How to Be a Teen With a Severe Food Allergy (Guest Post)

How to Be a Teen With a Severe Food Allergy (Guest Post)

Hi Everyone. I’d like to introduce you to the author of our guest post today. My daughter, Hannah, 17, wanted to share a little bit of her journey as a teen struggling with food allergies. I hope her gluten-free journey helps and encourages you or anyone you may know who may like to read her story. Thanks!

 

Hey, guys! I’m super excited to share this with you today, because I believe it’s something we all need to hear. Whether you suffer from food allergies, you know someone who does, or you’re ever in a situation that requires you to be aware of that danger, let me stress, this post is for you. So, in other words, this post is for everyone, and it’s a message I’m passionate about sharing.

A little backstory: As you may know from reading my mom’s awesome posts on gluten-free foods, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease at age four. Celiac causes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains and products, to essentially attack the gut. It manifests a little differently in everyone. The more severe reactions can include stroke-like symptoms, permanent damage to the gut and intestinal tract, anaphylaxis, or debilitating joint pain.

But at first, I didn’t have those reactions. So we thought I may be able to eat sprouted wheat without it affecting my gut. We attempted that a couple years after committing to a strict no-gluten diet, believing that respite may have allowed my body to heal.

We were wrong, and we discovered it when I had a full-blown anaphylactic reaction. Simply put, I was barely breathing. Anaphylaxis goes beyond scary – it’s life-threatening. And, yeah, we didn’t really know what was happening. Talk about terrifying. 😉

From my mom’s research we surmised that I had a severe respiratory allergy to wheat, one of the more rare and dangerous reactions. But there was still some good news. Many young children with that kind of allergy outgrew it later on in life.

I didn’t.

And our lives changed a lot from that point on. It was no longer a matter of not ingesting gluten. It was a matter of avoiding all possibilities of cross-contamination. And it was a matter of avoiding wheat in the air. Unfortunately, I didn’t always react to it airborne. And we were left with a guessing game of when it would or would not affect me.

To be honest, for many years, my food allergy didn’t bother me much. I was homeschooled, so we didn’t have to worry about contamination at a public school. Health food stores were often a problem due to airborne wheat. Going to somebody’s house for a meal was almost out of the question. But I hadn’t had an anaphylactic reaction in eight years.

Then we went to a birthday party. Maybe it was a contaminated utensil. Maybe it was the wind carrying the bread which had been thrown out in the yard for the birds.

Before the party was even over, I started having a reaction. It didn’t turn into anaphylaxis, and we never knew the true cause. But a couple years later, at a similar family get-together, I did consume gluten, likely through a contaminated grill surface. And I had a delayed anaphylactic reaction 24 hours later.

So, yeah, we got a little paranoid.

By then, I was sixteen. Sleepovers weren’t possible. I couldn’t travel with friends for fear of snacks being consumed in the enclosed space. People offered me “gluten-free” snacks. I had to refuse. Where had they been? What had they come in contact with? The unknown heightened my own paranoia and feeling alone in a crowd was suddenly very real.

You can imagine mumbling under your breath, “Sorry, I have food allergies,” and watching the haze of misunderstanding come over somebody. You still feel like you’re being horribly rude even when someone says they get it. Then you’ve got the people who really don’t get it and are offended.

Then you have the people who understand it but just don’t think about the ways contamination can occur. A man once gave our dog a treat, then shook my hand. I had a delayed reaction 24 hours later – while I was sick with a chest cold. That one was bad.

It’s hard to be a teen in today’s allergy-filled world while you’re dealing with a deadly allergy that completely limits what you can do. There are medications that make it safer. But as a teen who lives with the knowledge that she has an allergy that could kill her, I can say emphatically, it’s not enough to just survive.

We want to eat at our friend’s house. We want to be able to accept the offer of a snack that is supposed to be gluten free. Most of all, we want people to understand why we can’t. The hardest part, by far, is knowing that so many people simply don’t understand the danger of food allergies.

We don’t talk about food allergies enough. It’s shoved under a rug. It’s mumbled under our breath. But it’s not brought out into the open and represented for what it is. Hear this – if more people were fully aware of and understood food allergies, we who deal with that on a daily basis would not face the same three things – risk, stigma, and isolation – as much as we do. Especially where fellow teens are concerned. 🙂 I hear you, guys, I totally do.

There is an active circle of young people who know they are or may be allergic to certain foods and refuse – emphatically – to remove them from their diet. And I get that. Many of us don’t have a choice. And ultimately, if you’re denying it now, you won’t either. Because not removing from your diet the foods you’re allergic to can destroy your body and your health.

So, what’s the alternative? Make people aware. Many cafeterias and churches will not allow peanuts because of the prevalence and deadliness of that allergy. And that’s awesome. But peanuts aren’t the only one. Dairy. Wheat. Latex. Pear juice. They’re all the same. And no matter what allergy puts you at risk, you’re not alone. If you’re a teen (or even an adult) going through this right now, you are NOT alone. If you know and care for a teen going through this, then please, share this post with them. If we can, together, break through the isolation and the misinformation, we can make this allergy-filled world just a little safer for each other. 👍

Whew. Almost done! I can’t tell you how freeing it has been to write down these words. I want to challenge you to share this article with everyone you know right now. Email the link. Save the pin. Share it on Facebook. Tweet it. Whatever you can do to spread this crucial message and help all of us suffering from food allergies . . .

. . . to live and breathe.

If you want to reach me, stop by my blog, where I talk about my plan to train service dogs for gluten/allergy detection. Or if you just want to chat, I’d love to hear from you! Thanks for having me today.

1 Comment

  • Sharon Mattingly March 5, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Well written. Working as a high teacher who loves to involve students in classroom fun, I know that it is difficult and impossible for everyone to participate in any eating activities. It makes me nervous to offer anything that can possibly cause a food reaction. Being vigilant with sharing ingredients, package labels, etc. is very important. But as mentioned in Hannah’s blog, it goes much further than that. Food sensitivities and allergies need to be taken seriously at all ages. Even in high school I send home a list of ingredients and get parental permission. Our bodies change as we age but just say no if there is any question on possible contamination to the allergy you suffer from. Be safe and do not worry about others opinions or thoughts ❣️

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