• theitchpodcast

The Itch PodcastManaging Food Allergies as an Adult: Tips on Dining Out and Traveling (Episode #3)

Updated: Sep 19, 2019





Kortney, co-host of The Itch, doesn’t let her allergies hold her back. Kortney’s journey with allergies, asthma and eczema has allowed her to become an educator and advocate for others. Kortney has a lot to share about how to manage allergic conditions so they don't hold you back from living your fullest life.


Allergy Girl's Origin Story


Kortney, a vibrant, friendly, and social young adult, used to dread going out to bars or going out to eat with friends. Feeling torn between her social life and her safety, she often opted to stay home. Why was Kortney so afraid to live her life to the fullest extent? Why did were enjoyable activities such as travel and dining stained with feelings of anxiety and fear?


It all started with an irresistible-looking peanut butter sandwich. Two-month-old Kortney stared at the sandwich longingly, and then back at her father, who was eating the sandwich. Faced with those heartstring-tugging baby eyes, her father couldn’t resist giving her a little dollop of peanut butter. Little did he know, that tiny bit of peanut butter would change Kortney’s life.


In her own words, Kortney “exploded.” Like a balloon blown up with air, Kortney’s small body rapidly doubled in size. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where they were informed that Kortney had a peanut allergy. As it turned out, Kortney’s “explosion” wasn’t caused by an influx of air like a balloon-- it was an anaphylactic inflammatory response caused by a much more complex chain of events. Her immune system saw peanuts as a threat and triggered her mast cells to release histamine, which separated the endothelial cells lining the capillaries and made the actual capillaries larger, a process called vasodilation. To the human eye (without a microscope), this inflammation reaction happening on a mass scale is why baby Kortney looked blown up like a balloon.


It all started with an irresistible-looking peanut butter sandwich. Two-month-old Kortney stared at the sandwich longingly, and then back at her father, who was eating the sandwich. Faced with those heartstring-tugging baby eyes, her father couldn’t resist giving her a little dollop of peanut butter. Little did he know, that tiny bit of peanut butter would change Kortney’s life.


In her own words, Kortney “exploded.” Like a balloon blown up with air, Kortney’s small body rapidly doubled in size. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where they were informed that Kortney had a peanut allergy. As it turned out, Kortney’s “explosion” wasn’t caused by an influx of air like a balloon-- it was an anaphylactic inflammatory response caused by a much more complex chain of events. Her immune system saw peanuts as a threat and triggered her mast cells to release histamine, which separated the endothelial cells lining the capillaries and made the actual capillaries larger, a process called vasodilation. To the human eye (without a microscope), this inflammation reaction happening on a mass scale is why baby Kortney looked blown up like a balloon.


Four years later, Kortney had more allergy testing done, and she received a long list of foods that she couldn’t eat. Since then, she has developed even more allergic reactions, including Oral Allergy Syndrome, which means that she can’t eat many fruits and veggies raw. This smorgasbord of food allergies, in combination with the eczema and asthma that Kortney had since infancy, meant that allergic conditions were going to be playing a big role in her life.

In her younger years, Kortney struggled with social anxieties about her allergic conditions like allergies and eczema.


She often hesitated to eat out with friends or travel to new places, fearing that she wouldn’t be safe or would be embarrassed by her dietary restrictions. But now, many years later, Kortney lives a life full of traveling, eating, and experiences. Like a superhero, she wanted to help others do the same, so she secretly started a blog to share experiences, tips, and tricks she has developed to navigate a life with allergies. And thus was born, Allergy Girl.


Allergies in Adulthood

As Kortney entered into adulthood, she never grew out of her allergies. While many people understand the numerous challenges of childhood allergies, many are unaware that some of these challenges persist, morph, or change in adulthood.


As Kortney explained to Dr. Gupta, co-host of The Itch, “as an adult with food allergies, sometimes it feels very isolating. And it’s kind of a weird thing to manage because I felt for a long time that that food allergies were seen as a children's disease, and so when people found out I had food allergies, they didn’t know how to respond. I was always afraid that they were going to treat me like a child because they associate food allergies with children. So I was looking for a little community to rely on because going out to a bar or spontaneously going out to eat with friends wasn’t something that I liked doing. I need to have more control over my environment.”


Especially with multiple food allergies, sometimes asking for special accommodations at restaurants or being more hesitant about spontaneity can feel embarrassing. Additionally, it can be nerve racking to trust the staff to avoid cross-contamination or remember all of your allergens. Sometimes, so embarrassed by her allergies, Kortney would not even say that she had them, instead choosing to fully avoid situations where she might be forced to talk about them.


Eczema is another allergic condition that Kortney has that can also impact confidence and social life. For Kortney, her eczema tends to flare when her body heats up. As an adult, having visible eczema on your skin can feel embarrassing, and having people ask you what's going on with your skin can make the situation extra uncomfortable.


While allergic conditions still come with their struggles, Kortney has now overcome much of her fear surrounding allergies and lives a life full of traveling, eating, and exciting experiences. Looking back, she wished she had been able to connect with other adults with food allergies when she was younger: “Maybe we would have all felt a little more confident in speaking up for ourselves earlier on, and having just a little bit more ownership of our allergies instead of being embarrassed by them and avoiding situations where they would need to be addressed.” Thus, Kortney began her quest to find a way to communicate with other allergic people, share her stories and newfound knowledge, and help others live lives free of unnecessary anxiety.


In an unsuccessful search for a community of allergic adults online, she instead stumbled upon a sea of allergy moms and parents, where she saw dialogue encompassed by fear and anxiety. Kortney, worried that kids might not be taught effective ways to cope with their allergies and lead uninhibited lives, decided to make that change herself: “It kind of put a fire in my belly to start her blog, Allergy Girl Eat, and say: I'm still here, I’m traveling, I’m eating, and I’m living a full life. You can do that with food allergies!”


Dr. Gupta clarifies that “It makes sense that parents are anxious. You don't want anything to ever happen, especially when it feels like you have control over it. But also, it needs to be tempered with the message of, ‘don’t worry, you can do everything still!’ They need to hear that[1] , yes, there are things you need to be aware of, and there are things that are special about the way you need to move through life, but you can still move through life, you can still travel, you can still go to college and have fun! You can still be a citizen of the world in the way that you want to and not feel inhibited.”


Living a Full Life with Allergies

Through all of her experience traveling and learning to take ownership over her allergies, Kortney has built an arsenal of tips and tricks on how to live a full life with allergic conditions. She has even started another blog specifically dedicated to all the ins and outs of travelling with allergies.


One of the biggest tips she has to share is to bring allergy cards or “Chef Cards” with you to make dining out at restaurants less stressful. Chef Cards aim to make it a lot easier for the chef to cook for people with food allergies and for allergies to be accurately communicated to the staff, allowing the restaurant experience to be as enjoyable and safe as possible. Allergy cards typically include a food allergy warning at the top and list all of your allergens. They also include a little note at the bottom explaining what cross-contact is and how to cater to someone with food allergies (such as ensuring that all food utensils and cookware are clean). While you usually can’t go inside the kitchen and directly talk to the chefs about your allergies, the beauty of the allergy card is that it can!


Kortney also recommends doing small mental checks to prepare for any situation. She likes to think a couple steps ahead, asking herself questions like, “where might I potentially encounter an allergen,” and “how do I mitigate risk?” That being said, thinking about everything in depth can get exhausting. It can be challenging to be spontaneous while living with anaphylaxis, and it is difficult to get people to understand that you might not be able to just “go with the flow,” because there are little details that allergic people have to think about that non-allergic people don’t. Although Kortney feels like she lives her life to the fullest, she still advocates for self-care, saying that “going out can get a little bit exhausting for me, and I might just stay home if it’s something I don't feel like managing that day.”


Ultimately, Kortney emphasizes the importance of defining boundaries when managing any chronic health condition: “you have to know your boundaries and know when it's too much for you. What situations make you uncomfortable, and how do you manage that?” At the end of the day, Kortney wants to help people have great life experiences and to show kids that you can travel and go out! You just have to do things a little bit differently. With a little bit of effort, flexibility, and thought, you can take ownership of your allergies and live a happy and unhindered life.


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