Thursday, May 2, 2013
Always in Awareness-Raising Mode
Even though my husband and I were on vacation, I realized that my compulsion to raise awareness about food allergies, and set misconceptions straight, never takes a vacation!
On our return flight home on Southwest Airlines, there was a peanut allergic passenger aboard (not sure whom) and I was pleased that the flight attendant announced that no peanuts would be served and she also asked if passengers would refrain from eating any nut-containing snacks that they might have brought on board. I didn't overhear any major groans, though we were seated at the very front. Her announcement prompted me to make an involuntary "hand clapping" gesture and I wondered if the people on the plane thought I was the allergic passenger. ;) I was just so glad that they actually made the announcement.
They served Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and pretzels as the snack, and I overheard the couple across the aisle talking to the flight attendant (standing in the aisle between us) about someone they knew who had a peanut allergy, who carried around Benadryl chewable tablets with them, which they crushed and put under their tongue, as treatment for a reaction. Then, the flight attendant said she had an allergy to sesame and something about eating tacos on a trip, once, and found out they used a sauce with tahini (ground sesame) in it and she had some minor itchy mouth and throat tingling. She also got away with just using Benadryl. I couldn't stand it, anymore, and butted in as politely as I could to tell them all that epinephrine was the treatment for severe allergic reactions, Benadryl wouldn't stop airway constriction, etc. I explained that my 4-year-old daughter had multiple, severe food allergies and that I live and breathe this topic and that I blog about it, etc. I explained that I, too, used to think Benadryl was enough, but I've had to learn so much, because of my daughter.
The couple was very nice and receptive to my spiel, and we had a really long conversation about food allergies, which I'm honestly hoping other passengers overheard, to set any other confused souls straight on the use of antihistamines. When I told the flight attendant that she should carry epinephrine at all times, she said, "ugh, but they expire every year and I never use them!" I said, "well, yes, but you still have to carry them, because you never know when you will need them." I showed them the Auvi-Q simulator on my phone and they thought it was pretty cool.
The flight attendant was back and forth, doing her duties, and when she was back in the galley, I stepped in there (I was in the very first row) and talked to her a little more. I told her that I didn't want to bother her, but that this was a very important topic to me, as we've had several food allergy deaths, this year, already and that too many people do not carry their epinephrine and the story is always the same - they had a lifetime of mild reactions, until the one that took their life. She said the same thing happens with her asthma inhaler - it expires before she uses it, so she doesn't refill it. (You can imagine how much I am having a conniption inside, by this point.)
I explained, as calmly as I could, that being asthmatic, like my daughter, puts one at risk for a more severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction. I took a sheet of paper and wrote down information on getting the Auvi-Q or EpiPen, since she has insurance and it should not cost her much. She said she had an appointment coming up and would follow up with her doctor about getting one. I really hope she follows through on that, for her own safety. She said she really needs to get an auto-injector for when she travels outside the country - YES, she does!! However, she also needs it every single day. Chefs get "creative" with their recipes all the time. Sesame is easy to hide in foods and many servers might not know it's even in a dish. Sesame is not labeled plainly on packaged goods, given that it's not covered under FALCPA.
Anyone, with any food allergy, who has been prescribed epinephrine, needs to carry it around with them, at all times. We say it over and over and over, because it is the truth. Also, if someone has the signs of a food allergy, they should see a board certified allergist for proper diagnosis and an epinephrine auto-injector prescription.
I don't know if I really changed anyone's mind, that day, but at least I planted some seeds, and tried to share some information and that's about all I can do. It's ultimately up to each individual to do what they need to, in order to save their own lives.