Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Things that Fall Away

When you are diagnosed with a serious food allergy, your doctor tells you don't eat this food or anything made from this food anymore, gives you a few handouts, your instructions for the Epi-Pen and wishes you the best. There is no thunderclap, no ominous chords warning that this thing, just an an allergy, is going to change every aspect of your life. I got lucky, my first allergist was a fantastic gentleman took the time to educate me about how food allergies work and scared the life out of me with a story about a patient of his with a shellfish allergy who died on her honeymoon after inhaling shellfish proteins from a sizzling platter in a restaurant. I left his office feeling lucky that my allergies were not that bad, but I didn't have a clue how much stuff corn was in, how severe my allergies would become over the next six years, or the things that would fall away as I pared down my life into places and things that are safe.

Giving up the foods that make you sick is not that hard, it is not like a diet where you crave things that can enjoy again. You have a huge incentive, and lots of negative conditioning, to avoid foods that that on a "lucky" day, when you stop the reaction quickly, just make you itchy, puffy, wheezy, and nauseous and on a bad one make your throat swell shut. The particular issue with a corn allergy is that almost everything prepared falls away. If it has citric acid or zanathan gum (or any of the 180+ common ingredients made from corn) it contains corn and, unfortunately, I do react, that means simple things like a bottle of unsweetend iced tea (citric acid) have fallen away .

The other things that fall away are places that are not safe. For me that means places that are corn-y, like movie theaters, amusement parks, outdoor festivals, places that have corn containing chemical and perfumes like most malls and a lot of stores. Good thing my allergist had told me the story about his patient, or I wouldn't have had a clue as to why I was reacting to "smells."

Places I don't go anymore, because I don't want to get sick:
  • The Body Shop; Bed, Bath & Beyond (too many corn-y fragrances) and similar stores
  • Department stores in the mall (except for one high risk foray)
  • Movie Theaters, except the drive-in on cool nights when I can keep the windows up
  • Street Fairs & Festivals where popcorn and nachos are sold
  • Concert venues where popcorn/nachos are sold -- just missed a great concert at Red Rocks :(
  • Amusement parks
  • Cleaning products aisle of the grocery store, I basically shop in the produce and dairy isle
  • Target -- they sell popcorn inside the front door
  • Waiting rooms of car dealerships, service stations etc, they tend to be full of fragrance
  • Whole Foods after 9pm, even their green cleaning products have corn and cleaning happens in the evening
  • Hair Salons & Spas -- I haven't had a haircut in over a year, after I had a reaction at the Avada salon (yes, their eco-friendly products have corn)
  • I try to avoid Wal-Mart on general principle, but on the rare occasions I have to go into the store, I have a very short life span; the amount of chemicals in the air gives me about 15 min. before I start to react
  • Outdoor activities where people are using lots of bug spray (corn, corn and more corn)
  • Places with poor ventilation and people wearing lots of perfume so that means no:
    • plays
    • lectures
    • dance performances
    • fancy restaurants (not that we go to a lot of restaurants)
  • Most restaurants, of course (there are 2 safe places in our town)
  • Cafes that only use corn plastic cups (they are not as stable or hypo-allergenic as their manufacturers claim, I react to them and other corn allergic people on the Avoiding Corn Delphi Forum report similar reactions)
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs (wheezing and full body hives, yuck)
  • Gyms, heath clubs (all the sanitizers and air fresheners)
  • Homes of friends who use air fresheners or a lot of perfume (it is really embarrassing to run out of someone's house in the middle of a reaction)
  • Laundry rooms, laundromats -- Bounce dryer sheets are full of corn, I assume the other versions are as well, at least Bounce lists its ingredients.
This list is getting too long. When I started writing, I was thinking that I don't really miss the things that have fallen away, I barely notice some of them. I was thinking that we, the food allergic, just accept what we need to do to be safe and healthy, make these adjustments and move on. Sure, sometimes we whine a bit to our partners or get angry when a manufacture changes an ingredient making a staple food unsafe for us. I was thinking the things that have fallen away are not that important, but I when I re-read that list I realized that a lot of it is fun stuff and my partner has given up most of those things too, since our free time together is obviously constrained by what is safe for me. I don't care about avoiding the stores, I'm happier wanting and buying less, particularly since shopping for groceries at Whole Foods is safer for me but not cheap.

What has fallen away for you? Do you mind or is the trade off worth it? What do you factor in?

For me it usually comes down to whether the event is worth the negative consequences of the smallest possible bad outcome; a minor Benadryl coma, feeling like a dying slug for the next day or two. The things on my list are not worth the negative outcome for me. I'll take risks for big things like a family wedding, but not for little things that are just for a brief amusement. Those are the things that have fallen away.


Christine said...

Wow, I just deleted my first spam comment from someone advertising perfume. Of all the poorly targeted placement, a blog where I harp on how perfume is poisonous to the corn allergic is not the best place to advertise a cheap place to buy perfume.

Good grief. Reminds me of this funny post by Jennifer at Comments From the Peanut Free Gallery. Nicely targeted marketing folks. :P

Unknown said...

Thank you for this interesting post. It is a good reminder of how different allergies present different challenges in our day-to-day lives. We only deal with peanut and tree nuts, so it does not greatly affect us except in our own vigilance of what we eat and what we feed our children. It has been fairly easy so far because he has not left my sight since his diagnosis. I know this will change when preschool starts in another week or too. We already have plans for him to take his own special snacks every day. Birthday parties are a little more complicated. But since peanut allergies/tree nut allergies are SO common here, everyone at school is very aware, even if they do not fully understand how careful we must be about cross-contamination.

V said...

This is a great post, and would be great if non-corn allergics could read it. I may just forward it to my family.

Its these fallen away things that make socializing difficult. I'm head of a social group for women, and its so hard to not make every meeting devolve into "why I can't organize a meeting at ___" which further devolves into "what constitutes a corn allergy?"

Christine said...

Hi Von,
I forget about the places that have fallen away till I try to plan something with my "normal" friends. It is only then that I realize that I've been crossing places off on my map.

I hope this will help people who are friends and family of the corn allergic understand why we don't go to certain places with them anymore. It just isn't worth being sick for the next few days.


Rebecca said...

I know this post is less than new, but I seem to be desperately searching for information and support. Corn allergy diagnosis 3 weeks ago and I have yet to go more than 2 days w/o a reaction. I'm not very good at this yet :-) I keep promising my husband I will get better! Wanted to thank you for the article on inhaling allergens. Foolishly encouraged my son to have some popcorn as a healthy snack today -- had no idea raw, swollen throat would follow. Anyway, thank you for your website and all the valuable information and support you provide!

Christine said...

Hi Rebecca,
I'm glad to hear that my blog is helpful to you. I hope that you found the links page

There are links to all the good corn sites on the web, those are the places helped me the most and still keep me sane and healthy on a day to day basis!

Make sure you get the corn free foods list and the list of things that contain corn, that will make your life so much easier.

Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog and found it very refreshing and informative.
I like your blog..

Top 10 Perfumes said...

Corn containing chemical and perfumes sometimes are great problem!

I used to suffer from allergy to some perfumes (but now I am ok), so I can undertand the idea..

Thanks for interesting post!