MY ANGLE: Food Allergy Awareness Week

Hi there, my name is Arjin Claire. I have severe food allergies to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, and I used to also be allergic to milk and sesame. 

At 17 years old I’ve been to the ER seven times because of my food allergies, and each visit was life threatening. 

I’m also one of the 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, and spreading awareness for them has been a big part of my life. 

Last week, May 9 to 15, was food allergy awareness week. Across America people with food allergies have come together to learn, educate and spread awareness about food allergies. As a part of this group, I wanted to share some facts about food allergies that might just surprise you. 

Food allergies are a medical condition in which certain foods can trigger a harmful immune system response. These responses can range from mild to life-threatening, and they occur because your body incorrectly identifies a specific food or substance in food as a harmful foreign invader or “allergen.” Your immune system wants to get rid of the allergen so it begins to release antibodies known as immunoglobulin E.

The IgE antibodies neutralize the allergen. The next time you consume this allergen, the IgE antibodies will recognize it and stimulate the release of chemicals such as histamines through your bloodstream. These chemicals are what cause the common symptoms of allergic reactions such as hives, swelling, an upset stomach, difficulty breathing, wheezing or excessive coughing and a weak pulse. 

Since these chemicals are mainly histamines, the most effective treatment for food allergies are antihistamines, such as an epinephrine auto injector. However, it’s important to note that an epi-pen is not a cure for food allergies. While new techniques such as oral immunotherapy that help to slowly build up an immunity to foods are coming out, there are no current cures for food allergies. 

As I mentioned before, 32 million Americans live with food allergies, and it might surprise you that 5.6 million are under the age of 18. Unfortunately, this number is continuously rising and shows no signs of stopping. 

Along with this rise in people with food allergies is a rise in the variety of foods that people are allergic to. 

Although you can be allergic to any food, a recent rise in sesame allergies has added it to the list of the  top nine allergens in the U.S. The other eight are dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat. 

As per the Food and Drug Administration standards, these top nine allergens are required to be labeled on all food packaging. 

Despite this, every three minutes a person is sent to the emergency room due to an allergic reaction. 

For most people, food is life, but for people like me, food can be poison. Throughout my life , I have found that most people don’t believe or fully understand the severity of food allergies. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in situations where someone will say to me: “Oh, so you’re lactose intolerant? Just take that pill for it” or “A little bit won’t hurt” or “I would die if I couldn’t eat Nutella or cheese on my pizza!”  

Foods aren’t the only thing people with food allergies have to worry about either. We face bullying, judgement, stress and anxiety on a daily basis all because of keeping ourselves safe. Many times, as kids, we’re not used to managing them on our own because our parents do that work, but when the time comes to pass the baton, it’s hard.

My mom encouraged me early on to advocate for myself and take ownership of my food allergies. Even so, I’ve been in some scary situations where I’ve forgotten my epinephrine and antihistamine at home, or I’ve relied too much on what the other person is telling me is in the food. Little things like going to a restaurant, flying in a plane or sharing food are difficult to navigate. In fact, successfully navigating any one of these situations is a milestone. 

While these scenarios might seem simple to most people, they cause immense stress to anyone with food allergies.

For example, cross-contaminated knives or pans in a kitchen, residue left on airplane seats and the unknown of what could be on a person’s hands are lethal to someone with allergies. 

During this week, it’s important to learn and recognize the difficulties of living with food allergies and show support for people around us.

— By Arjin Claire

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