day of someone who faces lifelong hardship.

I’d love to have a conversation in the comments. What experiences have you had with food allergies and/or anaphylaxis? How has it affected you or someone you know? However you feel about the issue, please keep your comments positive. Trolls will be deleted!

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21 thoughts on “The Seriousness of Food Allergies”

  1. I have 2 sisters who have discovered as adults that they suffer from multiple food allergies. They each suffered multiple physical symptoms for years before learning the cause. Even non life threatening symptoms can be very painful and embarassing. To make matters more complicated, their allergies are not the same. One can’t have garlic, and one can’t have coconut. One can’t have soy, and one can’t have almonds. The list goes on.

    I will admit that this has made family gatherings and even going out to lunch with them complicated and sometimes almost impossible. Sometimes I am compassionate, and others I get frustrated and wish things didn’t have to always be so hard. But seeing my sisters happy and healthy means the world to me. I have become more aware and thankful for the convenient foods available to a person like me–without food allergies. And I am especially grateful for those few, (often very expensive) places where there are options for allergy sufferers, and great care is taken to protect against cross-contamination.

    • Wow Janet, thanks for sharing your story. Especially that you sometimes get frustrated. It can be frustrating when something as important as food can seem so impossible.

  2. I have friends who cannot eat gluten and friends who cannot eat dairy. I wouldn’t invite them to an event without being more than prepared to ensure that they enjoyed their food as much as any other guest. Surely it’s polite to give each of your guests the same amount of effort.

    I have no allergies, but as a vegetarian I know how disappointing it is to go out with friends and be unable to join them when they eat.

    • I agree Karlie, while I don’t “cook to order” for people who just don’t like a lot of foods, I definitely try to always take food allergies and sensitivities into account. When we get a new exchange student that’s one of the first questions I ask!

  3. I am 23 and live with my fiancee in Washington DC. Since birth, I have been allergic to milk products, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and all the environmental allergies you can think of. When my brother and I were younger, we were also allergic to pork, fish, and chicken. My brother has the same exact allergies and my parents have none. (My mom is allergic to cats, but comparatively, she has none. 😛 )

    Growing up with allergies was stressful, obviously. We had numerous trips to the allergist and a few stays in hospitals for trials and research. (Our situation is pretty unique.) Normal things become difficult, almost impossible. I’ve never had a ‘birthday cake’, have never been to Chuckie Cheese, and barely went out to eat at all when I was younger.

    Thankfully, my parents are amazing. My mom cooked every dinner for us, made cheese-less pizza for us to bring in to school pizza parties, and did a ridiculous amount of research for recipes and ingredient substitutions in order for us to try foods the other kids were eating. My parents taught me confidence in who I am and taught me the necessary steps to take with my allergies so that I can live a “normal” life.

    Luckily, I don’t have the airborne peanut problem. But I do have to continue asking questions every time I go out to eat, avoid certain foods and places (many Asian cuisines use peanut oil in everything), and be careful every second of every day. I am also lucky that I picked up a liking of cooking and have many recipes that I can have and many were passed down from my mom.

    I always tell myself that if allergies are the worst part of my life, I’m pretty lucky.

    • What a great outlook Samuel! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m guessing it took time and a lot of hardship to get to the place you are today.

  4. As the mom of a peanut/nut allergic child, I would not want someone bringing something homemade to my house. I appreciate the offer but I would not be comfortable accepting anything unless I could read the labels of every ingredient. A knife used for peanut butter that is then used to slice butter could contaminate the next slice of butter that goes into the recipe. Some vegetable oils that looks safe contain traces of peanuts. A muffin tin that just baked apple walnut muffins is then used to make cupcakes could be cross contaminated. If there is an allergy, it’s always appreciated to bring something in a package that says “peanut free” (or dairy free, gluten free, etc). It will ease the mind of the person managing the allergy to see it in writing.

    • I completely understand Sam! That’s why I encourage people to talk to the person about what they would appreciate and feel safe eating. I have some friends who have (or have children with) severe allergies that of course want something in a package. I also have some with mild allergies or sensitivities that have been thrilled to have someone take an interest in trying to safely prepare something for them and have explained things like avoiding cross contamination. Thanks for sharing, I’m guessing it must be really hard for things like birthday parties where kids really want to eat what everyone else is having. You’re such a GREAT mom for doing everything you can to protect your child!

  5. Hi Diana, I’ve also been following Kelsey’s battle to be heard.
    When my son was a baby he was very fussy, didn’t sleep due too what we now know was a dairy protein allergy. It took us 5 mths of waking screaming in pain every 2 hrs day and night. I was breast feeding on demand at the time. He also developed wet eczema on his face. Which developed an yeast infection. Naturally I washed his face with yogurt which had acidophilos bacteria to counteract the thrush. He blanched white in shock which I knew could be one of the signs of anaphylaxis. I immediately reached for my homeopathic emergency kit which had ‘Apis Mellifora’ honey bee. Luckily he responded quickly. I then had to go the allergist to get him tested. He has now just turned 16. It was a long road, but not without a few bumps along the way. If anyone wants to know how, then just privately message me.

  6. The needs of one out weigh the WANTS of many.

    We live in a society. That means that we work together to keep people safe. We drive the speed limit because it saves lives. We don’t smoke in restaurants because second hand smoke is known to kill. We put in ramps and special parking lots to accomodate wheelchairs. If you don’t want to do these little things, go and live in the forrest. No one is stopping you!

    If you want the benefits of living in society, you will have to occassionally avoid eating a peanut. Wow, that can’t be too hard because my daughter has had to do without dairy and eggs since she had her first severe reaction at 10 months old. She had to give up peanuts and all tree nut when we tried to introduce them at 5 years of age (at the allergists suggestion) and she had to give up most legumes after an anaphylaxis reaction that resulted in her face swelling so much that her eyes were completely shut (pretty scary for a little kid) and it took 3 days for the swelling to completely subside.

    If a little kid can do it for life, an adult can give up a peanut for a few hours.

    • Such a great perspective Susan. So glad your daughter made it through such scary reactions. That must have been very traumatic for all of you!

    • Susan, as someone with an anaphylactic allergic reaction to peanuts, I really appreciate your perspective! I’ve never heard anyone put it quite like that before. So often people remind me of how it would negatively impact everyone else (they wouldn’t be able to eat peanuts for a couple of hours) and that it would be bad for society, which makes it really nice to get a different prospective!


  7. Great piece. We have 3 generations of food allergies and people range from clueless and down right threatening.

  8. I have friends and family with celiac disease and we have adapted well. Now I have a newly adopted nephew with peanut allergies. I don’t know how that will work out and may never know because we live 2600 miles apart. However, I know that his mom and dad loved peanut butter and it has been a huge adjustment to change their habits. They just try and be very vigilant. Hopefully your little guy will outgrow the dairy sensitivity/allergy. I know my son had to have soy formula, but by age 2, he could handle milk and loves it now. He got that from me as I barely can tolerate it in small quantities! Good luck!

    • I hope Corban will outgrow it as well. We LOVE dairy, and peanut butter! It would be a tough adjustment in the beginning if he had a peanut allergy, but there would be no question in our minds for keeping him safe.

  9. I’ve been folowing Kelsey’s story since it came out. It makes me so sad and angry that a college did that to her. I have anaphalaytic food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. I react to airborne as well. I was blessed enough on my 18th birthday I got a peanut detector dog which has helped A LOT!
    Kelsey’s story really makes me realize how ignorant some people are about allergies yet. Or just stubbornly ignoring the seriousness of it. Its hard enough to deal with food allergies without other people making it harder.


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