I Admit It – I Was Foolish About My Food Allergies

Being dangerously relaxed about my food allergies had become the norm. Then one night forever changed my cavalier attitude.

By Sarah White
Sarah White Headshot
Sarah White

When I was a toddler my mom had a button that she would pin on my shirt that said: “Don’t Feed Me, I’m Allergic.” I had given my parents a few good scares that ended up with me in the hospital. As I grew older, my food allergies became a matter of course, reactions became less severe and I stopped taking them so seriously.

I can practically hear parents of allergic kids take a deep breath right now. What you are about to read next, you won’t like either.

By the time I was in my late 20s, I had let my epinephrine auto-injector expire. I had stopped carrying antihistamines at all times and I had stopped listing every one of my allergies to restaurant servers.

Careless With Order

I learned how foolish I was in the fall of 2014. My boyfriend and I went out for dinner ahead of my shift bartending at a corporate dinner. I ordered tacos, letting the server know about my dairy allergy, since I presumed that would be the only concern about my order. I asked to have the dish made without cheese.

The tacos arrived with cheese. Not a big deal, they replaced them with a fresh order. I credited the spice of the tacos with the tingling sensation in my throat and the burning feeling on my lips.

A thought crossed my mind, “this reminds me of when I was little and I would eat something I was allergic to.” Foolishly, I pushed that worry aside. It had easily been two decades since I’d last had a severe reaction. In my denial, I kept eating my tacos.

After we left the restaurant, I felt unwell, but soldiered on, blaming my symptoms on the spiciness of the tacos. I got to the venue and began to put my things away in the change room.

As I leaned over to change my shoes, everything shifted. I couldn’t breathe. My body felt flushed, my eyes were watering and itching like mad, my ears felt as though they were blocked.

I grabbed my asthma inhaler out of my bag and took a puff. As I dug through my purse, I realized that I didn’t have any antihistamines, and my auto-injector was long expired. I went to my supervisor and told her I needed to go to the nearest store for allergy medication.

Friend Drove Me to ER

The cashier at the store looked slightly panicked as I wheezed out my request for Claritin. I took the medication and returned to the venue, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Every inch of my skin became uncontrollably itchy. I went into the women’s bathroom, lifted my shirt and was horrified to see that my entire torso was covered in hives.

Trying not to panic, I went and sat in the staff kitchen. I will always remember turning my hands over and noting that, in a completely new symptom for me, my palms were a flaming red color. It was this sign that finally spurred me into action. I had dealt with hives, asthma attacks, itchy eyes and stomach aches, but this was uncharted territory for me.

All of you will groan when I admit that I did not call an ambulance. Foolish, right? Instead I had a co-worker drive me to the emergency room, where I was quickly rushed to a bed. I had electrodes attached to my chest and an IV of Benadryl. Eight plus hours and much IV later, I was allowed to leave the hospital.

Foolish But So Lucky

My boyfriend had called the restaurant, convinced the kitchen had simply scraped the cheese of my tacos. I had my doubts about that. We decided to look at the list of ingredients the restaurant sent over and there, nestled in the list, was one word: peanuts.

I had never actually eaten peanuts before. My parents had taken for an allergy test as a child and peanuts had shown up on the test. Yet, I had managed to avoid peanuts all my life, until this night.

I was incredibly lucky. The emergency room doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I need to have an auto-injector on my person at all times, and that epinephrine, not an antihistamine, was the drug to reach for with multiple symptoms. And so now, I carry not one, but two auto-injectors.

I’ve come to realize that I am not in fact invincible. These days, I always inform servers of all my allergies, since you never know about the ingredients or food cross-contact. Where I was foolish before with my allergies, now I think it’s better to be overly thorough than to wind up in the hospital.

Related Reading:
Pizza Mishap: Why You Can’t Let Your Guard Down with Food Allergies
Risk Taking and Allergic Teens – What I’ve Learned
Allergic Living’s: Travel and Dining with Allergies Section

Sarah White is an actor and writer based in Toronto, Canada.