The author in Vietnam. Photo credit: Ariella Ram
As I arrived at the emergency room, I stopped breathing. Somehow, I made it out of the taxi and up to the doors. Then, I collapsed.
All I'd done? Eat a peanut.
Growing up with allergies
I had my first allergic reaction when I was 11 months old. My mom fed me peanut butter on a cracker; within five minutes, my face was something out of a horror movie. My throat closed up even faster.
By the time I turned 1, I had my official diagnosis: I was fatally allergic to eggs, tree nuts and peanuts.
Growing up with allergies was hard but not just because of the allergies. School is filled with bullies — especially when you’re a growth hormone deficient, asthmatic, allergic, four-eyed little girl. But I made a point to make friends. Over time, I had my own personal tribe. We looked out for each other in the cafeteria, on the playground and in the classroom.
My parents did their part, too. They were in direct contact with a nurse in my school district, which made the administrative navigation of my food allergies relatively easy.
Together, they created what's known as a 504 plan. It stipulated the exact processes to follow in case of an allergy-related emergency — provide wipes for each child as they entered my classroom before school, after recess and lunch; add an EpiPen and “Ariella-safe” food into the earthquake kit; list the exact dosages of each medicine to administer in the case of a reaction.
There were still small disasters. In middle school, I was sent to the emergency room because I touched a water bottle that had a teeny fragment of peanut butter on it. In high school, a cashew hit me on the cheek and sent me back to that same ER.
There have also been wins: I moved away to college and ate just like everyone else in the cafeteria. I moved across the world to Israel. I travel — a lot.
My top tips for parents
There have been plenty of obstacles but whatever the obstacle, I find a way around it.
I wanted to eat in the college cafeteria so I talked to the head chef, made friends I could trust in case of an emergency and always ate off of a clean tray.
I have a burning desire to see the world. So I call airlines to find out what their food policies are. On flights, I wear gloves, long sleeves and pants. I board first to clean my area and tray table. I pack my own food.
I'm not alone in dealing with these challenges; 1 in 13 children in the U.S. have a food allergy. Here's my advice for the grown-ups in their lives:
- Empower your kids. Yes, you should continue reading labels, meeting with nurses and creating 504 plans. But let your kids participate, too. Teach them that they can eat at a friend's house but if they’re offered jam over breakfast, they need to ask if there's ever been a peanut butter knife dipped into that jar. Teach them how to explain their allergy to those who might not know or understand it.
- Don’t feel bad. Any parent would take precautions for their kid. You're no different. If your child has an airborne corn allergy, don’t feel bad for requesting that no snacks be eaten in their classroom. Perhaps provide safe snacks as an alternative instead.
- Create a safe space. Having a peanut- and nut-free house made eating a fun and exciting activity. I never felt left out, and I always knew that no matter what I ate at home, I'd be safe.