Food allergies can be a Valentine's Day minefield
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Imagine playing spin the bottle when you were a kid and wondering not just who you were going to kiss, but the last thing he or she had eaten.
While that might not cross the minds of most children, for kids with allergies, knowing what their peers have eaten — if they may come into close contact — is part of participating in a normal social life, said Sandra Beasley, a poet and nonfiction writer from Washington, D.C., who was born with severe food allergies to dairy products, eggs, beef, shrimp, certain tree-nuts (a source of much chocolate), cucumbers and mango.
Valentine’s Day can be a particular challenge, and Beasley, now 32 and the author of the memoir “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life,” remembers getting gifts from secret Valentine’s buddies such as body lotions with cucumber and oversized chocolate kisses — and not being able to eat or touch them.
Foregoing chocolate is one thing, but being limited in love is quite another — and certainly not something allergy sufferers should settle for. But dating challenges is a somewhat overlooked part of living with severe allergies.
A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Mylan Specialty pharmaceutical business found that less than half of the parents of teenagers with allergies reminded their kids to tell their dates about their allergies.
As for Valentine’s Day, parents were equally disinclined to talk to their kids about the increased risks on the holiday, and a third of kids with food allergies reportedly suffered from anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction — on the holiday.
According to Sloane Miller, a New York City-based advocate and consultant for people with allergies and author of “Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies,” Valentine’s Day should instead be “a wonderful opportunity for families to really engage the entire family about how to stay safe.”
Dr. John Harwick, the allergy specialist at the ENT clinic at UF&Shands, tells kids with allergies, “If you get a gift and realize you can’t eat it, tell them that you really appreciate the thought but can’t accept it,” he said. “You can never go wrong in avoiding.”
Miller said that although teens can be hard for parents to deal with, parents need to target them. “I tell parents: ‘Your teens are listening, and they are looking to you for guidance. They want to know how to stay safe — how to be at a party and still advocate for self that is with elegance but firmness,’ ” she said.
As for the larger issue of dating, Beasley said that although her parents had forewarned her about potentially stressful situations, she learned to navigate her own romantic life.
“I have such strong memories of getting to the moment of the first kiss and the person panicking because he’d had chocolate, and asking me if he could kiss me, and me not knowing how to answer,” Beasley said. “I really erred on the side of not taking the kiss in my teens.”
By the time Beasley got to college, however, she took more chances, sometimes ending up alone at the emergency room because she didn’t want to cause a scene with her date.
“I really wish I could tell that younger person that when you find the right person, he is not going to be fazed by (an allergic reaction),” Beasley said.
Dating after college, Beasley found most guys to be respectful and caring — but some did annoying things, like try to order for her at dinner, when she knew best what she could eat on the menu. One person couldn’t give up his cottage cheese addiction.
Miller wears a medical bracelet when she goes out to dinner and like Beasley is not shy about talking to the waiter or chef — without worrying about what her date thinks.
“I grew up knowing and accepting this part of myself from my earliest memories of life, like I accept that I have brown curly hair. It just becomes part of who you are,” Miller said.
Beasley, who recently got engaged, said that her fiancee is super-sensitive about her allergies when they eat out.
“At the end of the meal, he’ll slip away to the restroom. He’s probably washing his hands and lips so we can kiss, but he always makes a point of taking the lemon out of his water and chewing it because he doesn’t want me to taste the soap,” Beasley said.
“It’s one of those little things that doesn’t make me feel self-conscious.”
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.