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COVID-19 and Food Allergies

Excerpts of this blog have been posted by FARE with my permission here!

Right now, we’re all talking about the same thing; COVID-19. The last time I left my home was to attend FARE’S Washington DC fly-in, well over a month ago. Here in New York, I have adjusted to the new normal. I attend virtual classes, try to walk almost every day, celebrate virtual holidays and birthdays with family and friends, and give my dogs more attention than they probably want. As usual, my food allergies and asthma impact how I am living my life. I’ve compiled a few things to think about while dealing with food allergies at this time, and some personal thoughts about what life will be like for those with food allergies once we enter our “new normal.”

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what would happen if I were to have an anaphylactic reaction at this time. Hospitals have been turned into COVID-19 buildings, and the thought of even entering an emergency room is met with fear. While the virus is extremely contagious, having asthma makes me even more concerned for the potential “what ifs” of COVID-19. For this reason, I have been extremely careful about the products I consume. I’m someone who always calls the company to “double check,” but lately I have spent more hours on the phone asking different manufacturing questions than I can count. Through this, I have made a not so shocking discovery; I’m not the only one! Call center workers at manufacturing plants have mentioned the influx of calls regarding labeling and manufacturing practices. Being extra vigilant during this time can’t hurt, so it’s a precaution I have been taking.

I have also limited myself to not try any new foods, as I am an extremely reactive person. I’m very lucky to be home with my two favorite personal chefs, or mom and dad, as I like to refer to them. They fully understand my hesitance to try certain foods I haven’t eaten in a while, or to cut out a food as we investigate my post-dinner hives. Right now, my family is willing to go the extra mile to exclude from meals any foods beyond my comfort level. At this time, it feels safer to avoid any possible issue than to eat a food that raises personal suspicion or stresses me out in any way.

Being in the hotspot of New York, I have been avoiding grocery stores for awhile now. Luckily, we have many companies and services that are able to deliver to our door. When we receive any groceries, we wipe down all the packaging, not just for fear of the virus but to make sure that no potential allergen residue enters the house. Ordering from services has been great, but tough when there is only one brand you’re comfortable eating. I’m certainly not hoarding food, but allergy families tend to stock up on their safe and go to foods anyway. If I see my one safe brand of gluten free bread is in stock, I might buy an extra loaf because of the long shelf life and unknown factor of the next time I will actually be able to get it. This way, I am not stressed in between grocery deliveries worried that they have run out of a staple item. Pro tip, when ordering from a grocery delivery service make sure to check the box “do not substitute this item.” That way, if they do not have the safe brand, you do not need to receive or pay for something you are not able to eat.

One final thing I’ve been thinking about is the return to normalcy. Right now, I feel safer than I have in years. I am only consuming food made in my home, which I know is truly safe. I am not worried about touching a subway pole, walking past a roasted nut stand, or seeing what the person next to me in class is eating. Honestly, my stress level regarding allergy management is much more manageable than a “normal” day. While this is a relief, it is also concerning. I’m worried about adjusting back to reality once this required self-isolation is lifted. I know, for me, it will be a slow adjustment to eating out or trying new things. I am living in a comfortable bubble at the moment, and I am sure, like most other people, there will be an added stress and anxiety of returning to our “usual” lives. There will be a day when we get back to making our own snacks for events, answering a million allergy management questions from co-workers, and explaining the severity of allergies to restaurant staff, but for now I relax a little bit with respect to my allergies. I take a moment to realize that part of our normal has become the new normal to the world. Wiping down doorknobs, tray tables, desks, and more will no longer be met with a dirty look or an eye roll. It’s the world we’re all in now, and I hope we can soon get back to living in it.

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