Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Scary Feeling- Asthma and Environmental Allergies

This morning I woke up from a terribly scary dream, to realize that part of it was a bit real.  In my dream, the building was on fire and it was hard to breath around the smoke.  When I woke up, I could feel the tightness in my chest, and realized that part did indeed feel real.

Over the past few months, since I have been back in Italy from my summer holiday to the States, I haven't had many environmental allergies or asthma.  Over the past two weeks however, I have felt a tightness in my chest from a cough and the quick change to cool weather.  This was a feeling I hadn't experienced in a while, and took me by surprise.  Feeling this way is uncomfortable for someone who doesn't have allergies or asthma, but for someone who does, it accentuates that feeling that much more!

Right now as I sit here typing, drinking hot tea in a cool apartment, I feel the tightness and I find it a bit frightening.  I am telling you this, because it is important as a parent, that you understand how vital you are to them.  Parents are the best comfort your children have when they feel this way.  I am sure it is even scarier for them because they don't know how to express the way they are feeling.  At least as an adult, I know the things I can do to try to help myself.  For parents who share this blog with their children, it is important that your children know that they are not the only ones who feel this way.  It is a scary and frustrating feeling, and although you may not understand how they feel, you can understand that they are scared and need you.

I don't often worry or feel concerned about my allergies or asthma, but whenever I feel like this, that worry does exist.  To help myself worry less, these are the strategies I use:

1.) I take deep breaths and tell myself to relax and stay calm (if I cry or escalate in any way, I will only feel worse and have an even more difficult time).

2.) If necessary, I take my rescue inhaler (I use ProAir).

3.) I keep track of my breathing by measuring with my Peak Flow Meter to see how off my breathing really is, or if I am more nervous, when my breathing may actually be in a safe range.

4.) I drink hot tea and run a hot shower to breath in the steam.

5.) I find something to do, read, or watch that will relax me, so I am not solely focused on the tightness.

I have had a few instances where my rescue inhaler did not help as much as it should, and I had to go to the hospital.  Fortunately,  that has been very few instances (and usually when I have been sick, extremely stressed out, or around pets).  If your child's tightness is that severe, a hospital is certainly the most important place to be!

Of course, with these experiences, it always tends to be situational...

Checking in with your child and making sure they know that you are there is extremely important.  Teaching them also what to do, is a skill they will need to take with them as they grow up and live on their own someday (like me).

One other point I want to make, is the importance as a parent, of not showing your own worry or panic in front of your child.  Although you as a parent are certainly entitled to feel panicked, it is something that will only worry your child more and make them feel even worse and more scared themselves.  You as a parent need to make sure to feel in-control and in-charge of the situation.  That way you will put both your child and yourself more at ease.  

I am lucky that I can't remember my parents ever showing serious worry in front of me throughout my growing up.  However, I did have other adults who showed their worry, and made me feel that much worse, and much more frightened.  That is why I know the feeling, and know how much worse it feels as a child!    

Although I am now on my own, and my parents are not here in Italy with me to comfort me in-person, I do know that they are only a skype call away, and my Italian family (not by blood, but by love and care) is only one floor below, and that is a comfort I am fortunate to have!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes people forget...

This year, I have dealt with a number of more uncomfortable allergy situations, mostly due to people forgetting.  If you are not around an Allergic Reactor all of the time, it is much easier to not remember both how severe their allergy can be, and how to be careful so they don't feel uncomfortable.

Last month I went to a newly discovered bookstore in my city.  I met one of my Italian friends there to have a coffee and browse around the store.  When we ordered our drinks and sat down at a table in the cafe of the bookstore (which is very uncommon in Italy to find), chips and a variety of nuts were brought to the table to go along with our drinks (this is something that is typical here and doesn't surprise me anymore). My friend started snacking on the nuts, and although they were on her side of the table, it did still make me feel a bit uncomfortable.  I felt like I had to be more on-guard about her movements and what she touched. She knows about my allergies, but I did need to remind her about the severity and that I couldn't touch them, etc.

This experience reminded me that sometimes even people that know about my allergies can still forget the severity, and that sometimes people that I infrequently spend time with, may need a  brief reminder!  Don't be scared to remind people!  It is important as an Allergic Reactor to keep yourself safe!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

There is change...slowly.

Yesterday evening I went out to dinner with three friends I have been close with since elementary school.  We walked around the waterfront area, and asked a few different restaurants if they would serve me.  I showed them my Chef Card, and the managers would come out and say they didn't feel comfortable serving me because of my fish/shellfish allergy.  We then finally ended up at Joe's American Bar and Grill because I had gone there last summer and had no problem.  It said on the bottom of the menu to tell your server if you have any allergies, so I figured that showed some awareness anyway.

When it was time to order, I asked if the server could check on the turkey burger for me.  I remembered having it last year without a problem, and remembered it being pretty delicious.  He came back with my Chef Card a few minutes later.  He said that the manager would be right out.  The manager came out and explained that he was worried about the turkey burger because they cooked fish, and he was also worried about some rice I had asked about ordering as an appetizer (I was starving after participating in a scavenger hunt/bar crawl, and was ready to eat about anything I wasn't allergic to).  He then asked if I would want a pasta dish.  I ended up ordering a generic pasta veggie combo dish.  The food was fine, but it was definitely a different experience than the prior year at that same restaurant.  The manager seemed overly worried about my allergies.  I would much rather have that though, than have a manager that won't take them seriously!

Every time I come back to America, I do notice changes.  Many restaurants and food establishments have signs asking to let them know if you have a food allergy.  People in general also seem to be taking it mores seriously and are more aware of the actions that need to be taken.  I know it is still a slow process, but change is happening, and with the continuation of educating people, hopefully more awareness and understanding will continue.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No Waffles or Chocolate, BUT a Splendid Trip

"Can you tell me what is in the waffles?" I asked in Brussels at a restaurant where waffles were the 'specialty.'  The man looked at my list with another waiter, and said, "I know we use margarine."  I looked at my chef card in French, and realized I wasn't sure if I was allergic to margarine in Belgium.  My French chef card was translated from my Italian one (where I am allergic because 'nuts' are apparently a 'vegetable' here).  Since I didn't know, I said "merci" and continued on my way.

Waffle stands and restaurants were everywhere in Belgium!

That was my first and last attempt to try a waffle in Belgium.  Since margarine was a common ingredient that I assumed was used in all of them, I decided I would need to do some more research about margarine before returning for another trip to Belgium!  I also noticed that both nuts and Nutella (a chocolate nit spread) were used per request to flavor the waffles.  There would certainly be a risk of cross-contamination, and I would have to find a place that would be willing to work with that and my allergies.

Prior to leaving for belgium, I looked at a book that I had bought at a conference I went to for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).  It said that Belgium followed the food labeling standards that were set for all EU countries.  It is a helpful book, since I am consistently traveling in Europe. much Belgian chocolate everywhere!  It looked delicate and delicious, and COMPLETELY unsafe to even ask about.  Of course there were nuts everywhere, along with beautifully made chocolate truffles, fudges, and most anything chocolate that you can imagine!  I had anticipated this would be the case, but a girl can dream that just maybe somewhere I would find chocolate!  Maybe someday...

The most chocolate I have ever seen!

I didn't have too much difficulty finding food.  I was trying not to spend too much money on this trip (since I will be traveling most of the summer), so I only ate one meal out.  The rest of the time I went to grocery stores to buy food.  I found bread, cheese, fruit, yogurt, and crackers that I knew and could safely eat.  I also found ice cream (which helped me with my chocolate cravings)! 

The one day that I spent in Bruges, I took myself out to lunch.  There was a cute little restaurant on the corner of a cobbled road, that I decided to try.  I was curious to see how they would react to my allergies, and if they would be willing to work with me to make sure the ingredients were safe.

In Bruges, where I ate lunch.

A man came out to wait on me.  I ordered a drink, then asked about the croque-monsieur sandwich.  I showed him my Chef Card and the only question he had to go check on was the butter.  He was wonderful with my allergies, and didn't look intimidated by the long list of allergens.  He came back and said I was all set.  A salad came on the side, and he and another waiter checked on the dressing (which was all fine).  The meal was delicious and problem-free!

Sandwich and salad.

When I was leaving, I thanked the waiter, and he said, "Yeah, it's not common here (allergies).  I don't think people are often very understanding."  I thought it was an interesting comment and wondered if it was true.  

Overall, I had a lovely time, in what I found to be such an exceptional country!  I will definitely go back again (and with margarine knowledge, so I can someday have a real Belgian waffle)!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Travel, Travel!

This week will be my first trip to Belgium!  I am excited to travel to a place where language shouldn't be a barrier.  I plan to spend the majority of my time in Bruges, which I hear is spectacular! 

These are my two substantial Belgian cuisine desires:

-I will be able to eat a Belgian waffle
-I will be able to find nut free, pure Belgian chocolate to eat

I have no idea what I will find as far as eating with my allergies, but I hope to not miss out on everything this country is known for (since I am already unable to have the mussels, a Bruges specialty).

In preparation for my trip, I will organize plenty of extra medicines (including Epi-pens, Benedryl, and inhalers).  I will also make sure to have all health paperwork accounted for in my travel folder, as well as the emergency numbers.  I also learned earlier this year the importance here of making sure that my phone has plenty of money on it (most phones here are pre-pay), so in case of an emergency, I have enough money to call my allergist and family in the U.S.  I also make sure that I have appropriate chef cards in the country language (for Belgium it will be English and French).

Besides that, I should be ready to go!  Now I just need to figure out what clothes to pack... :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Out for Birthday Dinner!

Last night it was one of my friend's birthdays.  I had never been to the restaurant before.  She told me that it was an Osteria, where the food would be regional Italian cuisine.  I was also told that there wouldn't be a menu, because it changed daily, depending on what fresh ingredients they bought to cook that day.  I told her that if I couldn't eat anything, I would just enjoy the company and eat later (my usual back-up plan in case I can't eat).  Here in Italy it is difficult to call ahead of time, and since the style of this restaurant would not have been conducive to this anyway, I decided it would be a dining adventure.

Before going out, I made sure to eat something small, just in case they couldn't accommodate my allergies.  The restaurant was authentic and tastfully decorated.  The server told us what the food choices were that evening for each of the three dinner courses.  I gave the server my Chef Card, and asked in Italian if she could find out what I would be able to eat that night.

When the server came back to the table, she was able to advice me on exactly which dishes would be safe with my food allergies.  Although there were fish dishes and salads with nuts, they were happy to accommodate me, and careful to figure out what I would be safe eating. 

Another successful dinner out in Italia!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Teacher vs. Teacher- Part II

Towards the beginning of the school year, I wrote about how selfish and unkind I had found the science teacher about my food allergies.  This was an attitude she had also shown to me my first year teaching in Italy.  Now, towards the end of the school year, she has been a repeat offender twice, showing her clear lack of understanding, and disregard for my allergies.

Since the cookie incident, the next repeat offense was when she was teaching my students about health and nutrition.  There are two classes of the same age group, so she took both my class and the other class into the other classroom to do an experiment about amounts of fat in different foods.  The majority of the foods she used, had the students touch, create with, and then turn into a project, were peanut and nut based foods.  I am glad she at least thought ahead about the classroom, but she did not have the students wash hands, and brought the projects full of nuts and peanut butter (which isn't even a common food in Italy), into my classroom.  My students at this point in the year, were aware of my allergies, and were careful if they ate any nuts, etc. to wash their hands, so they knew after this project to wash their hands, after removing the projects from my classroom and washing the table.  I just could not believe this teacher's naivety and lack of thought into what she was doing, and how it may affect others.  

The next and most recent offense was when this teacher wanted to make Roman designs with my students, using beans and other legumes (which I can't eat, but can be around/touch), as well as coffee beans.  I wrote a letter to my students' parents for her, saying that the students needed to bring in these materials, but emphasized that no peanuts or tree nuts should be brought in.  My students were responsible enough at nine years old, to not bring in anything I couldn't be around, but this teacher was another story!

I was in the classroom grading my students' reading notebooks, when I realized I was smelling something and feeling a bit itchy and uncomfortable.  I didn't see any nuts or anything, but I was confused why I was feeling the way I was.  A few minutes later I heard the science teacher say to a student how she had these hazelnut coffee beans that had been in her freezer from America, that she didn't want to use anymore, which is why they were perfect for the project.  Then I said to her after hearing this, "you have hazelnut coffee beans in here?  Is that what I am smelling?"  She said, "yeah, exactly.  Isn't it nice."  I said, "hazel NUT."  She said, "oooh, I didn't even think about it. Oops!"

And...that my what I am dealing with!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the news...

I was just reading about a family in Chicago who is suing a Chinese restaurant because their daughter died from peanut residue in the food.  The article from the Chicago Tribune (,0,107091.story) states that the 13-year-old had known severe allergies to peanuts.  I am sorry for this family's loss, and think there are a few things that we can all take away from this.

Since the only information I have is from the article, there are few questions I have.  Why was this student eating the Chinese food in the first place?  With a severe allergy to peanuts, it is always safest to stay away from Chinese food, among other ethnic cuisines.  My next question is why didn't she have an Epi-pen on her, so that when she was feeling a reaction, she could use it to save herself (or a teacher to help her)?  Although there are other questions that come to mind, these are the ones that I find most important.

As an Allergic Reactor to peanuts as well as many other foods, I always stay away from ethnic foods.  I may be missing out, but it is one of the ways that I can keep myself safe.  Even if I were to check with a Chinese restaurant, and they said they wouldn't use any peanuts, I would still be concerned about the cross-contamination.  It is just too risky with this kind of allergy!  Better to be safe!

My biggest concern and worry for this student, and for all Allergic Reactors, is whether they are carrying their Epi-pen!  As an Allergic Reactor, that is your lifeline.  In case you do eat something that you shouldn't, you have the Epi-pen right next to you to help open your airways, then a call to 911!  I  can't emphasize enough how crucial it is to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have it with you!  Even if you don't anticipate eating somewhere, the way to keep yourself safe (or your children safe) is to always have it with you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In my Dream

The other night, I had a dream that I was able to eat tree nuts without an anaphylactic reaction.  It was the strangest allergy dream that I have had!  Usually, when I have a dream, I still always have my same allergies.  This was the first time where I was actually eating nuts in my dream without a reaction.  I do remember in my dream feeling nervous, wondering why it was okay that I could eat these nuts all of a sudden.   

When I woke up I was perplexed by the dream.  How come I could eat nuts in my dream?  Why now was I suddenly having a dream where I was physically eating nuts, and it was okay?

I suppose part of me is always hoping that a cure will come, where I will be able to eat tree nuts, and anything else that I want to eat.  It is always such a nice thought to me to envision life where I have the possibility to try anything I want to try.  The feeling of walking into a store or a bakery, pointing to something delicious, and being able to eat it. I know it sounds strange to non-Allergic Reactors, but that feeling is almost unimaginable. 

With all of the studies being done around the world, I do have hopes that one will someday make these dreams a serious reality!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sorry for disappearing!

This is the first year where I am not sharing a classroom with another teacher, and with that, comes much more work!  I am frustrated with myself for neglecting my blog and my readers.  I continue to have experiences on a daily basis that I should be sharing in hopes of helping parents and their Allergic Reactors! 

Every day I receive a google search with news of anything that food allergy related.  It is through this that I continue to stay updated about the continued push for new laws, trials, and education to help all of us Allergic Reactors.  In Italy, where I have been living for the past two years, there is very little allergy knowledge or education.  Food is a significant part of the culture though, and I have continued to have people be even more understanding and helpful here, even with such little knowledge.  It is interesting to me how this happens.  Since food is so important, people really want to help and make sure I can eat something when I am out.  I have had very few negative encounters, but quite a few interesting stories nonetheless!

Although living abroad is a challenge in so many ways, it is something I would certainly not change, and has helped shape me as I continue to grow up into my adulthood. I have learned to go to the grocery store without a dictionary and understand what I can and cannot eat.  I have learned to ask for gelatto safely, and how to order dinner at a restaurant.  My friends here often ask me if I get nervous when we go to eat, or if I worry about it.  I don't though.  I feel confident with my ability to make safe decisions, ALWAYS carry my Epi-pens, Benedryl, and inhaler with me, and know that I know am keeping myself as safe as I can be. 

There is nothing I need to worry about as long as I have the education and experience to know exactly what to do.  That is the point that I hope each Allergic Reactor can reach!  It is an outstanding feeling to be confident enough to eat out, travel, and even have regular everyday experiences and not have your allergies to worry about! 

Keep reading parents and Allergic Reactors!  Please also feel free to post comments and questions!  I am always happy to answer!