I want to free myself from the curse of an anaphylactic food allergy

At this point in my life I’ve decided it is less risky for me to go through OIT desensitization rather than continue peanut avoidance.  Let me start this blog with my history.  Today I’m 49 years old, male, and for quite some time thought I was either alone with this problem, or was in fact the oldest person with it.  I realize now this is not the case, but when I was a kid, peanut or food allergies were not as prevalent as they are now.

I am peanut and tree nut allergic, and as far as I know have been all my life.  Raised in a meat and potatoes family, the only peanuts in the house was peanut butter for PBJ’s and the tree nuts were considered expensive treats only for adult consumption.  Back then processed foods may have had lower risk of cross contamination.  I can’t be certain, but I’d guess advances in the food industry over my lifetime probably increased the chance of cross contamination before it was recognized as a problem, and now it seems the awareness and risk has come down in the last 20 years.

I survived simply by avoidance.  I used to say I didn’t like the smell of peanuts and was labelled a picky eater.  Now, as an adult, I can say the smell of peanuts causes me to have a sinus reaction.  A reaction that happens before I can actually smell the peanuts.  Imagine this, it feels like a red hot six inch long needle being jammed up my nose.  But as a kid I didn’t have the language to describe it, it was just “I don’t like the smell.”

My brothers and sisters would make PBJ for lunch and if the PB jar was open I’d ask them to close it.  Of course, I never ate jelly either, because the PB knife went in the PB first, then the jelly, so the jelly was always contaminated.  I’d eat jelly on two occasions. 1. a brand new jar, and 2. at a restaurant with individual jelly packets.

If I ate a peanut or anything remotely contaminated I would vomit, quite violently.  Never had an anaphylactic reaction or even a serious allergic reaction.

This is what I remember from my childhood home. We moved out of that place when I was 12 in 1977.

As a young adult

We moved out of the inner city of Detroit to a suburb.  The old neighborhood was ethnically Polish and German. Pretty much the only thing I couldn’t or wouldn’t eat was Baclava, but besides that the menu was pretty safe.  The new neighborhood had new restaurants. Asian restaurants.  I had never eaten at an Asian restaurant before.  It didn’t work out too well.  The first time I didn’t order any dish with nuts, but ended up with a very swollen face.  After a while it passed and later was attributed to MSG, since that wasn’t used at home.  The second time at a Chinese restaurant I became nauseous on the car ride home and vomited.  And that was the last time I ate Asian food for many years.

There was nothing out of the ordinary w.r.t. my food allergies.  I had a strong avoidance ability and I just kept my food choices pretty narrow.  Never adventurous when i came to eating. I recall when I was a teenager that I had gotten into the habit of smelling my food when not eating at home and was told that my behavior was rude. This was at either a friends house at dinner or at a restaurant. Apparently sticking your face into a plate and taking a big whiff didn’t pass muster, so I figured out how to be more discrete about it.

Then I went away to college, lived in a dorm.  Somewhere along the way I lost the automatic vomiting reflex, I seem to think that happened in conjunction with excessive alcohol intake, either that or I just grew out of it.  I never knew there was version of captain crunch with peanut flavored bits, but I found out.  I got pretty good at discretely spitting food that I didn’t ‘like’ into a napkin.

I moved into a housing coop and during the orientation meeting the kitchen steward asked if anyone had any food restrictions or allergies.  Imagine that! People could be actually allergic to food!  I had never even heard of such a thing before.  This was my chance.  I told the steward that I was allergic to nuts, and I was asked what happens when I eat them… uh, uh,  geeze, I don’t really know since I don’t eat them. I didn’t realize that vomiting was an allergic reaction, so I didn’t mention that, but the attempt to describe any symptoms was met with a puzzled look.  Regardless, I managed to avoid nuts for the most part until my Junior year … until the night before spring break, …

© MICHAEL G SPORER AND LIVING WITH PEANUT ANAPHYLAXIS:ADULT VERSION, 2015

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