Growing up, I was well aware of the risk my food allergy presented and would carry my Epi-Pen on me at all times. Being a kid, however, most of that time was spent in school. I was careful to avoid my allergens but there was always a risk present being in a building with so many other people. As far as I know, there was not epinephrine available in the nurse’s office at any of my k-12 schools. If I had forgotten to bring my Epi-Pen one day and had a reaction, the availability of epinephrine at my school would be the difference between life and death. This is why all schools, public and private, should have a stock of epinephrine available for the use of any student who needs it. Many of the cases where a student has had a fatal reaction are because they needed more than one standard dose of epinephrine or did not have one administered fast enough.1 Therefore, increasing the availability of epinephrine in schools would save those lives. As of today, only 13 states require schools to have a stock of epinephrine, though all states allow for a student to carry their own.2 This leaves millions of students unsafe at school every day.
For schools to be prepared to provide a safe education to food allergic students, the nurses need to be trained in how to use an Epi-Pen, handle an allergic reaction, and interact with food allergic students. In my experience, especially in elementary school, the nurses were not aware of how an allergy works and how that can be different for each student. While it is important to have them all be trained on epinephrine delivery, they should also be trained in how to best handle situations that can be threatening, but common occurrences in classrooms. These situations include a teacher handing out an allergen in class or the cleanliness of shared areas such as desks or toys. In my situation, the nurses were unaware of these things and putting the stress of having to explain them on a child, at the risk of not being taken seriously, is unfair. I believe that better training is needed in schools across the country to provide a safe learning environment for all children. For children with food allergies, they must not only deal with the physical stress of possibly having a severe reaction but the psychological stress of worrying about accidental cross-contamination or bullying. Having the adults in charge be knowledgeable and trustworthy is vital in keeping children safe and making sure they feel safe.
In my experience with explaining my food allergies to friends, I have come across some common themes in what I want them to understand. Here are some tips that might be helpful for those with food allergic friends.
- Become Trained in Using an Epi-Pen: A great way to alleviate some of the worry that comes with being around someone with a severe allergy is to be comfortable knowing what to do if they do have a reaction. This not only makes you more comfortable, but will make your friend safer too.
- Know the Rules: The rules they tell you for being around them are simply for their safety. People with allergies must live by certain rules that may seem arbitrary to others, but this is to keep ourselves safe so we can live normally. In caring for your friend, know that they don’t wish to be a burden and don’t make them feel like they are one.
- Depending on the type of food allergy, you might have to avoid cross-contamination if you frequently eat with this friend or hang out with them a lot.
- Ask the Specifics: Know how severe their allergy is and exactly what they can or cannot eat. Having as much information as possible will allow them to feel more comfortable, knowing that someone close to them knows the seriousness and specifics of their allergy.
- Be Open: Try foods that you might not have before with them. Eating nut-free or gluten-free can be interesting, even if you don’t have to on a daily basis.
- On the same note, try out some of their favorite restaurants. You might find a new favorite too!
- Simply Listen: People with food allergies mostly just want to be taken seriously and live safe lives. Being a true friend and providing that security as someone who understands and cares about their health is the best thing you can do.
With these steps, anyone can become a more understanding and knowledgeable member of the food allergy community.
Comment with your best tips for being a friend to those with allergies!
My entire life I’ve lived with food and seasonal allergies. My family discovered that I was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and blue dye when I was three years old. Being in college now, I have had to learn to navigate the food and social aspects of having food allergies by myself. Many people are not aware that I have these allergies, unless I need to tell them. Therefore, I rarely connect with others who have similar allergies and live their lives with the same cautions and restrictions that I do. I believe that it is important to not feel alone in living with allergies, which is why I began Allergies á la Carte. People often do not realize the difficulties that accompany having allergies, especially food allergies. It effects your life more than just not being able to eat x food. Though I have lived with these adjustments, without my allergies I would not have found so many interesting and delicious recipes or have a cause that I feel passionately about.
On this blog, you will find nut-free recipes and relatable stories about living with allergies. Writing about my life will hopefully make many lives better by encouraging people to try a new restaurant or letting them know I have been through the same situations they have.