My family and I have been learning to manage my food allergy since I was diagnosed almost 24 years ago. I've learned that the most important decisions for having a safe outcome during an allergic reaction are made before the emergency takes place. I had a chance to speak two weeks ago at the online Nourished Festival and share the strategies that I believe are most effective.
Carry 2 Auto-Injectors
This step shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Bringing the epinephrine auto-injector is always step #1 - and carrying a single device just doesn't cut it. Carrying two injectors should be seen as a bare minimum. This is just in case the first device fails or if another dose of epinephrine is required.
It doesn't stop with just brining an auto-injector, however. Epinephrine is at its most effective if it's stored at a safe temperature - meaning leaving it in the car or other location where it's exposed to the elements puts you at a greater risk. Keeping an auto-injector insulated and making sure the medication is up to date are both easy maintenance steps you can take to give the epinephrine the best chance of working in a crisis.
Advocate for Yourself
Self advocacy with food allergies takes different forms depending on your personality, environment, and stage of life. I had a chance to share a few examples during my presentation from my experiences - but the most important thing is to takeaway is the principles behind how I asked for support, rather than trying to replicate the exact methods.
Advocating Early in Life
When you're young, your parents are your most important advocates for your food allergy. Mine were certainly no exception. Some of the most important specific things they did to help me stay safe and included growing up included:
Meeting with my teachers and school nurse before the semester starts to explain my allergy and go over the emergency signs & symptoms
Providing allergy-friendly food for me to eat whenever a fellow classmate brought something in for a party that didn't have ingredients
Teaching me how to politely explain my allergy to teachers, friends, and anyone else
College & Young Adulthood
College is certainly a major transition for everyone - especially food-allergic young adults. My parents did a great job of giving me plenty of responsibility for my food allergy growing up, but there's still nothing quite like being out on your own for the first time. I found the most effective strategy for managing my food allergy in college was identifying key friends who made up my "new" family members in this environment.
I love telling the story of one of my friends - Brendan - who not only watched out for my food allergy, but would even take some of the pressure off by reminding our other friends about my condition if they brought something with peanuts or tree nuts to our dining hall table. Finding allies at each stage in life is, in my opinion & experience, one of the best strategies possible.
Entering the "Real World"
Starting in the job force is another major milestone in life that can get more complex with food allergies. I was fortunate enough to have my coworkers around me when I had a life-threatening allergic reaction while living and working in Taiwan. But a major part of why I had a safe outcome that day is because my managers gave me a platform ahead of time to share my allergy with the entire office and give them a rundown of what to do in an emergency. Sharing this knowledge ahead of time with coworkers that were willing to take the time to listen shaved minutes off our collective emergency response time.
I was fortunate enough to have a lot of support from my colleagues that I wouldn't have thought to ask for without their suggestion (i.e. demonstrating the auto-injector to the whole company and raising awareness). If your coworkers don't offer this, or if you're uncomfortable doing a public presentation, reach out to your HR contact and see what strategies you two can devise that raises office awareness and makes you more comfortable at work.
Figure Out the Emergency Plan Ahead of Time
I was lucky enough to have emergency resources provided when I had my severe reaction abroad. Some of them, like coworkers that were familiar with my food allergy, were thanks to my planning ahead. Others, like finding a hospital, calling for help, or having emergency transportation, were due to a stroke of good fortune and being surrounded by the right people.
Give yourself an edge before something bad happens by:
Making yourself and your immediate network familiar with the early signs & symptoms of anaphylaxis so you can recognize red flags early on
Knowing where the hospital is before you need it
Having a means of communicating your allergy quickly if you're not able to speak easily due to anaphylaxis and/or if the person doesn't speak the same language as you like my experience
Steps like these help you prepare even thought it's impossible to find a one-size-fits-all strategy for managing your food allergies during an allergic reaction. I argue, however, that having these kinds of conversations and taking mental notes ahead of time make you better prepared for an emergency because you're experienced thinking about what to do in a worst-case scenario - even if it's different from what you had specifically considered.
Finding Resources in the Food Allergy Community
My experiences managing my food allergy - especially during an emergency - inspired me to help people find as many solutions during an allergic reaction as possible. There's no "right" answer to managing food allergies effectively, but my best attempt at creating a helpful resource comes in the form of AssureTech's EpiCenter App. The software that my team and I introduced this May brings together as many resources as possible to both prevent and navigate an allergic reaction.
This includes automatically calling EMS, notifying your emergency contacts and sharing your location, finding the nearest hospital, reminding you to check the epinephrine's expiration date, and connecting you with safe-to-eat food, insulating medicine carriers, & other great products. If you'd like to try the EpiCenter App, it's free to download (and always will be) on the App Store & Google Play.