Hello. My name is Amie and I have an airborne allergy to peanuts.
Yep. I’m one of “those.”
I feel like every moment of my life is an introduction at a group therapy session. Not only is my name important, but the fact that you ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, haven’t washed your hands or brushed your teeth and are now in my personal space, makes my peanut allergy important too.
The second I smell peanut dust and peanut butter, I’m queasy and I instantly have a headache. The longer I wait to take an antihistamine, the more likely it is that I’m actually going to vomit.
It hasn’t always been this way. I loved peanut butter and jelly growing up. Peanut butter and apples were my favorite snack. I loved going to restaurants with my dad and throwing peanut shells on the floor. I could eat spoonfuls of peanut butter without any problem. But now, even the thought of eating peanuts makes my stomach churn.
The first time I remember not being OK around peanuts was my freshman year of high school. I was on a bus, heading out to a track meet that was several hours away. I had to call a parent of a friend to buy me a box of antihistamines. I ended up competing well, but I felt awful.
Wait. So what ~are~ food allergies, exactly?
Food allergies are similar to seasonal allergies in that the body’s natural defenses overreact to exposure to certain substances, treating that substance as an invader. Because the body thinks the substance is foreign, the body sends out chemicals to defend against it.
What are some of symptoms of allergic reactions?
1. Vomiting/nausea/stomach cramps
3. Shortness of breath
5. Shock/circulatory collapse
6. Tight, hoarse throat
7. Tongue swelling
8. Pale/blue skin
9. Dizziness/feeling faint
And the big one.
Like many disabilities, food allergies can be diagnosed when the individual is a child, but also when they’re an adult and any time in between.
The “big eight” in terms of allergens?
4. Tree nuts
6. Wheat and other grains with gluten (barley, rye, oats)
Yes. Peanuts and tree nuts are two different things. Peanuts are legumes. Peanuts grow underground and are more closely related to beans and lentils than cashews and almonds. Tree nuts, as their name implies, grow on trees and bushes.
One of the toughest things about having an adult onset allergy is that many people I’ve known since before I’ve had the allergy don’t believe it’s real. Many people I’ve encountered either don’t believe airborne food allergies exist (they’re a ‘conspiracy made up by the liberal media’) or don’t consider food allergies a disability.
If there are peanuts in a space, I physically cannot be there. I’m not making any of this up. Why would I lie?
Here are some of the things I have difficulty with:
~Riding on buses and other public transportation. Airplanes are always an adventure.
~Going to big lecture classes. I had to leave many classes early or not attend classes at all because people would bring a peanut product to class.
~Going to baseball games. There’s a zero percent chance I’ll ever go to a baseball game for fun. When I’m working baseball games I can assure you I’m miserable.
~Being in public on Halloween. That means class, work, parties, etc.
~Going out to eat.
~Going to the grocery store.
Some frequently asked questions/said statements:
“So you can’t go to Chick-fil-a with us?”
No. They fry their food in peanut oil.
“You can’t be allergic to peanut oil.”
Yes you can. Ask anyone who’s been with me after I’ve eaten Jimmy Chips. Hives on the tongue and in the throat? Not fun.
“But you won’t die if I eat this around you, right?”
No. I won’t die. But I will throw up. I will get a headache. I will have to leave the space. I will feel like garbage for days afterward.
“Food allergies aren’t a real disability.”
Yes they are. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines people with disabilities as: “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.”
“You’re just being difficult.”
I’m not even going to entertain this one.
“Why should someone else dictate what I eat?”
I’m not telling you what you can and cannot eat. I’m telling you that you can’t eat peanuts around me. If you choose to ignore me and my needs, I’ll have to leave. It’s nothing personal, though if you continue to blatantly ignore my needs, it becomes personal.
As Halloween nears, please be mindful of the food you’re bringing to shared spaces. Candy such as Reese’s, Snickers, Butterfingers, Baby Ruth, Goobers, Mr. Goodbar, Oh Henry, Payday, Take 5, among others, all have peanuts in them.
It’s always important to be aware if you’re bringing common allergens into shared spaces.
I cannot count the number of times since coming to college that I’ve had to leave spaces because of people bringing in peanuts. I’ve had to miss class. I’ve had to stop volunteering. I’ve had to leave chapter. I’ve had to limit where I eat.
The response of those people?
‘Oh. I forgot.’
I understand that my health and my disabilities aren’t ever-present on your mind, but this is a huge deal for me. This is a huge deal for many people with airborne allergies. I know many people who have airborne allergies and, like me, their quality of life is drastically diminished because of people not taking their allergies seriously.
Please, if not for me than for the other 15 million people who have food allergies, be aware of the food you’re bringing into public spaces.