There are two compelling reasons why you - children, teens, and young adults - should be open with friends, roommates, teachers, and co-workers about your food allergy.
First, it can save your life. People with food allergies must avoid their offending allergens, and that can mean asking a lot of questions about all food that is served, or offered you. No one likes drawing attention to themselves for having an allergy, or disrupting the flow of social activities, but not making sure your food is safe can lead to a severe reaction, including anaphylaxis.
Second, if you ever experience anaphylaxis, your friends, roommates, teachers, or co-workers will feel helpless and terrified if they don’t know what’s going on, or what to do. Just telling others you are allergic to certain foods is not enough. People in your life need to know exactly what can happen if you eat your trigger foods, what the symptoms of a reaction are, and specifically how they can help you survive.
Inform and Ask
The importance of speaking freely about food allergies is stressed by the family and friends of two young men, college graduate Anthony Maruca, and high-schooler Simon Katz who both died from anaphylaxis.
Anthony passed away in 2016 after eating at a restaurant with his roommate. The roommate could not recall whether Anthony informed the server about his peanut, milk, and egg allergies, and Anthony apparently did not question the staff about food preparation or ingredients. It’s suspected that cross-contamination caused his reaction.
“I never realized how many kids are embarrassed by their food allergies and won’t speak of it or just won’t eat,” said Anthony’s mother, Janet Maruca. She strongly encourages young people with food allergies to put safety ahead of appearing normal, or fitting-in.
A few months prior to Anthony’s death, teenager Simon Katz also succumbed to anaphylaxis after eating a s’more filled with a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Though Simon usually carried an epinephrine auto-injector, he did not have one with him the night of his reaction.
In the aftermath of Simon’s death, the friends who were with him when the reaction occurred had a difficult time coping. “We didn’t know how to react in the situation,” said Simon’s friend Madeline. “I knew that it wasn’t OK, but Simon was so adamant about not getting help, not going home, not being a burden to people - that I believed him.”
“I wish I had known, like really known, not only about the allergy, but what to do,” said Scott, another of Simon’s friends.
The family and friends of Anthony and Simon hope those who hear their stories will be more vocal about their own allergies, and bold about taking whatever steps are necessary to stay safe.
It’s guaranteed that, should the time come when you need assistance because of a food reaction, the people in your life will be grateful for knowing what's happening, and what to do.