Howdy all and welcome to a new week! I hope this post finds you well. Now some of you dear readers may know that I suffer from an allergy to a certain “nut” (in quotation marks because apparently technically it’s not a nut) – the peanut. I’ve written about it before, but not for a couple of years and I wanted to take it from a different angle because I know I am not the only one out there who suffers from this allergy, and I thought maybe a few tips on how I deal with it wouldn’t be a bad idea for a post.
Of course, people are allergic to other things too. Food and nut allergies are amongst the deadliest in the world, and it’s something that if you have one, a bad one, you need to always be cautious about. In my personal experience this has led to quite a bit of anxiety when trying foods. My peanut allergy is fairly bad, I have nearly died before – you can read a little about it in last year’s post ‘My Worst Travel Experiences’.
In my case I have had this allergy since I was around three years old. I lived throughout the first part of my life until the year 2002 without realising how dangerous this allergy was, and because of that I count myself very lucky to still be here today. Because I had NO IDEA that the allergy could kill me. I thought I got a tingle in the lips and throat, and then sometimes I would vomit and it would be over. But that’s not the extent of a peanut allergy at all. What can happen is the throat can close over and you can suffocate.
The good news FOR ME is that it is dosage related, so it means that the more I’ve had the worse my reaction will be. When I ate a curry with peanuts in it in Bangladesh in 2002 I thought it was the spice of the curry making my lips tingle, when in fact it was peanuts. So I ate more. Once I was halfway through I realised this was not because the curry was hot.
It just so happened that earlier in 2002 I had seen my GP about my allergy because I’d had a reaction earlier that year, and she’d sent me to a specialist who had tested me for what I was allergic too and come up with an action plan. If you have any sort of food or nut allergy this is something you must do. You need to have a handle on your allergy, to know the risks and find out if you are allergic to something else as well. In my case I discovered I am also allergic to pistachios, which come from the same family of ‘nuts’. As a result I was armed with anti-histamines and an epi-pen, which you punch into your thigh and it gives you a shot of adrenalin which gives you the boost to fight the reaction.
And that’s what ended up happening in 2002 in Bangladesh, the only time I have had to use the epi-pen. If the dose and therefore allergic reaction is mild, then an anti-histamine will suffice. Using an epi-pen is quite a drastic thing and you need to go to hospital to be monitored for a short time if you use it.
Travelling with an allergy takes things up a notch. You have to be ready and you need a plan. Now, I have an allergy and I know how I and my body reacts when introduced to peanuts. Even the smell can set me off to some extent which can be hard when an airline serves bags of peanuts as a snack, I will always ask the person next to me if they wouldn’t mind not eating peanuts if they are offered.
The tips below are the tips I use for ME. I am not an expert in allergies and I am in no way a medical professional, so PLEASE – don’t think if you have a food or nut allergy you should just follow my tips. Get to your GP and organise a trip to an allergy specialist.
- Identify the allergy. I got my GP to refer me to a specialist who ran tests and identified exactly WHAT I was allergic too.
- With my specialist I came up with an action plan to use when I was having an allergic reaction.
- Before travelling, or when on the road, I try to learn the phrase in local languages ‘I am allergic to peanuts’. If I can, I find someone to write it down. I remember my first night 2015 in Myanmar I met someone in the restaurant I was in who spoke English who wrote it in the local language for me and I showed it everywhere I went.
- If in ANY doubt I start eating slowly. Peanuts appear in a surprising number of dishes world-wide, especially in Africa and Asia. I have had a reaction even from a Bolognaise sauce in Australia and a roast chicken in West Africa. Never presume you know that they don’t put peanuts in something because it’s not usual. By eating slowly, take a small bite and wait, I see if there is a reaction. If there’s no tingle, I continue.
- Take an anti-histamine as early as possible. I’ve done my due diligence but I was wrong and now I realise I am having a reaction. The sooner I take an anti-histamine the better.
- If the anti-histamine isn’t working – and I can’t give it too long – use the epi-pen. Hopefully if I am by myself there is someone around who speaks English and can help me.
- Call and ambulance. Get to a hospital.
It’s all a bit scary, I know, but usually step four will see me right. I often travel alone and so the responsibility of looking after myself falls completely on my own shoulders. I can’t expect someone to sweep in and save the day I need to be aware of my reactions and what is going on in my mouth and body. It can be fatal if I don’t. To show how sensitive it can be, and keeping in mind there are people out there with worse reactions and higher sensitivities – I have had a reaction from kissing someone who ate peanuts. I also have had more than one reaction from eating pizza because the cutter was used to cut a Satay pizza before cutting my pizza.
All in all, living and travelling with an allergy isn’t always fun, but if you take responsibility and are sensible and cautious, it has very minimum impact on your travel. Thanks for reading today, take care – and May the Journey Never End!