For people with food allergies, everyday life can be filled with stress and anxiety. Every label needs to be checked and every ingredient recognized. Sometimes, something as simple as trying a new restaurant can be a source of great fear. However, over time, many find ways to cope. They find brands they trust and recipes they enjoy. Some even begin to experiment a little more and form bonds with people who suffer from the same allergies. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic has left many of these people feeling helpless. More than just the expected fear regarding the virus, people with food allergies suddenly have to worry about their food options. We sat down (through a virtual platform, of course) to discuss with one individual her fears regarding her food allergies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I suffer from anaphylactic allergies to sesame and fish and have a less severe allergy to some tree nuts. Over the years, I have done a pretty good job of managing my allergies – excluding a couple of scary incidents – and have learned which brands I trust. Of course, that never means I stop checking labels. Even with brands, I trust and foods I have eaten hundreds of times, I never put anything into my mouth without checking the label first.” This is a common occurrence for many people with food allergies. Despite eating allergy-safe brands and finding foods they know are clean, there seems to be an underlying fear that something might change. “Corona hasn’t really changed that for me since I was checking labels before too, but it is still disappointing when a food that I have been eating for years suddenly has a recipe change.”
Companies have reported having to change their recipes as a result of coronavirus. With many factories shut down and all the disruptions made to production, recipe changes have been common. For people with food allergies, this can mean that products they have come to trust are suddenly unsafe. Now more than ever, checking labels is vital. But even more, frustrating for many is the lack of accessibility to products altogether. “Not all stores are open, and even those that are, not all of them are fully stocked. I’ve had trouble accessing and finding some of my favorite brands. It’s scary to test new foods, especially right now when healthcare isn’t really accessible.” While telehealth has made huge strides and many have come to rely upon skype appointments, this form of healthcare can only go so far.
“One of the scariest parts of all this might be the ERs – or lack thereof. No one ever plans on going into anaphylactic shock but knowing there are trained medical professionals available should it happen provides a sense of comfort. The fact that today going to the ER might mean contracting coronavirus is terrifying. Especially since I have asthma as well.” FARE has released new guidelines for managing anaphylaxis at home to keep people from going to the ERs. Still, with such extreme reactions and such intense outcomes, it’s not easy to wrap your head around the idea of staying home after having an attack. “It’s scary to think of what could happen at home. Logical or not, being monitored by a doctor feels safer.”
However, food allergies can also have an unexpected outcome. “Sometimes, it’s just plain disappointing. My family usually goes out to eat to celebrate birthdays, so we’ve been ordering in during the lockdown. We usually stick to meat places, somewhere I can order something simple, but with many businesses closed, we’ve started looking for new options. It sucks that sometimes I need to eat leftovers while my family is enjoying restaurant food. Trusting the restaurant was hard enough when I could talk to the manager. It’s even more difficult now that most ordering is done over the internet. Who knows if anyone even noticed that I left a note about my allergies?” Mental health professionals have opened conversations regarding the social effects of having food allergies, but sometimes people don’t realize how difficult it can be. “If I’m feeling left out with my own family, imagine how young children must be feeling at birthday parties!”
Having food allergies has never been simple. Not only does it cause fear and anxiety in people of all ages, but it can have genuine social effects. But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that fear, anxiety, and feeling of isolation has only been magnified. We must keep in mind our friends and family members who deal with this daily. While we can’t do much to help them now – especially from a distance – showing them that we are there for them and supporting them can go a long way.