First comes food allergy, then comes … airborne allergy. Seriously?

Something seemingly random and out-of-the-blue occurred to me a few weeks ago that has rocked my world.

I’ve waited this long to tell you all about it because — well, in the interest of “let me focus on seeking out information before I let my emotions get the best of me” — I wanted to discuss it with my allergist first.

Now that I’ve focused on facts, sought out information and hashed this out with my allergist, I can say something that terrifies me to my core: I have now experienced my first airborne reaction to a food allergen.

My allergy to peanut is no longer just a “read labels and don’t ingest any” food allergy, it has now expanded to include “be aware, be very aware of your surroundings” food allergy.

I’m still having a difficult time typing out that I have an airborne allergy now. Admittedly, it’s a heck of a lot easier to type it than to speak it. I’m still working practicing verbalizing this phenomenon out loud.

Anybody else out there have airborne reactions to food?

I now feel your pain.

I now understand your hypervigilance.

I now sympathize.

I now get it.

I mean I, really, really, get it now.


So here’s what happened … back in late June, I had a kick-ass party to celebrate my birthday. [did you miss my post on how to successfully manage food allergies while hosting a potluck event? check it out here I had family come in from three different states and friends from practically all aspects of my life (wine friends, yoga buddies, food allergy friends, scrapbook friends, work friends, you name it, they were all there). Everyone got along, there was some dancing, a little more drinking, a boat-load of laughs and lots of amazing food; all of this took place at a local picnic pavilion.

After the festivities wrapped up and all my friends headed home, my family and I headed to my house to relax and have the “post-party wrap up.” My brother decided he wanted some Five Guys so off he went to pick up some burgers and fries for himself, his wife and our dad. My mom and I decided we would munch on leftovers from the party.

For those of you not familiar with Five Guys … they make some amazing burgers and fries. I know this to be a fact because I’ve had my fair share number of burgers and fries from them. Of course, that was all BPA, Before Peanut Allergy. Five Guys not only offer peanuts in bulk containers to their customers but they also make everything using 100% peanut oil. So, once Peanut Allergy came along, I had to say good bye to Five Guys. Trust me, it was a terrible break-up. Lots of bitter feelings on both sides.

So my brother came home with a Five Guys-signature greasy brown paper bag, full of three burgers and one order of fries. All of us crowded around the table for our post-party “snack” and my brother wound up sitting next to me.

His fries smelled great! So, not knowing any better, I picked up his plate of fries at one point and gave them a good whiff. Oh, man, did they smell amazing! I knew I couldn’t eat them, but I figured there would be no harm in smelling them. Little did I know. Oh, and that greasy brown paper bag? It was sitting on the table in front of me and my brother.

A few minutes into our “snack” my nose started running. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate … my nose started pouring! Seriously. It was as though my nose had a faucet and someone turned the faucet open all.the.way.

And silly, ignorance-is-bliss me doesn’t think anything of it. And lazy me doesn’t even get tissues, I just try to sniffle it all up. [ok, gross, I know, but … I’m keeping it real!]

My mom doesn’t have much tolerance for sniffling so she asks me at one point if I’m OK. After all these years, I know that’s mom speak for “you better get yourself a tissue because you’re starting to irritate me.”

I do one better and go to the bathroom. I happened to look at myself in the mirror … what was staring back at me was some really, really old lady with swollen eyes, bags down to her mouth and a face covered in a reddish rash.

Oh, shit.

Once I got passed the whole “this is YOU, not an old lady”, I realized I was having a reaction to something. At that point, I went into automatic pilot – I did not focus on trying to figure out the cause – I just focused only on getting the reaction under control.

So off I went to find Benadryl. Thankfully I knew exactly where to find it so I didn’t waste any time and I promptly swallowed two.

I then sat back down at the table and inside my head I’m telling myself “You’re going to be OK. This is a reaction. Remain calm and wait for the Benadryl to kick in. You got this.” As I waited for the Benadryl to kick in, my nose continued to run so I did the only “adult” thing I could think of — I grabbed some paper napkins off the table and blew my nose. I kept this up for a few minutes … until I ran out of napkins.

And I was not feeling any better. In fact, I thought I may have been feeling even slightly worse so I started to think about epinephrine.

And then it hit me … I had been blowing my nose using the napkins that had been in the Five Guys greasy brown bag.

Oh, holy shit.

So with that, I left the table, found tissues in another room and continued to blow my nose. I’d say within two minutes, I was starting to feel better. Yeah! Let’s hear it for Benadryl. :-)  I was totally ready to use my Auvi-Q, but thankfully it didn’t come to that.

After a little while, I took a shower, put on fresh clothes and was feeling my normal self again. My eyes were still puffy; they needed almost 24 hrs to return to normal.

I then had a chat with the family about what happened and the consensus was that it must have been the Five Guys food/bag since that was really the only “new” thing introduced into my home when the reaction occurred.

Last week, I sat down with my allergist and explained everything to her. We had (as always) a great conversation; this time around it focused on the difficulty of confirming an airborne allergy and, ultimately, she agreed with my family’s consensus.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this and process it all … I hope sharing my story with all of you will help me “own” this new dimension of food allergies for me.

Do you have any tips/suggestions as to how I and others can safely manage an airborne food allergy? Please feel free to share in the comments below or via Twitter (I’m @DofAnaPhylaxis). Many thanks!


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. momgfnoms
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 17:44:44

    My first air born reaction to corn was walking down the wrong isle at the grocery store. Ended up on the corn tortilla isle. Was not a very pleasant experience. I have a hard time grocery shopping do to the particles in the air. I take preventative antihistamines and avoid as many isle as possible.


    • Ana Phylaxis
      Aug 18, 2013 @ 19:41:55

      Oh wow — airborne to corn! I can’t even begin to imagine … I thankfully (knock on wood) have not yet this experience in a grocery store. My allergist believes my reaction was because of the “fumes” of the peanut oil. So I’m hoping as long as no supermarket is cooking with peanut oil when I’m there I should be safe. I guess time will only tell :-)

      Thank you for reading & commenting on my blog!


  2. epipenprincess
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 19:40:18

    My allergies are also airborne. It is something you can only really understand if you too experience it!


  3. epipenprincess
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 19:41:33

    Reblogged this on A Tale Of Anaphylaxis and commented:
    Very inspiring story! Airborne allergies are something people really don’t understand till they experience it!


  4. Sarah
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 20:47:07

    I’m airborn to nuts. I found out about my allergy and it’s airborn part at work when a coworker was cracking pistachios and almonds right beside me in the staffroom. I was annoyed since we are in an elementary school until I figured out that my itchy mouth and lips where a sign of an allergy. I had been suspecting an allergy to nuts for yrs but was in denial. This episode and the reaction of one of my coworkers whose child has allergies are what convinced me to go get tested and take it seriously. So far I have managed ok. It’s Christmas I hate since the grocery store is full of nuts! I was always told my airborn reaction was all in my head. That it wasn’t possible to be airborn. I’m glad I’m not the only one. :)


    • Ana Phylaxis
      Aug 18, 2013 @ 21:13:34

      Hi Sarah – thank you so much for contributing to my blog! I’m so glad you got tested and have been managing your nut allergy well. I hope you’re remember … when it comes to FA (food allergies), nobody is alone! :-) Thank you for reading! – Kate (aka Ana)


  5. cindk
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 01:38:03

    Airborne allergies are tough. I have a severe one to horseradish (random, but it pops up in the grocery store pretty often) and a mild one to fish and leafy greens. Like lettuce, cabbage, spinach, etc. I say mild because usually if it’s a small salad and the windows are open and I’m not eating, I’m ok. But if there’s a ton of pollen in the air, or a room filled with salad (like at a wedding or large event) or I’m eating while everyone around me is eating salad), I’ll get a reaction that ranges from hives to anaphylaxis. Super fun to tell my coworkers I have to leave when they order in salads for lunch. But it is manageable! Extra antihistamines, watching what you eat when you’re around the trigger food, opening windows, covering your nose and mouth with your sleeve, and politely excusing yourself when the allergen is around help. It’s not foolproof — nothing is — but these tricks help slightly! Also, the more vocal you are — the more vocal we all are — the more people will recognize that airborne allergies need to be accommodated. So thank you for speaking out!


    • Ana Phylaxis
      Aug 19, 2013 @ 18:45:48

      Hi Cindy – First, thank you so much for commenting on this post!
      I love your tips — load up on antihistamines, open windows, cover your mouth & nose and mouth, and (if needed) politely excuse yourself when the allergen is around — thank you so much for sharing!
      I really appreciate you reading my blog – cheers! Kate


  6. Cynthia @ You Signed Up For What?!
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 12:56:32

    That sounds really scary. Our allergist told us that none of us should go in Five Guys and places like that because the peanut shells are all over the floor and we could be tracking it in the house. I avoid it like the plague now and will even more so after reading this. I hadn’t really thought about airborne allergies – thanks for your account of it.


    • Ana Phylaxis
      Aug 19, 2013 @ 18:48:46

      Hi Cynthia – I’m so glad your allergist is looking out for you! I’m learning a peanut allergy comes in many forms — from ingestion to inhaling peanut dust to inhaling fumes from peanut oil. It’s nice to hear your allergist has your back! Thank you for reading & contributing to my blog – and good luck at Rocky Gap! Cheers – Kate


  7. Courtney
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 15:41:36

    Ughhh this is one of my worst fears- any of my current allergies (nuts, egg, seafood) becoming airborne. It absolutely terrifies me. In fact, every time I’m on an airplane I have a minor panic attack wondering if the peanuts are going to make me go into anaphylactic shock at 30,000 feet. Is there any chance you maybe touched your face after touching the fry, and that’s what caused the swelling and reaction? I’m SO sorry you’re having to deal with this. It’s so frustrating and scary- but you sound like you’re handling it really well. Writing about it definitely helps, huh? I hope you get some peace and clarity about it all soon!


    • Ana Phylaxis
      Aug 19, 2013 @ 18:51:32

      Hi Courtney – thank you so much for contributing to my blog! YES! Writing about it does help — the outpouring of comments on this blog and on twitter have been amazing! I have actually flown since this airborne episode — I was nervous but recognized that the only thing I could do was be prepared for the worst … so I made sure I had lots of benadryl with me, along with my Auvi-Q. And doing a rain dance to the Allergy Gods too. LOL
      I hope you won’t let the possibility of your allergies becoming airborne allergies hold you back in any way!
      Together, we got this and we can support each other through it.
      Cheers – Kate


  8. anallergicfoodie
    Aug 21, 2013 @ 21:29:39

    Sarah, You opened my eyes to what an airborn allergy is like. A few weekends ago my son was visiting and after lunch his nose started to run and his eyes started to sting and swell. He looked awful! We realized we both had eaten wheat and had GI symptoms, but we thought his other reactions were from seasonal type allergies like grass or trees. Hmmm, now I’m thinking maybe it was the wheat . . . . thanks for sharing.


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