Welcome to the first of a 6 week series I am co-hosting with Lynn from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. Lynn and I got connected due to both our families dealing with nut allergies. Through a series of emails, we decided to share our story with you as we recognize that many of our readers know people who have food allergies. This week, Lynn and I are talking about what an allergy is and how it's different from an intolerance. I hope you visit Lynn's blog to hear her perspectives too!
* * *
There's been a lot of talk and hype in the media and classrooms across the country about food allergies. And, surely, you are likely to know someone with a food allergy. They seem increasingly common -- and, as someone who has a severe reaction to tree nuts, I worry that as they become more a part of our society that we will discount the seriousness of food allergies.
An allergy is far different from a food preference or even an intolerance.
It's serious stuff.
Take me for example -- when my body encounters a protein from any tree nut, it responds within seconds. The nut protein triggers my immune system by bonding to an antibody called IgE. When this bond occurs the cell releases histamines that create the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
These symptoms, in my case, are those of anaphylactic shock: swelling throat, tingling lips, trouble breathing. The only way to reverse the reaction is to inject myself with epinephrine and report immediately to the ER for follow up care.
This differs from an intolerance, for example - lactose intolerance. In this case, your body does not have the lactase enzyme necessary to breakdown/digest lactose. This results in many unpleasant symptoms, but has nothing to do with an immune system response.
For those of us with severe, anaphylactic capable allergies even a small amount of the allergen can trigger an allergic reaction. Hence, all the commotion surrounding food allergies.
They are serious stuff.
I've had my allergy to nuts for most of my life. In fact, I was only 5 when I had my first reaction to tree nuts -- Brazil Nuts to be exact. I don't really remember it, but I do remember my throat feeling itchy and tight. Ever since then, I've been avoiding nuts.
Try as I might, there are occasions when nut proteins enter my body unexpectedly. Maybe it was someone who made a sandwich with walnut bread and didn't clean the counter or wash their hands afterwards. Then, I come into the kitchen to fix myself a sandwich, lay my bread down on the counter and when I take my first bite, I get itchy and my body starts reacting to the nuts.
Or, maybe it was the very first time I kissed my husband.
My husband sent me to the emergency room that night because he had eaten caramel cashew ice cream 4 hours before he kissed me. And, when he did, I immediately knew he'd eaten nuts -- my throat began to get tight and my mouth was all tingly.
Lovingly, he took me to the emergency room and all ended well that night for both of us. But that experience taught us of the true severity of a nut allergy and how my body's immune system can be triggered to respond with even just a minuscule level of nut protein.
* * *
I frequently get asked, "do you like nuts?" And, honestly, I have no idea if I theoretically would like nuts. Although I've ingested them the only thing they taste like to me is "itchy" and "swollen".
Having an allergy isn't just that I don't like nuts, or choose not to eat them because they don't "agree with me". I can't eat them because my immune system hyper-reacts to them and as a result, they could kill me.
Food allergies are serious stuff, and even though they are becoming more and more common, it's not like the "boy who cried wolf".
If you'd like to learn more about food allergies, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on this blog. I am just a girl, living with a nut allergy who wants to share her journey with you. While all the recipes on this blog are nut-free, be sure to read the labels of your ingredients to ensure they too are safe for a nut-allergic person.