In all my revolutions on this earth, I have learned a lot about myself. It seems the first 2 decades of your life are spent figuring out more about who you are personality and character wise, finding your place in the world and how you fit in with society. In your 30s, you spend a lot of time validating your findings in those first 2 decades. But you also start finding out what you like and dislike and how to really take care of yourself and your loved ones. Then you hit the 40s, which is where I am now. I am discovering that this decade is a lot more study of yourself. It sounds selfish, but this is natural. You start having a little reality check and your body starts telling your stories if it hasn't started already.
One thing that I have been studying the past 6 or so years is my hormones and blood work patterns. Because I am a scientist, this kind of stuff interests me, but I have "aha" moments ALL OF THE TIME. I recently shared a post on LinkedIN and Facebook that I had an epiphany that my husband might be allergic to tomatoes. This was in the middle of his violent reaction in the bathroom that I could hear echoing through the entire house. I felt terrible for him, but even more terrible that I, as someone trained to look out for those allergic to foods, didn't notice it after over 2 decades of life together! He was violently reacting to a canned creamy tomato soup he had eaten within about 30 minutes of consumption. This is typical of an allergic reaction. I have a similar reaction when I eat anything that has the spice mace in it. It took me about a year to recognize what was happening and I had to do some investigation to find out the ingredients in a particular product because I was eating items that did not have labels due to where I purchased them - restaurants, cafes, and sometimes partaking of them on a deli tray brought in to a meeting. My mom has a similar reaction when she eats mushrooms. So she is always paying attention to mushroom dishes. But people still sneak these ingredients into their cooking thinking it's a secret (or not-so-secret) ingredient. Because they are not on the most recognized allergens (peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat in the U.S.), people do not think to tell you what is in their family recipes.
A few observations about food allergies:
1. People have varying severity levels of reactions.
2. They are not well-labeled
3. Every person is different, therefore every allergy case is different.
THe top 7 most severe symptoms to watch out for according to this article on the Mayo Clinic site:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness. lightheadedness or fainting
- Anaphylaxis (constriction and tightening of airways, shock with a severe drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, and dizziness are all signs you're in trouble).
What happens though when your reactions are not that severe and life-threatening? Do you even notice? Your body might be telling you a story and you may not be listening. Perhaps you feel sluggish, have rosacea or your joints hurt. Those are all possible symptoms of food allergies as well.
Here is a great article on the myths and misconceptions of food allergies. From the same source, here is another great article about mild to moderate symptoms. A quick run down of the mentioned mild symptoms includes:
- Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
- Eczema flare (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
- Redness of the skin, particularly around the mouth or eyes
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Slight, dry cough
- Odd taste in mouth
And although food sensitivities technically are different than food allergies, your body still might have other reactions to food that are causing you struggles with your health. The immune system kicks in and tries to assist you, but it actually ends up masking the problem with several other symptoms that are difficult to figure out the source. Check out the graphic from this case study published in Cell Science Systems explaining how the immune system defense system kicks in to assist.
So, ultimately, there are a few things you can do to manage your allergies and sensitivities:
1. Listen to your body - actually listen.
2. Not only avoid foods, but learn to ask what is in your food.
3. Read labels and if there are no labels, ask.
4. Study your trends and avoid foods that cause some of these reactions.
5. Never stop studying your body - the more you learn about your health and interaction with diet, the better you'll feel as you learn how to manage it.
6. Keep searching for answers if you can't find them. It's out there and you will find it.
7. Inform friends and family of your condition, so they can help you avoid those foods and support you.
8. Find a community that can support you in your quest for better health.
9. Edited to include a new blog from a company that just shared a great article about traveling with food allergies and I believe is a great resource as well - check out their blog on Flying with Food Allergies.