Let’s imagine this for a moment. You are up in the mountains vacationing on a picturesque resort. You look outside your window and find the snow covered peaks glistening in the hint of the morning sun. There is a knock on the door. It’s room service with the complimentary breakfast. You walk up to your front porch and they bring you this delectable platter for your breakfast. 

 All is going well except that you cannot actually eat your breakfast. Why not, you may ask ? 

Since we are imagining, lets take it a little further. You cannot eat it because you are allergic to the egg whites in the scramble and to the buttermilk (dairy) in the pancakes. Which in turn means if you happen to eat it, within seconds of eating it you will be itchy, sore and inflamed. You can also get hives or blisters on your skin, feel dizzy, breathless and nauseous. Worse, you may even need to visit an ER.    
All of this definitely does not sound good. I understand that. And I wish you never have to suffer like that. But many people do. My son does.
The suffering from the imaginary story that I just told you is a real part of his life and many others like him.  I choose to tell his story for just one reason. Food allergies are life altering and could be life threatening too. It is not just another “FAD” or a “TREND”. Being sensitive to certain food is very different than having an allergic reaction to a food.
I spent a night in the emergency ward of a hospital recently with my two year old crouching on his stomach with unbearable pain, the entire skin on his inflamed body covered in monstrous blisters, uncontrollable itching and restlessness. He was also breathless and puking his biles out.
A single accidental bite of cashew was to be blamed. He is severely allergic to nuts. But he is also a toddler and toddlers love to pick from the floor and eat.  We cannot avoid all accidents but we try our best to do so.
I was ignorant about food allergies before my son was diagnosed. It was a long learning curve for us in the family. His allergies have taught me to honor and accommodate people’s food choices and preferences.
A food allergy reaction happens when the body’s immune system misinterprets a food or a substance in the food as a danger and thus overreacts. The most common allergens are Dairy, Eggs, Fish, Nuts, Wheat and Soy.
The reactions vary from person to person. The reactions go anywhere from mild itching to a life-threatening situation. Anaphylaxis, the most severe reaction can impair your breathing, cause a drop in the blood pressure and adversely affect the heart rate. If not treated timely, it could prove fatal.
It takes no guesswork to know if one is allergic to a certain food. There are tests available for diagnosis. Work with an allergist. The diagnosis can be made as early as when a child is few months old, as was the case with my son.
While I still hear from many that this condition is still unheard of. The number of children diagnosed with food allergies is on a steady rise. In some cases it is inherited, in others it is not. Families that have members with food allergies make considerable changes around their household and eating habits to avoid potential triggers. Many schools now have been mindful of this too and are taking steps such as having a “No Nut” table in the school cafeteria (nut being the most common food allergen). Several restaurants have an allergen free menu.
Those living with food allergies themselves have an amazing self-restraint when choosing their food.  I know some kids who can easily ignore cupcakes, cookies, even pizzas and happily gorge on a fresh fruit instead. I am sure it must not be easy for such young people to pretend that all the other goodies did not exist in the room. But they know what does not work for their body and choose wisely.
Being sensitive to people with allergies is also about asking the right questions. I have seen kids being asked  – So, how did you get allergies?  Why do you have allergies?  Are you sure you cannot eat this thing?  Will it ever get better?
I have cringed and walked up to their defense if the parent has not been around. It is a medical condition I explain and there are few raised eyebrows and looks of disbelief. “Oh! It’s just a trend. Allergies!”

But the absolute bizarre thing that I have heard till date is when someone asked me after looking at my son who was recovering from a recent bout of allergic reaction. His face was swollen and red and full of rashes that particular day. “You must find it so difficult to love him or plant a kiss on his cheek.” I was baffled and annoyed.

So I planted a kiss on his cheeks right then and said “I love him like any mother loves her son. I think he looks absolutely gorgeous.”
But for the most part, people listen and want to know and understand more. The most common question asked / discussed is how could others help.
Here are a few things everyone can do to help  
  • When hosting a party, always ask for the guest’s dietary restriction and plan the menu accordingly. Try and plan the same menu for the entire gang. Don’t make the person with allergies feel left out. There are always plenty of alternatives available.
  • Candies are loaded with the common allergens. Instead of sugar, give kids a goody bag with non-edible gifts. At our home, for example on Halloween we give away stationery, Yo-Yos, Bouncy balls and Glow sticks. Trick-or-Treater’s love our house for that very reason. Similarly a set of books or a bouquet of flowers can be a fair replacement for a box of Mithai(for any one).
  • Processed in a facility that uses an allergen does make a HUGE difference.  So if a bakery baked nut free-cupcakes in a facility where they use nuts to bake other products, the nut free-cupcake could still cause a reaction.
  • Processed or canned food, artificial colors and some spice mixtures have complex ingredients that can trigger a reaction. It is best for everyone in general to stick to the natural and simple ingredients.
  • Respect food choices and do not force a certain food if a person refuses to (allergic or not). Sometimes a single bite can cause harm.

At Chatoveracuppa we believe in spreading awareness for a cause. As part of that attempt, this story has been written by Piya Mukherjee Kalra, a Mom, an avid blogger about her son’s allergies and the resident author at Chatoveracuppa.

Updated : 30 May 2015