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It can be a real pain: allergies

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Epipens (epinephrine) - one in a case, the other not - to be taken when one's throat closes during anaphylaxis. - Contributed

Emma Sharp, Contributor

Eating a meal with me dishes out a fair amount of anxiety. It's not because I am loud and bossy, though I can be those things as well. It is due to the fact that I could die. I know this sounds rather dramatic and exaggerated, but it's the truth.

Six years ago, out of the blue, I became deathly allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. Being in New York City, at the time of my very first anaphylactic reaction, saved my life. If paramedics had not been able to get to me within minutes, you would not be reading this article. Since then, I have gone into anaphylactic shock, even from the slightest contamination, well over 30 times.

Severe and life-threatening

"Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The flood of chemicals released by your immune system during anaphylaxis can cause you to go into shock; your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking normal breathing. Common triggers of anaphylaxis include certain foods. Anaphylaxis requires an immediate trip to the emergency room and an injection of epinephrine. If anaphylaxis is not treated right away, it can lead to unconsciousness or even death." (

As you might imagine, eating out has presented challenges for me. I could, of course, sit at home for every meal, or take my food with me when I go out, but where's the fun in that? That being said, more often than not, I do prepare my own food, and have been seen on several occasions toting a small cooler to a wedding, a restaurant, and even to friends' houses. However, the will of many people, who would like to accommodate my health issues, has astounded and pleased me. It can be very frustrating and lonely dealing with food allergies, because much of my social life revolves around lunch or dinner.

Sure, I cannot trust every restaurant owner, but there is one family in particular whom I must commend for their generosity in the care they take when preparing my meals. The entire staff at Chez Maria knows about my allergies, and those in the kitchen have special instructions for when I go there, or even when someone orders over the phone for me. I recently dined there for a big birthday dinner of a close friend, and they had cooked a substantial portion of the entire menu just for me and my spouse (due to the risk of contamination, he too must not eat nuts and sesame). The head chefs went the extra mile by making a batch of hummus, without tahini (sesame paste), all for me. They made a point of ensuring I got to take the leftovers home too!

Allergies becoming common

Allergies are becoming more common than you may realise. Some 11 million Americans suffer from one or more food allergies. This means that four per cent of the United States population is unable to consume a range of basic, familiar ingredients without triggering serious, sometimes lethal, immune responses. The top eight food allergens, which account for 90 per cent of these reactions, are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, dairy, eggs and soy. Unfortunately, information regarding the situation in Jamaica is unavailable. The medical profession here still has a far way to go in dealing with anaphylaxis, but some of them have learned from seeing people like me in the throes of its urgency.

I would like to urge everyone, especially staff at any eatery, to take it seriously when someone tells them they suffer from particular food allergies. If you cannot ensure that there has been no contamination in said person's food, then you must reveal this to him or her. There are to be no exceptions. I know it's a pain, but it's better to lose a customer's business than his or her life.