Thursday, December 8, 2011

10 Allergy- & Atopy-Friendly Gift Giving Ideas

I'll be honest. The best stuff I've ever received during Christmas or for birthdays has had nothing to do with my allergies. In fact, I can't think of a single present I have ever received that has been allergy-related. I have a received a couple of nice items related to skin care though. But, other than that, while I dub myself "AtopicGirl", that's only part of my life and I don't primarily define myself as an allergic/atopic person.

So, I always told myself I would never make one of these lists. However, there are some absolutely amazing allergy- and atopy-related items out this year that I wouldn't mind seeing beneath the tree. So, you'll have to forgive me.


My list is mostly geared towards adults (A) and teens (T), but some are certainly for the children (C) on your list.

1. MedicAlert bracelets: MedicAlert has totally outdone themselves this year. The understated, army-look silver bands are out. What's in are Swarovski Element bracelets and Roots leather bands. Pearls, crystals, silver links - they've literally got a style to suit everyone. (A,T,C) Range of prices CDN

2. Allergy Apparel skull t-shirts: Allergy Apparel has the coolest and cutest skull t-shirts for kids. If you haven't seen these yet, take a look. My only problem is that they don't have bigger sizes. Great gift for that mischievous little boy or girl on your shopping list. (C only, but wish it were A and T) Range of prices USD

3. OneSpot Allergy Lip Balm: This is an easy and brilliant stocking stuffer. It's an allergy-friendly, petroleum-free, scent-free and irritant-free lipbalm which is more difficult to find than one would think. Great product for any age. (A,T,C) $7.50 CDN

4.Monkey Balm: Another fab stocking stuffer. I'm a big fan of petrochemical-free, natural products for eczema and this is it. (A,T,C) $15.62 CDN

5. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley and Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies by Sloane Miller: As a teen or adult with food allergies, your life starts to include a lot more than just what to eat and not sharing lunches. Dating, parties and a whole host of situations where one's parents aren't around come into play. These are also great resources for the newly-diagnosed allergic adult or the adult with an allergic child on your list. I figured it out firsthand, but there are now some great books by well-known allergy advocates. I think these are key for anyone making their way through life with allergies. (A, T) $17.12 & $18.77 CDN respectively. Both at reduced prices on Chapters.Indigo.ca as of 07-Dec-11

6. Fresh Restaurant cookbooks by Ruth Tal (Fresh at Home, Fresh, reFresh) and Veganomicon: I'll be honest again. I don't actually own any allergy-free cookbooks. My mother tried a couple when I was very young and they were horrible. So, she figured out what would work and as I got older I did, too. So, while things have changed for the better on the allergy-cookbook front, my go to cookbooks are still usually vegan and I use regular cookbooks and substitute accordingly. While the books I've recommended include nuts, there are plenty of recipes which work without the use of them or don't have them at all. (A,T) $17.16 - $23.80 CDN. Reduced prices on Chapters.Indigo.ca as of 07-Dec-11

7. Argan oil: While argan oil abounds, finding a pure source is a little less easy and it's expensive. A regular sized bottle is easily in the $80-$100 CDN range. However, for those with eczema, the price can certainly be worth it and it's something they might not buy for themselves. As with anything skincare related, save this for someone you know very well. (A,T) $98 CDN at Oresta: Organic Confectionery

8. Scotch Naturals nail polish: During my teens and early adult years, I was allergic to nail polish. As the years went by, I started using -free nail polishes - nail polishes that were free of the worst chemicals like formaldehyde and toluene. Recently, even better options have come out. Scotch Naturals is water-based and not only are there 30 amazing colours (I'm in love with Flying Scotsman), but they have a cute kids' line, Hopscotch, with 13 vibrant colours like Red Rover, Red Rover and Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater. (A,T,C) $14.99 USD adults and $11.99 USD children

9. Allergic Living: This falls in the "figuring it out" category. Especially if you have atopy and allergies, pretty much every page has something relevant. Plus, the recipes are always amazing. This is a staple item for anyone with allergies or atopic conditions. (A,T) 1 Year/4 issues $17.69 +tax or 2 Years/8 issues $26.54+tax CDN

10. Epi-Essentials Handbags & Accessory Cases: Epi-Essentials has cute "Grab-and-Go" handbags in cuter colours that can carry your injectors, inhaler, credit cards, keys and more! For people like me who switch between purses, briefcases and totes, they also have accessory cosmetic cases with room for your injectors, inhaler and cosmetics. Great gift for that stylish teen or adult on your list. (A,T) $118 handbag & $68 accessory case USD

Happy Holiday Shopping! Thank goodness mine is done.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anaphylaxis Law is a Human Right

I won't go into much detail about the impetus for Allergic Living's write-in campaign for anaphylaxis laws in Quebec, since the campaign website goes over the details and it's been discussed in the media - traditional and social. Essentially, a little girl died needlessly. A protocol regarding anaphylaxis and asthma could have very well saved her life.

What baffles me is that the school reacted very similarly to the way my elementary school reacted 25 years ago. In the early days of my new egg allergy, I didn't know a lot about what was going on. No one really did; so, no one explained anything to me. So, being told that I might be able to eat eggs in baked goods...well, I didn't understand the risks of trying it out. The result was that I bought some kind of cake at a school bake sale and took a bite. It boggles my mind to remember it.

My symptoms were different from my first reaction. My tongue, eyes and lips didn't swell that second time (to this day, they don't), but my throat did. So, instead of calling an ambulance, I was told to sit in the principal's office with an ice pack on my eyes, even though I didn't end up needing the latter.

My memory is a bit foggy, since it's been a while, but I know I didn't have an EpiPen or diphenhydramine. I know we had a school nurse, but I don't recall her doing anything of note. My parents were called and I went home a while later at which point I likely took medication.

So, clearly I didn't die. Lucky for me, because my egg allergy became much more severe afterwards.

In Ontario, we now have Sabrina's Law. I think everyone around the world knows this. What they might not be aware of is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I'll be honest, the argument I'm about to make is a bit of a stretch, but I don't think that makes it invalid.

Section 7 states that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Section 15, subsection 1 states that "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."

I'll add the note that, as every school kid knows, Quebec did not sign on to the Constitution or the Charter; however, it's still applicable.

The point is that children with anaphylaxis and asthma have the right to life and the right to not be deprived of it. These children have the equal protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination based on physical disability. In my limited opinion (no law degree here), I think this means that these children are currently not afforded the rights and freedoms they were born to in this country. Denying them access to safer environments is denying their fundamental human rights.

When children who use wheelchairs go to school, they get ramps. Parents have pushed to have defibrillators placed in schools because there have been cases where children collapsed due to unforeseen cardiac issues and needed immediate treatment. When children, regardless of province of birth, who have asthma and anaphylaxis go to school, they should know that should something occur, there is a protocol designed to do everything possible to protect their right to live.

Please sign the Allergic Living petition. If you know people who live in Quebec, encourage them to sign it. If you live outside of Quebec or Ontario, please contact your local representative to get things started in your province or territory. On a national level, please contact your M.P. regarding Motion M-230. You can find more information at the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative website.

Setting protocols in schools isn't asking for too much. What is asking for too much is to have to wait for a child to die in each province and territory before regulations are changed. No one wants the next anaphylaxis law named after their child.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Seven Dairy-Free and Delicious Wine-Friendly Holiday Appetizers

It's the holiday season. That means parties and family gatherings. That means hors d'oeuvres. Before I developed my full-fledged dairy allergy at 17, I had a few good years of enjoying cheese. So, while I never paired it with wine sadly, I remember a good thing.

At this time of year especially, I notice a lot of lists about wine and cheese pairings. Alas, it's not something I can take part in. However, that's no reason for me drink and not eat (not that there's anything wrong with that). All this is assuming that you don't have an allergy to sulphites or the allergens which are sometimes used in the making of wine (egg whites, dairy, etc.).

The fact is that there's so much to pair with wine besides cheese, feel sorry for the poor folks who are limiting themselves to one thing.

One note, I'm a girl who experiments in the kitchen. So, these are all very rough guidelines, not recipes. If there's something you want to know more about, let me know and I'll give you further tips.

1. Baguette topped with Daiya mozzarella-flavour vegan cheese and a great antipasto. My current antipasto favourite is Allessia La Bomba. Toast the baguette slightly, then put the baguette with Daiya underneath the broiler until the cheese is melted (watch this carefully!), remove from the oven and add the antipasto. I'll warn you now, La Bomba is addictive and I use it on everything - pasta, sandwiches, burgers, crackers.

2. Olives. You can never ever go wrong with olives. Kalamata, garlic-stuffed, lye-cured...the list of olives you can pair with wine is endless. Watch cross-contamination issues at olive bars. Pre-packaged olives might be a better bet.

3. Tapenade. Keeping with the olive theme, tapenade on baguette or crackers is amazing stuff and goes well with wine. Here's a recipe from Whole Foods: Kalamata Olive Tapenade Crostini

4. Dark chocolate. On the sweeter side, chocolate and wine are always a winning pair. My current favourite is Pacari. However, they are not completely allergen-free. However, I have found them safe on the dairy side of things. As with any new product, please contact them before trying, regardless of your allergy.


5. Hummus and pita. Though this is a simple and easily-made appetizer, I have to admit I buy mine. That said, I go the extra step. I roast garlic in the oven with olive oil and a bit of salt - all wrapped up in tin foil - for 30 minutes. Then, I liberally coat the pita (I use fake pita - Pita Break) with the roasted garlic and a bit of salt. Slice into triangles (eight for a large pita) and broil (again, watch carefully). Served with Saba Supremely Spicy Hummus, this is one of my all-time favourite things. If you slice the pita in half, through the pocket itself, leaving two thinner halves and then cut into triangles, it makes a great pita chip.

6. Veggies. It's simple and it's good. This just depends on what kind of dip you use. Hummus, a dairy-free savoury yogurt dip, a dairy-free cream cheese concoction or anything with Tofutti Sour Supreme. You really can't go wrong with a little experimentation. Well, you can, but you won't.


7. Prosciutto, Serrano ham or Iberian ham (Jamon Serrano or Jamon Iberico). Meat-lovers, this is the appetizer to end all appetizers. Slice the baguette into small round pieces. Don't get a large baguette for this. Think cute, Parisian bicyclist with a grocery bag in a basket with half of a skinny baguette peaking out of it. Brown the pieces - both sides - in a large, non-stick pan with a bit of vegan margarine. It's best to go salt-free, since the ham has enough salt. Once done, rub the surface of the bread with a really great tomato. Don't buy the pale, sickly, monster tomatoes. Get something off the vine - fresh, red and that gives slightly when you push the skin with your thumb. Size doesn't matter here, just taste. Then, put a thin slice of Iberian or Seranno ham on top. If you can't find (or afford) those, proscuitto works, too. Eat and die happy.

Hope this starts off your holiday right! If you have other foods you love to enjoy with wine, please share. Links are great!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eczema Awareness Month

That's me and I wear make-up
So, in case you didn't know, November is Eczema Awareness Month in Canada. There aren't a lot of events planned; so, there's little to cover on that front. Plus, I'm late on my entry, but I'd like to start with a (brief) explanation as to why the Awareness part of the title is so important.

Unlike allergies, asthma and depression, eczema is not invisible. It's pretty much out there whether or not you like it and unless you're on organ-destroying meds, nothing can make it go away. Unless you're lucky enough to outgrow it, which I wasn't. Watch television for about five minutes and it's very difficult to miss the stress put on having perfect skin. From Photoshop to light-reflecting make-up and razors with five blades, the emphasis is on smooth, flawless skin.

So, I hate to break it to anyone who's seen a picture of me or met me in person, but my skin isn't actually flawless. I didn't magically escape the toll of eczema, though it has improved greatly over the years. In some ways, I still hide it. I no longer wear long-sleeved shirts in the height of summer (like I did when I was a child), but I do wear make-up to even out my skin tone, which suffers simply from the trauma of eczema.

So, where the awareness part comes in is that I was bullied as a child because I was different. My skin was my enemy - it was brown and it was patchy. Both didn't go over well at my school. But, kids today shouldn't have to be bullied, just because they've got eczema, something completely out of their control. Teachers didn't understand the physical and emotional toll having eczema took on me. I don't know that anyone did. It's yet another condition that a lot of people don't understand and because it's visible, you can't pretend you don't have it. And, you shouldn't.

But, as usual, it takes a lot of work to make people understand. So, here's my proposition. I encourage parents who have children with atopic conditions, like eczema and asthma to be as active as you are with food allergies. Talk to your child's school and teachers. Ask to schedule a quick talk to the class or the entire school. Making people aware of this condition is the first step to normalizing it. Children are taught not to judge people on the colour of their skin. It's time they were taught not to judge them on their skin at all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why We Need to Read Carefully - My Response to the Backlash Against "The Peanut Problem"

A father with a picky-eater for a daughter finds out that he can no longer send the trusty ol' peanut butter sandwich to school. Instead of asking what his options are, his first instinct is that his civil liberties have been violated, because he can't feed his daughter the easiest thing around.

In the article, "The Peanut Problem", the father provides his vision of an appropriate environment for school-aged children with food allergies.

"Take the children with allergies out of the school. Open a school where they can be really safe – everyone will wear one-piece coveralls, the air will be filtered, and all food will be controlled by the school. Then they will be really safe – and everyone else can go to school with peanut butter sandwiches."

Danielle McLaughlin, the author and director of education at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Education Trust, then goes on to say that while the father's suggestion might seem discriminatory, it raises some great questions, like if the peanut ban is really necessary and does it work. The point of the article comes in the last little bit:

"We want our children to think critically and to consider the needs and rights of people who may differ from them. Children who learn more than just a rule will understand they have a responsibility to others. Thinking about peanut butter can help them practise the habits of democracy."

Unfortunately, I'll admit it took a second reading for me to get this. I even had to remove my backlash tweet, because I was wrong.

McLaughlin is not agreeing with the father. What she's saying is that the rule alone isn't enough. All parents and kids get from a rule is that they can't do something they want to do, but they don't understand why. They don't understand that it's about being a responsible citizen. You don't smoke in cars with children and you don't bring peanut butter to school.

Sadly, what is a great message got lost when she decided to use an incredibly ignorant person as an example. For the record, his suggestion doesn't just "look absurd or discriminatory". It is definitely both. However, this should be a lesson for everyone to read more carefully in case Rick Perry's recent gaffe wasn't reason enough.

Note: I posted this as a result of a post by Allergic Living on its Facebook site on November 2, 2011.

Monday, October 10, 2011

World Mental Health Day - October 10, 2011

There isn't a lot of advice I can give regarding mental health. It's not like giving advice about how to eat at a restaurant or find natural treatments. However, the reason I talk about it frequently is because it's often seen as part of an atopic-allergic-depression triad. Basically, allergic and atopic individuals often suffer from depression as well. While, it's not difficult to understand why this is the case, there is no medical consensus on whether depression is caused by the effects of being allergic/atopic or if there is some deeper correlation.

Presently, it doesn't really matter whether it's an effect or another symptom. The fact is that it happens and while there is a lot discussion about how to physically protect and treat allergic/atopic individuals, there is very little said on how to mentally help them. Depression isn't always about being suicidal, but it can still be very debilitating in its silence.

If you are an atopic and/or allergic person or if you are the parent of one, please think about how this might impact you or the person you care for. If it does, talk to your family doctor. Just as you would request an allergist, immunologist or dermatologist, ask to consult with a psychiatrist or certified therapist.

For more information, please speak with your family doctor or contact your local mental health organisation. In Canada:
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Canadian Mental Health Association 
Health Canada - Mental Health



Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Gets Better

This blog was sparked by an aggravating incident I had with someone in a work context. I have never met this woman and hope never to do so, but the exchange left me upset and bewildered. She was under the impression that I never left the house because I was far too sick to do so; so, I needed other people to take over for me. She kept repeating that I was too sick and couldn't leave the house. Since I had to leave my house for my job, it was a bizarre statement to make.

I don't have the specifics on why she was under that impression. I clarified my condition for her as it pertained to my work at the time. I would have liked to tell her that her suggestions and tone were inappropriate, but frankly, I was too shocked. I haven't been spoken to like that in years.

Honestly, my asthma, eczema and allergies can make things tough if I have to be outside for long periods of times. And, as I've mentioned in a previous post, smoking and misused chemicals seriously aggravate my condition. However, these aren't common occurrences. I don't view my conditions as disabilities. I seriously dislike being pitied and I have to hold back a groan when someone calls me a "survivor". I wasn't marooned on a deserted island.

So, this all got me thinking and I think there's a lot to be learned from the "It Gets Better" campaign developed by the LGBT community. I'm in my 30s and while I unfortunately still have to deal with ignorant people, it doesn't happen often. My skin can never be perfect, I can't eat anything I want and I have to be honest about being allergic to pets and cigarette smoke when people invite me over, but most people don't care.

Things as a child were far more difficult. Frankly, children can be evil, little jerks willing to pounce on any perceived difference with which they're not familiar - race, disease, health conditions, homosexuality and the list goes on. So, while I don't think it's a bad idea to start educating all children about conditions like eczema, food allergies, asthma (and you can add a whole host of conditions to that list), at the end of the day, the message is that it gets better.

My intention isn't to compare atopic and allergic conditions to homosexuality directly. The latter is not a health condition. I also don't want to make it seem like children with allergies and atopic conditions don't have a difficult time simply growing up. They do and they need emotional support.

As a child, your concerns are pretty limited to "Why can't I eat that birthday cake?", "I hate feeling different" and "I wish I could stop being itchy so I could sleep". As you grow up, those concerns accumulate. "Will I have real friends who don't tease me because I'm allergic?" "Will someone want to date me even though I have scars?"

And the answers are that you can't eat the birthday cake because it will kill you (but grocery store cake is kind of gross anyway), being different is far better than being a clone and yes, someone wonderful will want to date you and won't care one whit about your scars.

No one knew I had those questions growing up. And, I had to learn those lessons by myself. But, I learned them. And, I hope that more allergic and atopic adults start speaking out so the following generations know that yes, it gets better.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shaving and Saving your Skin

Well, I'm too young to remember women's lib, but I've heard the stories of bra burnings and not shaving legs and underarms. That legacy didn't last long and never seemed to penetrate mainstream culture. So, in North America women are expected to be "supported" and have smooth hairless legs and underarms. Some go as far as removing hair from their arms, but I can't say that thought has ever concerned me.

To some extent, I wonder if advertising has created this overarching need for women to have hairless skin. When I was young, I can't remember seeing this number of commercials for various hair removal systems - crystals, chemicals, wax, sugar, razors and I'm sure some I've yet to hear of.

At the end of the day, the need to be hair-free is there. I'm not going to try to argue against that. I have the same wish as every other woman to have happy, shiny legs. Unfortunately, as someone with sensitive and allergic atopic skin, shaving is not something my skin is happy about. So, I've talked to my dermatologists over the years about the best ways to go about it. I haven't found the perfect system; so, at some point I will have laser hair removal.

So, here's what I've learned and I practice these steps where applicable:

1. If you don't have to shave, don't. I can't say I was happy when my first dermatologist told me this, but it's true. I invest in really great opaque nylons which helps me to get around that in the winter months.

2. Find a method that works for you. My legs are far too sensitive to use a regular razor or sugaring. I haven't tried waxing or chemical removal systems and never will. So, the only thing that works for me is an electric razor. If you have the will and the funds, consider laser hair removal. Do not cheap out on this. Make sure you go to a trusted dermatologist who will discuss this option and explain it thoroughly.

3. Electric razors. If you use this system, keep it clean. Replace components as directed. People with atopic dermatitis are at risk for serious infections like Staph. These infections can be troublesome or lethal and keeping the tools you use on your skin immaculate can be a matter of life and death. You wouldn't get a mani-pedi from a place that doesn't sterilize their tools; so, you need to be vigilant when it comes to what you use on your body. If you have open areas, don't shave.

4. Prep your skin. Clean your legs with soap (remove oils, bacteria, etc) and soak your legs in warm water for a few minutes before shaving. It makes the process easier.

5. Shaving lotion/cream. I use Kiss My Face Shaving Lotion. Find one that works for you with as little ingredients as possible if you have allergic skin. Stay away from irritants like peppermint. That can be harder than it seems.

6. Shaving in the direction of hair growth. My first dermatologist advised that shaving in the direction that the hair grows is less aggravating for the skin. You won't get a close shave this way, but it if helps, then it's worth it.

7. The three Is - Ingrown hairs, Infection and Irritation. Avoiding ingrown hairs is key, because they can be a site of infection. Mayo Clinic has some great tips to prevent and treat ingrown hairs. Speak to your doctor about how to address sites of infection and irritation. I use a corticosteroid cream on my skin right after shaving and an antibiotic ointment in the event of minor infections.

8. Moisturize. This is something you should be doing anyway, but keeping your skin in optimal condition is very important if you're going to do something that irritates it, too.

9. Talk to your dermatologist. It may seem like a minor thing, but this about the health of your skin. Come up with a plan that works for you. Your doctor may have other options that work better.

Personally, my next step will involve permanent hair removal. Being brown, I have issues with hyperpigmentation and depigmentation; so, after a discussion with a dermatologist at AvantDerm, I am confident that the procedure can be performed there with little risk to my beloved pigmentation. I've done a lot of research since not everyone can perform this procedure on patients with dark skin. Once I begin that process, I'll post with the results. I expect some irritation in the short term; so, I'll have to see how I manage that.

Hope this helps and hope you enjoy your summer - hair-free or not!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Emergency

Health care in Canada is not a perfect system. I don't think it's possible to have one without some magical source of unlimited funds and an infallible system - two unlikely scenarios. However, when it comes to trip to Emerg, a great deal of it is free; so, I'm willing to put up with some issues. I am not willing to put up with others.

This post isn't about placing blame on any specific hospital, though I encourage anyone with a truly bad experience (use your best judgement and try to be objective) to write a formal complaint to the hospital in question.

This post is about experiences I've had and things I think I could have done better at the time. It's easy to look back and see what I should have done, but understandable that I felt I couldn't at the time. So, I think it's important that anyone with a condition that may require brief hospitalizations on a moment's notice have some foresight and plan for the possible scenarios.

You are not and often cannot be in your right mind and in complete control. Have a plan and someone to contact who knows what you expect of them. The reason I've developed this list is because while I have anaphylaxis, I show no external signs - facial swelling, hives or rashes. My asthma is also not triggered by anaphylactic reactions to food. This has led to unfortunate situations where doctors are confused about why I'm in the hospital at all or educated medical professionals have insisted I do not need to go to the hospital.

I reached out to the allergy community on Twitter and got some great advice. So, without naming names, I'll share what I've compiled - in a handy list format, of course.


1. Have a plan. This means that you need to have a thorough discussion with your doctor about what you should have in your allergy kit. Your allergy kit may contain the following: EpiPen/Twinject/Anapen, acid inhibitor, diphenhydramine in tablet and liquid form (a.k.a. Benadryl), inhaler, dosage information and instructions if you are unable to communicate, as well as MedicAlert ID that you wear at all times. If you have a mobile phone, keep it charged. If you're leaving your home province, get travel insurance (even for a quick jaunt from Toronto to Montreal).
2. Know your reaction. As stated above, you may have atypical reactions. Whatever the case, your  friend should know what to expect. Since reactions can vary, make sure they understand that things can change. Basically, is there vomiting, facial swelling, hives, etc.? You need to know.
3. Prep a friend. Tell them what they need to know in the event you have a reaction.
4. Have your kit. No matter where I'm going, I take my kit and my wallet. The latter has my health card in it.
5. Know the location of the nearest hospital. If you're traveling, it's especially important that you know the emergency number for that area. 911 is not a universal number.
6. Call an ambulance. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and epinephrine only buys you time. That said, request it when you call for the ambulance, even if you've already taken it.
7. Stay in control. If you are unable to communicate with ER team, this is where you need that friend. I've had doctors tell me they didn't know what I wanted them to do or been discharged in the midst of a reaction. Don't be bullied. Know what you want and make sure they follow through. This will add stress to your stay, which is unfortunate, but no one in a vulnerable state should be made to feel like a nuisance.
8. Speak up about your needs. Well, you been doing that all along, but this is where you need to know what your body needs. You'll only learn this through experience (unfortunately) and speaking with your doctor. While you should be able to rely on the doctors and nurses, they don't know your reaction. So, you may find they're more concerned with giving you a salbutamol nebulizer than a diphenhydramine drip. Your doctor may have recommended that you take a course of oral steroids after a reaction; so, let the medical team know. Speak up.
9. Document. Again, this is where your friend comes in. In the event you are unable to do so, make sure your friend knows to take names if necessary. This shouldn't be done with the aim of getting a staff member in trouble, but issues with the system need to be addressed. Take down times and what was discussed.
10. If eating out, follow-up with the restaurant or the person who prepared the food. This should be done as soon as possible after the reaction to ensure that you obtain the correct information. In worse-case scenarios, you may find that you've developed a new food allergy.
11. Follow-up with your doctor. Reactions can reoccur within a few days after the initial reaction. You should be prepared.

That is my game-plan, with a couple of additions from the fantastic allergy community.

Hope it helps. Though, I really hope you never need to use it at all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I'm So Torn (And Still Itchy).

So, one application of the Verdeso seems to take away the itchiness. Once again, not crazy about the bleached petroleum in the product, but it will get me to a stage where I can not scratch. So, I'm going to use it.

Here's hoping it will do its job before it makes me worse!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm Itchy!

I've been completely negligent about posting due to my other duties/jobs/etc. This post will be brief. Basically, it's summer and I've spent far too much time in situations in which I shouldn't have (outdoor situations). Hence, the resulting flare-up and the itchiness! Ack. I can handle a rash, but when they're itchy ones...not so handleable (not a word).

So, I tried cortisone first. Not sure why I bother. No luck. My skin is clearly bored with that stuff.

Despite my allergy to petroleum, I have a foam emulsion called Verdeso from my dermatologist. I can get away with using it a couple of times before breaking out because of it.  My petroleum allergy has waned a bit and the medication in the foam likely counter-acts the reaction to some extent. I'm not crazy about using a petroleum product for various reasons, but I have to admit that I'm a bit desperate. So far one hand stopped being itchy after one application. I'm trying the other hand and my arm right now.

The other thing that I will certainly do is an Epsom salt and baking soda bath. It seems to help. Not too hot of course. I've read about the bleach solution bath (very weak, read this article and talk to your doctor before trying), but that's for bacterial infections. I know when I've got one and I don't have one. So, probably not that one.

Other than that, it's Reactine (the super stuff with pseudo-effedrine) in the morning and Benadryl at night. Hate taking so many drugs, but what can you do?

The lesson I've learned, again, is that everyone has limits and working outside for hours is certainly one of mine.

I'll post an update with whatever ends up working!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Variety

I've been thinking about this a bit lately. When I first discovered non-dairy products, I went a little crazy on the soy. While soy still makes up part of my diet, I've definitely worked hard to find alternatives.

Part of the reason is that I'm always a bit worried that I'll develop a new allergy and I want to make sure that I do as much as possible to prevent that. So, I switch up my meals and try new things whenever I can. That can be tricky, but I've found little ways of getting around some of my allergies and sensitivities.

One thing that I've recently discovered is that while I can't eat instant oatmeal or even oatmeal cooked for a few minutes on the stove, I can eat baked oatmeal. It takes about 40 minutes at about 425 F, but it is totally worth it. I add about 10 ml of maple syrup (the real, pure stuff), 10 ml of brown sugar to about 125 ml of oatmeal and one cup of soy milk or almond milk. I've used rice milk and the consistency didn't quite do it for me, but if that's what you can use, it was still good. I'd probably cut the amount back though. I've also put a bit of agave syrup and cut back on the other sugars as well. Not as amazing, but still good. It makes the real stuff a treat. (I think you can see why I can never run a food allergy recipe site!)

And a quick explanation, I do have a nut allergy, but not to all of them. Almonds and I get along fine.

Essentially, trial and error are my friends in the kitchen. I have a good awareness of my allergies/sensitivities and I'm able to work around those safely. I experiment mostly with whole foods since there are generally no hidden ingredients.

However, this comes easily to me. I've grown up in a Indian household in Canada. My parents immigrated here decades ago and integrated well into society. So, my mother is just as likely to cook curries as she is an awesome Thanksgiving feast or lasagna. I've watched both of my parents experiment with new foods and tastes in the kitchen and I recognize that not everyone "knows" how to do this.

I think there are some great options out there.

1. Cookbooks. While I'm not vegan (I just prefer vegetables), some of the books I love the most are the Veganomicon (Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero) and the series of cookbooks from Fresh Restaurants in Toronto. If nothing else, they will inspire you and I think that's one of the most important qualities in a cookbook. If the recipe calls for nuts and you can't have them, experiment! I once came up with an odd but yummy replacement when a recipe called for feta in a salad. You should definitely take notes, since I've never been able to recreate what on earth I did.

2. Look for a good nutritionist, especially if you've been newly diagnosed or your allergies have changed. This field has grown and changed since I went to one a couple of decades ago and a good nutritionist can really help you out of a food variety slump. You may not take all of their advice, but like a cookbook, they can be inspiring and help you think about your abilities, not your disabilities.

3. Pretty grocery stores and markets. There is nothing I love more than walking around a Whole Foods Market or a great weekend farmer's market with some cash to spare and not a clue in the world what I want to do for dinner. But, then I see some gorgeous corn or a beautiful cut of fish and I start putting things together. Even better, I see a vegetable that I've always wanted to try (but never have) and start working around that. I've no idea how it will work, and sometimes it doesn't, but either way I've got something to work on and improve.

4. Have flavour on hand! I can't stress this enough. I have friends (who will remain nameless) who own nothing beyond pre-ground pepper and salt! To a Canadian-Indian girl this is unthinkable! Don't buy the cheap stuff that's included with the spice rack from WalMart or wherever. If you want the containers, fine, but toss the stuff when you get home - it's old and bland. Try growing fresh herbs. They're pretty easy and you can buy them (already grown) from grocery and home gardening stores. Or, buy the ones in the grocery store that look pretty. They often cost more, but you can actually tell the difference. Keep them in a cool, dark place. They may look pretty on the shelf, but oxygen and light are not their friends. And, of course, experiment!! Flavour applies to a lot of herbs, spices, sauces, etc. Soy sauce, balsamic vinegar with a bit of lemon to brighten things up (in just the right mix) are amazing on some sauteed vegetables and spaghettini.

In conclusion, I can't say that I eat beautifully and wonderfully all the time. I'm definitely the girl who'll eat lime & salt popcorn for dinner if she's exhausted enough. But, I love food and having food allergies has really made me appreciate all the lovely things I can eat in the world. So, I'm determined to keep on changing it up and looking for more things that I've never tried before!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Looking For Emerg Advice

I'm interested in compiling a list of tips from various people with allergic and atopic conditions (i.e.: anaphylaxis, asthma) for dealing with those unexpected trips to the Emergency Room. I'd love to hear about both horror stories and great experiences. I really want to hear about what you think you could have done better, what you think you did right and what you wished you could have said to the staff - good and bad, but no profanities!

I don't need to hear any specifics about your condition and I will not publish any patient names (unless requested to do so in writing by the patient). I will not publish any health care worker or hospital names.

If you'd like to contribute, please leave a comment below or email me at atopicgirl at yahoo dot ca.

If you know someone who has a story to tell, please feel free to pass this along.

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To Botanical or Not to Botanical

Yes, horrible title. If you still kept reading, I'll forgive its existence and express my thanks. Before proceeding, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. If you continue on without doing so, it basically says that I'm not recommending any product or practice and you're responsible for what you do or do not do.

Anyway, I've never met a dermatologist who was a fan of botanical skin care. My first dermatologist was pretty open-minded after decades of practicing and he was fond of telling me that if it worked and didn't do any harm, then why not? But, that was about where his opinion ended. I always took his advice, but as I got older I tried new things.

The big awakening that my skin-care regimen could not remain static occurred when I was 21. After every shower I would break out everywhere. My face and neck were the worst, but it wasn't limited to that area. I thought my shampoo and conditioner were the culprits, which seemed strange because I was using CliniDerm at the time. It's pretty safe stuff. After two weeks of eliminating my shampoo, conditioner, soap and even the water, I realized it was the Vaseline I slathered all over myself after each shower. My dermatologist was shocked as he'd never heard of such a thing. Convinced it was something used to bleach commercial Vaseline he gave me samples of unbleached petroleum jelly. I still reacted. So, he pronounced me allergic to petroleum and I moved on. Since then, I stay away from Vaseline, GlaxalBase and anything related to petroleum.

Around the same time, Phisoderm switched to making products for the acne market, with no warning, which left me suddenly high and dry regarding a skin cleanser since I can't go near Ivory or Dove. As pure as they say they are, they're full of chemicals just so your tub doesn't accumulate soap scum.

So I had to rethink my skin care strategy and I started with Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar soaps. Since then, I've used botanical products from companies like Kiss My Face, Avalon Organics and Eminence Organics.



I've had doctors since then tell me that I can't possibly be allergic to things like Dove ("But, it's not soap!") or Vaseline, but the indisputable fact remains that I am and can prove it (not that I have any urge to do so ever again). I've also read a lot of articles written by medical experts which say to stay away from botanicals (lavender, rose, etc.) because they can sensitize the skin and cause more reactions. Seems to me that's exactly what happened to me after using Vaseline for 21 years.

Well, here's the thing. The whole "natural is good and artificial is bad" argument is just a silly as the "natural is ineffective and science is your only hope" argument. It's all too black and white.

Arsenic occurs naturally. So does a host of lethal bacteria. Eggs and cashews are pretty damn natural, too, but at the very least I'll end up in a hospital bed hooked to an I.V., if not dead. Hey, guess what? Petroleum is natural, too. Vaseline's claims to having a "natural" product crack me up to no end. Cue the eye rolling.

Natural isn't the be all and end all, but neither is stuff cranked out from a lab. DDT, Agent Orange - brought to you by the very smart people of some lab who thought they were helping out mankind.

There is a happy medium. I've found lavender to be very soothing for my skin, but of course, if I were allergic to it, I wouldn't. Despite my love of the smell, I stay away from products with peppermint oil because peppermint is an irritant (I really wish companies would stop using it in everything). When I have really rashy spots, I use a corticosteroid cream because the "natural" eczema cream I bought last year doesn't do anything except for make me smell kind of nice, though it's a great moisturizer.

A couple of years ago, I had a horrible rash on both ankles for over six months. First, I eliminated everything I thought could possibly have caused it, but no luck. Then, I went the scientific/medically-approved route and absolutely nothing happened - corticosteroids were powerless against this rash. So, I tried a wrap of Swedish Bitters for a few weeks. One ankle completely cleared up, but the other didn't. So, I soaked the other ankle in a hot bath of neem leaves for another few weeks, every single night. And that cleared up the other ankle. At the end of it all, who can say what worked? The vodka used to make the Swedish Bitters? The act of bathing my ankle in the hot water in which I'd steeped the neem leaves? I haven't the foggiest - I am not a scientist and it was anything but a medical trial - but it worked and it did no harm.

When I try new things, I'm not stupid about it. I don't use Dove, even though I have a doctor who tells me to. I don't use Vaseline even though the entire medical community seems to think it an innocuous substance (and I always have to do a bit of convincing when I meet a new doctor). I also don't buy into "natural" eczema cures (there is no cure), nor do I hold any stock in homeopathy. As a child I went through years of it (like all parents, mine were desperate for a cure) and even then I found it illogical.

Like a lot of things in my life - politics, values, beliefs - I've found a happy medium and I hope others can, too. Your body is yours, and yours alone; so, what works for you is what works. End of atopic story.

Links
If this post has made you start thinking, here are some links to help you get started. As with all things, please have an educated discussion with your doctor before trying anything new and read my disclaimer at the bottom of the page. The links tend to skew towards an anti-botanical view since I don't use sites that make claims of cures or are anti-pharmaceutical.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

World No Tobacco Day - May 31, 2011

The original title for this post was "Your Right to Smoke Ends at My Lungs". I took inspiration from my high school law teacher whose favourite refrain was "Your right to swing a golf club ends at my nose". It's a simple statement which applies to so many things in life. At its heart, it's a statement about being considerate of those around you.

I'm generally not a preachy sort of person and I definitely don't feel comfortable telling people what they can or cannot do. However, when it comes to my health and safety or that of people who cannot defend themselves, it's really difficult for me to keep quiet. 

So, I'll make this simple and try to lay out why I think smoking should be completely banned. I came to this decision after years of considering the matter and I didn't always feel this way. But, here it is:

1. No level of cigarette/cigar/pipe/hookah smoke is safe (World Health Organization, WHO).

2. Tobacco smoke and all of its inherent chemicals can remain on fabrics and in homes for seven days (Canadian Lung Association). This is referred to as third-hand smoke.

3. I can have (and have had) asthma attacks from sitting beside people who have recently smoked - third-hand smoke - or from walking by a smoker on the sidewalk - second-hand smoke.

4. Of all the things we need to do with the limited arable land in the world, why on earth are we wasting it on a product that can only cause harm and even kill?

5. Smoking can lead to cancer, heart and lung disease and a host of other health problems.

6. The economic costs of smoking (health-related and lost productivity) were over $11 billion in 1993. Even if that has decreased, it's a ridiculous waste of money.1

7. Approximately half of children are exposed to second-hand smoke on a regular basis. In children it can cause respiratory diseases and in young infants, death. "In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke." 2

8. "Tobacco caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century." 3

9. "Second-hand smoke has over 4,000 chemicals; many of them cause cancer. Two thirds of the smoke from a cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker, but enters the air around the smoker." 4 


10. My final argument is once again from the WHO:

"The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

So, all of that being true, I cannot fathom why smoking of all kinds - cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookahs - is not banned. Since it's not likely to happen in my lifetime, I'd settle for a comprehensive smoking ban in any public area or private environment where children under 18 are present at any given time. Children don't choose to become asthmatics and they shouldn't be forced into it.

I think it's pretty clear that I could come up with more reasons, but I'll leave it at that. For more information, I've included the references below and more links about tobacco and smoking.


References
1 http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/smoking/cost.html
2 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/index.html
3 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/index.html
4 http://www.lung.ca/protect-protegez/tobacco-tabagisme/second-secondaire/index_e.php

Links
Canadian Lung Association: Smoking & Tobacco
Canadian Lung Association: Second-hand smoke
World Health Organization: Tobacco Fact Sheet
World Health Organization: No Tobacco Day
Hookah smoking lounges face curbs

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Atopic Girl on the Rails

As an atopic girl I have several issues when traveling.

1. I can rarely eat a lot (if anything) while traveling by any method of transportation. This requires bringing food (extra baggage). I cannot do this while traveling by air, but it's not a problem when I take VIA Rail.

2. While airlines seem to be decent about nuts (for the most part), my severe egg allergy is unavoidable. Save for cashews, egg contamination is much more of a worry for me than peanuts.

3. For some silly reason, some airlines in Canada have recently decided to allow pets to travel within cabins. There is no need for this and it's annoying to have to call airlines in advance to make sure I'm not seated anywhere near any animal should one be on board.

4. Smokers - I am very allergic to smoke. I can't sit near someone who has recently been smoking or someone who is a regular smoker. Walking into a building entrance covered with smokers or walking by a smoker on the street requires me to hold my breath. It's all enough to cause an asthma attack.

5. I also have to take every single medication I could possibly need...again, extra baggage. If I'm traveling outside of Canada, this also means ensuring that I bring the original containers with the name of the medication, pharmacy, dosage and doctor - not conducive to traveling lightly.

6. Finally, while there is "free" health care across Canada, a lot of people don't seem to clue in that health care is provincially-regulated. So, while I can get health care for free in Ontario, it is possible to incur costs in other provinces and not have all of those costs covered by one's home province. So, whether I'm traveling to Montreal or Texas, I have to get out-of-province health coverage, just to be safe. Air Canada makes this easy during the ticket purchase process through a partnership with RBC. Even if you don't want to buy RBC's coverage, it's still a good reminder.

I tend to travel by either Air Canada, who seem to be fairly decent with allergies (though not perfect yet), and VIA Rail. I have to admit an addiction to the latter. It's less expensive, relaxing and more environmentally-friendly. Plus, including the time required to travel to an airport and check in, the travel time is often comparable to taking the VIA. I also get VIA Préférence points which are invaluable and the Express Deals are phenomenally-priced.

Regarding my allergies, there aren't a ton of options from the cart, but I do appreciate the availability of Summerfresh Hummus and Crackers (dairy, egg, nut-free), decent wine, good tea/coffee and regular-flavoured chips (dairy, egg and nut-free). On my last trip, I noticed that VIA has a Vegetarian Salad. I stuck to my usual hummus and crackers, but I will have to check this out on my way back  home tomorrow to see if it's a new option. While VIA doesn't seem to offer peanuts, they do offer cashews. For people with specific allergies to peanuts this is great. Of course, if you have a severe allergy to cashews (like me), it keeps me vigilant (lots of hand washing). That said, I've never had a problem.

So, my trip to Montreal (a trip I've made a few times, though this will be my last for a while) was easy and uneventful. The WiFi connection (which is currently in a beta testing phase) was much more reliable and faster than before on both legs of my trip; so, I'm suitably impressed with that. I like having the choice to be productive or just relaxing with a book, music or movie.

VIA is also offering more opportunities to check baggage and given the amount  of health-related stuff I have to take along with me, I take advantage of this at every opportunity. I couldn't check my baggage the entire way this time, but on the whole, porters often help me when I have a heavier bag.

Since I've started this blog, I've also started to pay a lot more attention to how various organizations deal with allergens. So, I checked out VIA. As a current Privilège member, I have a coupon for 50 per cent off a Business class ticket, something I've always wanted to try. The benefits of Business Class aren't just the seats or the setting, but the meal. All the meals look wonderful and the vegan meals sound delicious. However, I can't escape the potential allergens (cross-contamination) in the food I would eat according to VIA Rail's website.

Obviously, there are difficulties and liabilities in promising meals that are free from allergens, not to mention the financial aspects of doing so on a large scale. Since I don't necessarily think VIA should take this upon themselves (though I'd appreciate it if they would), I would love to see a partnership between VIA and a restaurant like Zero8 or an allergy-friendly company to offer pre-packaged (and sealed) selections for their Business Class meals. I can't imagine a more perfect travel experience than sitting in a VIA rail car in the evening with a glass of wine and a delicious allergy-free meal.

As things stand, I'm a devoted VIA Rail traveller. It's easily the least stressful travel experience one can have - no traffic, no body scans and I can bring my own food. I appreciate the level of customer service and the pleasant staff. On the couple of occasions there has been a strong odour of cigarette smoke from another passenger, the car attendant has always let me switch seats without a problem.

I always look forward to my VIA trips and as an Atopic Girl, what else can one ask for?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maybe I Should Wear A Sign

Well, not really, but after a while having the allergy/asthma/eczema talk with friends can get annoying. I thought about this recently after Anaphylaxis Canada's great PSA "First Kiss". While the kids are in their early teens, this is a process that I go through every single time I meet someone new.

So, when should you bring it up? Honestly, I'd rather not and in the past I've underplayed my allergies to the point of not mentioning them until I'm being fed oxygen by some really buff firefighters. So, I've realized that's not the best way to go about it and I try to be honest with people.

Boyfriends/Girlfriends
With the whole dating experience, it isn't the first thing I bring up. I've never had a meal with a guy I just met; so, I figure I'm allowed to decide if I like him before sharing. However, before a meal occurs, I do have a discussion. I let them know that I have severe food allergies, but I don't go into detail unless they ask, which they usually do. At this point, I let them know that they don't have to worry, but any nice girl or guy will. I let them know I have a MedicAlert bracelet which lists my allergies, an EpiPen/Twinject which I know how to use and an easily-accessible makeup bag with medications. I don't ask them to become familiar with using my EpiPen/Twinject unless the relationship progresses. I have the luxury of doing so due to the nature of my reactions. If you don't have the luxury, this might be part of your discussion. It might weed out the jerks too.

Don't be afraid of recommending or vetoing a restaurant (in the nicest way possible). First dates are not times to have reactions. Sure, they might happen, but you have every right to minimize the possibility. That said, I've made my fair share of concessions over the years and ended up eating my fair share of green salads and french fries.

I've also had to have the "kissing" discussion. Past boyfriends may have just had a coffee with milk before coming over and a simple kiss at the door results in hives all over my face. So, brushing teeth after that coffee and waiting at least a half hour before kissing becomes the norm. And sometimes, if the situation doesn't allow it, we just don't kiss. To the credit of the guys I've dated, I've never suggested the brushing thing. They've done that by themselves.

As for the eczema and asthma, those are conversations which I leave until the relationship is going somewhere. I've never met a guy who was turned off by either. I've been involved with a couple of amazing guys who could have cared less. Still, especially with eczema, the proof is visible but it's still personal and I think it's fair to keep that to yourself until you decide you're ready.

I don't date guys who smoke (I'm very anti-smoking anyway) or guys with pets since I'm far too allergic to pet dander/fur/whatever. I've told past boyfriends that if they've been around pets that I can't go near them since it can result in skin breakouts and asthma attacks. So, same as the brushing, they change their clothes before coming to see me.

Friends

I don't over think this. I tell them when I tell them. Usually if we're going out to eat. If they ask questions, I answer. When I trust them, I'll show them my kit. In the past, I've heard some stupid, insensitive jokes and I've let them go. Now, I have no problem letting people know what's appropriate and what's not. Most friends don't purposely try to hurt other friends and it's up to you to let them know when they're crossing a line, especially when it's unintentional. People often use humour when they're uncomfortable or unsure of what to do or say.

When I was younger, kids were a lot more vocal and cruel about the visible signs of my eczema. Since I've gotten older the comments are usually absent or at least voiced out of concern. Same thing goes with romantic relationships though - I don't discuss it unless I want to. It simply doesn't define me.

Employers
Employers are trickier than the rest. Once you're hired (and not a moment before), speak confidentially with the HR manager. To be cautious, it's best to document all interactions you have regarding this issue. While the majority of employers are accommodating, be wary of those who do not want to get involved.


I worked for a company which was understanding regarding my food allergies but I ran into constant issues regarding chemical exposure. I'm not generally overly-sensitive (I can handle some fragrances and room sprays), but there were constant lapses in how chemicals were being used on the premises. In my opinion, I was far too accommodating. So, my advice is not to be. Know your rights. In Ontario, employment standards are very specific and you can seek government compensation for days missed due to reactions from chemical exposure. Cleaning solvents, improperly ventilated shafts and insecticides are big deals when you have asthma and you shouldn't have to suffer or lose days of work (and pay) for your employer's misdeeds. Speak up. It's not an easy thing to do, but unfortunately employers need to realize that they can do real damage by being casually negligent.

The messages here are that it's your body and you need to feel comfortable disclosing information in a safe fashion. However, don't be afraid. Don't feel like you're inconveniencing someone. It's your life and your well-being that are at stake. I've had to remind myself of that a lot of times over the years and still do.

Eating Out with Allergies

Eating out can suck or be wonderful. You can have an allergic reaction because your server was a dork and didn't listen (or didn't think of cream cheese as dairy) or discover new and wonderful foods you've never had before. I thank the Japanese for sushi every time I have it.

So, if you want to eat out, doing the following can help a bit.This is a bit of a long post, but it's based on decades of experience; so, I hope it helps.

1. Check out the restaurant's website to see if you can find something that might work.
2. Call ahead to find out if they can accommodate you. At the very least, give them a head's up. It's just a nice thing to do. Plus, you can often get a sense of how allergy-aware the restaurant is before walking in.
3. Take a physician-approved anti-histamine 30 minutes before you leave, especially if you haven't been there before.
4. Have a printed list of what you're allergic to, including derivatives, to give to your server. (i.e.: egg: albumen, lecithin, etc.) They're busy and again, it's just a nice thing to do. Here's the link to my template or you can order a personalized card from Allergy Translation. They offer translations and free chef sheets; so, it's wonderful for travelling.
5. If your server doesn't repeat it back to you, repeat it back to them. Ask them to write it down if you don't have a card.
6. If you're still not comfortable with the server, ask to speak with the manager. Some restaurants are great with this and their policy is to have the manager come out to speak with you. Some restaurants have recipe books - ask to see it.
7. Check the food out before eating. I always ask whoever is actually putting the food in front of me if the dish is free of my allergens. If they don't know, they usually do a double-check with the kitchen. This little trick has saved me on a couple of occasions.
8. Try the food slowly. No sense digging in only to find someone put butter all over everything.
9. Always, always have your MedicAlert bracelet, EpiPen, anti-histamines and any other approved medications.
10. Let the restaurant know they've done a good job (assuming they have). I always fill out a comment card or speak to a manager regarding a great server, great chef and great experience. Sending a thank you card is also a nice thing to do.

I've been to restaurants and done everything right, but before ordering decided the server and manager weren't taking my allergies seriously. So, I've walked out. Be prepared to do so. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable when you're with friends, but I've never been with anyone who didn't understand. Usually, they're more upset than I am.

If all your hard work hasn't worked out and you do have an allergic reaction:

1. Obviously, take your medication as directed by your physician. Inquire about EpiPen/Twinject, standard anti-histamines (liquid forms may be faster) and medications such as Losec (acid inhibitors).
2. Take your injector and always go to a hospital or call an ambulance. Ignore anyone (including doctors) who tell you that you don't need to go to the hospital. Do not throw up the food. Simply take medications as directed and seek emergency assistance.
3. Ask your companion to speak with the restaurant to find out what you may have reacted to, especially in cases where you have multiple allergies.
4. Once your reaction is under control, inquire about post-reaction follow-up. This usually includes diphenhydramine (commonly known as Benadryl), but I've found that a low-dose, short course of Prednisone can assist greatly with the after effects. Speak to your doctor about the risks of low-dose Prednisone first and if it's right for you. If your ER doctor doesn't prescribe it, feel free to ask if it's a good option for you.
5. Complain. Call the restaurant and let them know you were displeased with their service. Write a review on AllergyTrails. Consider contacting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (depending on the circumstance) or the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA). The latter is an organization for restaurants, not customers, but they have a voluntary food allergy awareness program. In the past, I've contacted the CRFA and they have contacted the restaurant to remind them of this program.

Whew! If you have any tips or tricks that have literally saved you or someone else, let me know!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week (In Canada) Part 2

So, I had no luck with Twitter. Lots of stuff going on in the U.S., but the EpiPen/AAIA Take Action event is all I can find in Canada! Next year, that's going to have to change. I hate waiting.

But, Allergic Living's handy newsletter arrived in my email inbox this morning. (It's not possible to express how much I love that mag and website.) According to them, it is Food Allergy Awareness Month. So, I'm very slightly vindicated.

There seems to be so much stuff going on in the U.S. and I hope we can get up to that level. Since I'm new to the allergy community in general (strange considering my background) I'd love to hear about anything going on anywhere. If I'm missing something in Canada, please let me know, too.

On a vaguely related note, thank you to Bell Canada for your $10 million donation to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)! That's community involvement! To read one of the many articles, click here. Everyone benefits from that kind of contribution whether they use CAMH's services or not.

On that note, I'm going to try and enjoy the sunny (and "pollinated") day! Apparently we only have about 90 days of summer; so, I have to take all the sunshine I can get. Technically, it's still spring...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week (In Canada)

Created by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) in 1997, this is the 14th Annual Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW). The posts on Twitter and FB are plentiful and helpful. The Allergy-Free Boston Cream Pie recipe posted by Cybele Pascale, award-winning author of two allergy-free cookbooks, looks amazing.

So, what's going on in Canada? FAAN is well-known up here, but it is primarily American. While the information is useful, the programs don't apply to allergic and atopic Canadians. FAAN is a member of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Alliance (FAAA). Here in Canada, we have two organizations which are also members - Anaphylaxis Canada (AC) and the Quebec Food Allergy Association (AQAA).

So, I searched on Google (apparently they don't want their name to be used as a verb anymore) for events. For Canadians, FAAW was actually last week, May 1-7, according to the Allergy Foundation of Canada, which doesn't really exist anymore. Last year, May was Food Allergy Awareness Month (FAAM) according to Anaphylaxis Canada. But, this year...no mention of it. Even the link on Health Canada's website has generic info. AC hosted their Spring Conference at the Ontario Science Centre on May 7th, which I missed, unfortunately (Next year!).

EpiPen and AAIA have food allergy walks planned across Canada, but other than that I'm stumped!
There's no mention of FAAW or FAAM on either site.
At this point, I'll admit my confusion. So, I'm taking this to Twitter to see what I can find. Feel free to comment, too.

I Lied...But I've Made Amends

I promised I'd put up some more reviews on restaurants and the like. However, since that post, so long ago, I've found someone else who's doing a far better job than I could ever do.

AllergyTrails (check out the link on the right side of the page), founded by Robert Kania, is an international review website for restaurants and airlines. So, I've started putting up my restaurant reviews on his site.

I encourage everyone who reads this (there's got to be a couple of you) to visit the site and review a restaurant, any restaurant. This is an invaluable resource for all allergic people in the world. I'd also like to hope that it will bring attention to a serious issue and hopefully force delinquent restaurants into changing their practices and recognize great restaurants for their dedication and care.

In future, if I've had an amazing experience (like Zero8), I will post here and there, but other than that, I'll focus on the million other things related to being atopic in Canada. I'm trying out a bunch of new creams and cleansers right now as a result of my visit to AvantDerm (see the post "Toronto in the Spring") and trying to manage the lovely blooms with a combination of topical and systemic meds. So, those two things alone are worthy of a couple of blog posts.

And, I've finally figured out how to get the allergy-card template up for download; so, that will be posted shortly! In the event any Americans are reading, Happy Food Allergy Awareness Week!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

EpiPen® TAKE ACTION Event

EpiPen, in support of the Allergy/Asthma Information Association (AAIA), is holding a series of Canadian food allergy walks to raise money for anaphylaxis research and education.

For more information, to register or donate, please visit http://aaia.raiseapp.ca

The EpiPen® TAKE ACTION Event Locations and Dates are:
  • Kelowna – City Park - Saturday May 7
  • Ottawa – Ottawa River Parkway Trail at Tunney’s Pasture - Saturday May 7
  • Whitby – Heydenshore Pavilion, adjacent to Whitby Waterfront Trail - Saturday May 14
  • Vancouver – Stanley Park (Ceperley Park by Second Beach) - Saturday May 14
  • Winnipeg – Assiniboine Park - Saturday May 14
  • Windsor – Riverfront Trail (Dieppe Gardens) - Saturday May 28
  • Mississauga – Erindale Park - Sunday May 29

Mental Health Week - May 1-7, 2011

I've posted about depression and its connection to allergies, asthma and eczema, especially for those who have all three conditions. It's the fourth disease that is often included for people with multiple atopic conditions. Discussing mental health is becoming more mainstream, finally, and this week is Mental Health Week. While it seems to be starting off small, it's a great start for a crippling condition that affects people across Canada, regardless of other underlying conditions.

Check out the website and find out how you can participate in your area.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Toronto in the Spring

Okay, this isn't really about my seasonal allergies. Actually, they're much better in Toronto than they are in some cities in Southwestern Ontario that will remain nameless.

Instead, this is a quickie blog about the new dermatologist I'm trying out. Well, I've pretty much decided he's the one.

Briefly, I had one for about 20 years. He retired. They don't make doctors like him anymore which is sad. He was simply brilliant. My first attempt at finding a new dermatologist ended badly. While I got an appointment in one business day, that singular appointment was enough for me to never go back. Didn't look at me, didn't look at my skin. That's like going to a dentist who never asks you to open your mouth.

Enter, CBC Radio 1. A brief, but totally worthwhile, radio interview later, I emailed my family doctor and asked for a referral to AvantDerm, located at 45 Mill Street in Toronto. They have an ethnic skin focus (I'm brown), but also focus on the traditional stuff like eczema. Plus, they have a cosmetic practice, which interests me since I'd like to do the whole laser hair removal thing one day (that's another blog for another day).

Anyway, the clinic is beautiful. Everything is custom and the atmosphere is lovely. Plus, the staff clearly know what customer service is about. It's been a long time since I've been in an office with that kind of vibe. On top of it, the doctors are quite nice. Attentive, kind and they looked at my skin!

After my quick tour of the facilities, I was even more hooked. I'm not the kind of girl who gets swayed by superficial things like distressed wood and chandeliers. But, pair that with customer service and sound medical knowledge and I'm there.

One more bonus, they give you printouts describing your condition as well as ways to treat it. Simple but stellar.

If you're interested or know someone who might be, check out the site.

In the next blog, I'll get back to the food allergy thing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eating Out (and Well) with Allergies

I have been travelling across Ontario and a bit of Quebec for the past little while. Nothing extensive, but I've hit Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal on a few occasions over the past year.

Why this is relevant is because I'm a devotee to the following restaurants and bakery which are both allergy-friendly (depending on your allergy) and vegan/vegetarian-friendly.

Restaurant No. 1
Fresh On Bloor, Toronto
No eggs. Dairy- and nut-free options. Dairy and nuts on-site.

Fresh on Bloor (there are two others in Toronto, but that's the best one) is free of most animal products. They have cheese and milk on-site, but there is no hidden dairy. If you have a nut-allergy, they have some nuts on site, like most vegetarian & vegan restaurants. However, they are much more accommodating than a restaurant like Fressen which is heavy on the nuts. If you have a severe nut allergy, it may not be worth the risk.

Restaurant No. 2
Zero 8, Montreal
No fish/seafood, peanuts, nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, soy, wheat.

Okay, it's a bit of a trek if you don't live in Montreal, but totally worth it. They do not have any of the main eight allergens - as defined by Health Canada, on-site. Not even vinegar because it has gluten. It's a bit of an upscale vibe, but still a great place to bring kids or have a nice date. I've been four times. It was good, better, amazing and better, in that order. In other words, the quality is a bit inconsistent, but it's never anything less than good. The portions are large and the dessert choices are plentiful and amazing. The wine and drinks list is great and I must recommend the caipirinhas. My only issue with Zero 8 is that it's in Montreal. Like their Facebook page for information about their take-out menu and feel free to email them and beg them to expand into Ontario. The website has an English version, but the Facebook page is in French.

Bakery No. 1
Auntie Loo's Treats, Ottawa
No dairy or egg. Gluten-free and nut-free options. Nuts on site.

Oh, Auntie Loo, I'd move to Ottawa for you. This vegan bakery is a haven for those of us with dairy and egg allergies. She does have nuts on the premises, but there are plenty of recipes without nuts. While she's very careful about orders, if you do have a severe nut allergy, best not to risk it. If you don't, have fun trying all the different kinds of cupcakes as well as cinnamon buns, Nanaimo bars, cakes, croissants and so much more. She even has gluten-free options! Auntie Loo (a.k.a Amanda Lunan) is friendly and brilliant and I love visiting her cute and heavenly-smelling shop on Bronson Avenue. While she's only been open for a little over a year, I have become a devoted customer. No occasion (real or made up) is complete without one of her treats. Like her Facebook page for info about new desserts and chances to Take the Cake at an amazing price.

In my next post, I'll list a few more great (and not great) restaurants and how I manage to survive eating out. I'll include a snazzy template too!

C'est tout! Enjoy!