Thursday, September 12, 2013

Anaphylactic Shock and Panic Attacks: Identical Symptoms!! My Lunch Experiment of Terror to Know the Truth!

In addition to over 30 life threatening bouts of anaphylactic shock, I have also been diagnosed with Panic Attacks.

The freaky thing is: panic attacks and anaphylaxis have the same initial symptoms!!

Your throat feels like it is closing up and you feel like you are going to die!!

Is it true anaphylaxis?

Or is it just a major psychological and physiological event?

During lunch today I decided to try an experiment and record my experiences to see exactly how identical anaphylactic shock and panic attacks actually are.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. If you are my parents, stop reading now.

I undertook this experiment on myself only because the data it would yield would far outweigh the risks. And I currently own two new Epipens, and have been practicing mindfulness meditation for over two years. I felt up to the task of recording my experiences objectively without judgment and responding accordingly. I have not have an actual panic attack in years. No way was I going to let my mind be overtaken by fear.

My motivation for the lunch experiment comes from listening to stories of other patients who donate blood at Benaroya Research Institute. Jennifer Heaton, the study Coordinator was telling me about other peanut allergic donors experiencing terror and the symptoms of their throats closing up when peanuts are eaten around them and in the same room.  One blogger,has continuously blogged about how her 'throat closes up' and she 'cannot breathe' and goes into “anaphylactic shock” when peanuts are nearby.

As a science enthusiast, these accounts make me extremely skeptical. According to the scientific research, unless a peanut protein molecule is inhaled directly, ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK IS IMPOSSIBLE. Peanut allergy requires direct contact or ingestion to light the fuse of a deadly reaction. My personal experience backs up the science

What is going on here? The science directly contradicts the anecdotal accounts! Let's take a look at anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylaxis doesn't just occur with a single symptom, multiple bodily systems are affected. Wikipedia mentions similarities between anaphylaxis and panic attacks:

Differential diagnosis
It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish anaphylaxis from asthma, syncopy, and panic attacks.[2] Asthma however typically does not entail itching or gastrointestinal symptoms, syncope presents with pallor rather than a rash, and a panic attack may have flushing but does not have hives.[2]”

This is fascinating.

Scientific Method Step Number One: Question:

If medical professionals find it challenging to differentiate between panic attacks and anaphylaxis, how are peanut allergic people with no medical training supposed to know the difference?

I was going to find that answer through this experiment if it was the last thing I ever did! I have a deep faith in science, an unquestioning belief that the peer reviewed research on this subject was right on. I knew from the very core of my being, that science was correct.

And science tells us that eating and crunching peanuts next to a peanut allergic person will not cause an anaphylactic reaction.

My hypothesis: people with peanut allergies who believe that they are experiencing anaphylactic shock with only a couple symptoms including 'throat feelings of closing up' are actually experiencing panic attacks.

My hypothesis (II): people who say that they will go into anaphylactic shock just by being in the same room as someone eating peanuts are most likely reacting out of fear due to panic attacks, not actual anaphylaxis.  

My hypothesis (III) Science is true. I am right.

I would like to mention that on the Wikipedia article about anaphylactic shock, there are only three things specified in the “management” section: Epinephrine, Adjuncts (corticosteriods and antihistamines), and Preparedness.

At no point in Wikipedia does it have any mention of “allergen free zones” in the management part of the anaphylactic shock article. This is important. Why would mainstream science not recommend the drastic peanut free zones that some allergy bloggers insist on? Why would Wikipedia overlook episodes of anaphylaxis if this fatal food allergy was actually airborne?

Answer and Prediction: Wikipedia does not mention them because peanut allergy is not airborne! Unless you are in a tiny pressurized cabin in an airplane and someone opens a dusty bag of peanuts, being in the same small room with someone eating peanuts will not cause anaphylaxis. It may make a peanut allergy person itch like Hell if hugs are given.  Peanut allergic fear mongers are overreacting to peanuts in the environment are actually having panic attacks.

Test and Observations: Situation 1:

I was at this art gathering a few weeks back and people were eating and crunching peanuts in the same room as me. I shook someone's hand, they'd been eating peanuts, I washed my hands, and then I wore gloves, I was safe.  Didn't eat any of the food and avoided the 3 snack tables. The hungry people ate their peanuts and I made some art.  I am not a very good artist, so the art was probably terrible.  But I had no reaction and I was fine.

I had to keep reminding myself, “I am safe, science is correct” over and over. Because being around peanuts when you are as deadly allergic as I am is downright terrifying.

My body is always aware of peanuts in the environment before my conscious mind is. My body knows. If someone has eaten peanuts in the room within a week, I know. My body feels a certain way, and I become alarmed. When traces of the smell or protein are picked up by even one of my 6 trillion cells my body goes into fight or flight and tells me, “DEADLY ALLERGY!! GET OUT OF HERE NOW!”

I have found that I can consciously override my fight or flight mechanism using mindfulness, logic, and reason.

I am a human being, not a primitive reptile fighting or fleeing from danger!

I don't want to live life with my reptile brain and allow my amygdala (fear center) running the show!

I choose to embrace my humanity and live consciously, which means that I acknowledge, but do not succumb to The Fear.

Test Situation 2: Lunch of Terror.

The set up: I was hungry and decided to go out to The Than Brothers restaurant for a big bowl of pho, a type of Vietnamese noodle soup. Normally Vietnamese restaurants use tons of peanuts. The Than Brothers is one of the few that do not have any menu items containing peanuts. I'd eaten here 3 times before with no allergic reactions.

But there is always the possibility that a cook could have been eating peanuts as a snack and then chopped vegetables. I have noticed that Vietnamese people like to snack on peanuts a lot. People in general like to snack on peanuts, but I had a close call recently at a nail salon. While my pedicure was drying the Vietnamese lady left the room and when she returned she was crunching something. She went to put lotion on my leg, and as soon as she touched me, I literally jumped out of my chair (didn't ruin my pedicure) and said, “Nooooooo!!!!!” She had been eating peanuts. She had peanut crumbs on her hands. Rinsed the itchy places on my leg where she had touched, took a benadryl and I was fine. I did not experience anaphylaxis and I actually had direct skin contact with the protein. I am a very lucky human being. But seriously, peanuts are a popular snack food with a lot of people.

Observations and Data: I walked in to the restaurant, sat down, and ordered my food. I told the waiter about my peanut allergy. He said the kitchen has no peanuts. I told him that it was a deadly allergy. He did not seem too concerned. Usually at this point, I ask to talk to the cook, manager, and explain the cross contamination danger. Today I didn't. That part was stupid of me. I should have done this. If I had done this, my experiment would have been less effective.

I purposely did not take all the normal precautions in order to mindfully collect data and observe the thoughts of my mind and sensations of my body in a potentially deadly situation. I have a meditation practice. I know what to do when anaphylaxis occurs. Do not try this at home. I wanted to see how alike panic and anaphylactic shock actually were.

I am an idiot.  In this experiment I went against what doctors advise their patients to do if they suspect a reaction.  If a person thinks they are having a severe allergic reaction they are supposed to use the epipen right away. 

The medical guidelines for anaphylaxis are immediate administration of the epipen if a person experiences hives and feelings of their throat closing up.  If my doctor reads this I will get a real talking to.  In this experiment I would cautiously suspend my freak out and subsequent epipen administration until my body displayed undeniable objective proof of an anaphylactic allergic reaction.  

Sensations I experienced would be just that, sensations.  I would let them happen and write down my experiences without judgement.   I would not label the sensations as 'anaphylaxis' until I had objective proof.  I would consider a physical blockage in my throat/mouth/palate, vomiting, cramps/diarreah, hives all over the body, and asthma/stridor (wheezing) undeniable proof and use the epipen.  My body would need to convince my mind with objective physical symptoms, not my mind getting all freaked out, catastrophizing and using the epipen.

The vegetable pho arrived and I started eating. I was really present when I first started eating. The food tasted great I noticed all the complex flavors in the broth. Reality was very real. I looked at the sunny day outside, I looked at the fishtank. Not a thought in my head. Pure presence. The danger created a heightened sense of the present moment.

Worry and panic started to attack when I noticed my throat felt funny and scratchy. Panic in my body started to rise. Then the panic subsided. I developed a hive on my lower lip. I looked at my lip in the mirror. I got a little concerned. Probably just from the salt and spice. My concern subsided.

I had a mucous cough. I felt slight alarm. The alarm subsides. I felt itchy on my face and scalp. I got worried. I remembered that I am always itchy. Worry subsided. My throat did feel funny! Was it closing up? My last episode of real anaphylaxis where my throat did close up had a very specific feeling like I had something lodged in it. I drank some cool water. Water went down fine. No blockages there! This was all in my mind!

At any of these points, I could have overreacted, assumed anaphylactic shock was going on, used my epipen and gone to the ER. The ER would have observed me for 6-12 hours and validated my panic as anaphylactic shock.

At any point had the hive multiplied into more hives, if my asthma started worsening, if my stomach started cramping, if there was a physically present blockage in my throat when swallowing water, I would have shot myself up with the epipen and called 911. I stayed present to the sensations of my body and I refused to let my fear assume control.

Conclusion:

Anaphylactic shock is a totally stupid overreaction that my body does.

My physical body is out of my control.

What I do have control over, is my mind.

I have a conscious choice whether or not I am going to overreact on the minor sensations that feel very similar to anaphylaxis.

People with severe peanut allergies like me who insist that they will go into anaphylactic shock from someone eating and crunching peanuts next to them seem to me to be irrationally overreacting. In my opinion, this is not true anaphylaxis, it is a psychological problem, a panic attack. As a peanut allergic person, I need to trust the good scientific research that tells us me that I am going to be fine. I  need to feel the uncomfortable sensations when I am in close proximity to peanuts and consciously choose to be present, mindful, and not feed into my fight or flight response.

It's probably a good idea to get away from the peanuts.  It's a horrible thing to be around, and if people are eating peanuts, they are probably touching things, and I don't want to touch those things.   Imagine the worst thing you've ever smelled.  Then imagine that smell smelling 'itchy,' 'hot,' and 'nutty-pungent.'  To me, peanuts smell worse than death.  It's maccabre.  

So please understand if I ask you politely to refrain from crunching on peanuts when I am around.  I can't function as a human very well around lethal danger.   I'm not trying to control people, I'm just asking you to be a little considerate.  It's impossible to be a happy healthy person when I am smelling that awful smell.

Just because my body overreacts to peanuts in close proximity doesn't mean my mind has to.

Living with peanut allergy, I've become very familiar with the exact signs of anaphylactic shock, and I refuse to let fear hijack my brain into believing I am in danger when I am not.  And if anyone believes that they are having an anaphylactic reaction, use the epipen.  It won't cause any harm if you are not having an acutal reaction.  

Ultimately, I can't control other people. And normal people get hungry and eat peanuts. I can only control myself.


Disclaimer:

I am a writer and science enthusiast for God's sakes. This content of this website is my personal opinion and experiences. Do not try this at home. This is not to be taken as advice.   Discuss all peanut allergy concerns with a board certified allergist.  This is not to be taken as medical advice.  Use the comment section of this blog if you disagree with me.  Have I missed peer reviewed scientific research on peanut allergy?   I love reading scientific papers!  I would like to know, so email, comment, tell me.  I love feedback.

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 "I am attempting to victimize the PeanutSurvival  and/or demosure.blogspot.com website and its sponsor because I am a human who can't make their way through life other than larcenous litigation."

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I am not offering you medical advice. Sure peanut allergic people face the threat of imminent death everyday.  This site writes about it. If you wanna read about it, that's dandy.  If you don't, well that's your business.  If you want to play in the middle of the freeway, that's your business, too.

This site is about what I am doing about my peanut allergy and I share my views and opinions along the way.  You're welcome to enjoy the site, but reading it means you agree not to sue me.  If you have a different opinion, comment on this blog, email me, write your own blog, it's cool, we're different people, and this is a free country.

You know what is sick?  There is a whole world of lawyers out there want will support you in whatever you do - no matter how stupid.  Take this disclaimer.  It comes right out and says
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TALK TO A BOARD CERTIFIED ALLERGIST ABOUT ANY IDEAS AND OPINIONS THAT ARE ON THIS WEBSITE BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING RISKY, like eating.

And,very important: I love you.  I love you so very, very much.  I think you are a transcendental being of light.  I want you to live.  Because you are important and you matter.  You are more precious than a wish fulfilling jewel.  I know, deep down inside, that you want to live just as much as I do.  Thank you for reading my blog.  Please subscribe.  My writing will only get better, and I promise I am trying to be less of a grouch.

And last but not least,

Be careful out there.

13 comments:

  1. Denise,

    I want to personally thank you for writing this article. I have been trying to find a correlation between panic and anaphylaxis for some time now, and only seem to find complex reports on the matter. It is nice to finally find someone who explains the feeling so well and in such a poised manner. I am 21 years old, and have been anaphylactic to both peanuts and shellfish for as long as I can remember (apparently I reacted to both around the age of 2). I have dealt with the allergies my entire life, never once having to use my epi pen. However I have been in college and away from my family for about 3 years now, and I've never felt so anxious in my entire life. I'm a very outgoing and social person, so homesickness has never been a problem for me. But psychologically, there's something about being on my own and having to monitor what I eat every day without the help of my mom or dad to "protect" me. I am hoping to seek guidance from a professional soon, because it has gotten to the point where every time I go out to eat with friends or eat on campus, I have a panic attack that I am going into anaphylactic shock. I think part of the fear is my constant mentality that "it hasn't happened yet, so its bound to happen soon." Your article really helped me understand how easily I have let panic overcome my life, and I thank you for giving me the confidence to take a deep breath, relax, and trust the science that I will be alright.

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  2. Hi Brannon,

    Thank you so much for reading my blog. I am really happy that it helped you. Living with this deadly food allergy, I find that it is really easy for my mind to go into horror story writing, catastrophic scenario mode whenever I am around people and food. The cool thing is that I can observe my thoughts and sensations, and not buy into the epic anaphylactic disaster that my mind is freaking out about. I don't have to believe everything I think!

    I can really relate to your experience of having panic attacks. I used to get them all the time. They are terrible. And paralyzing.

    Yes! You don't have to let panic and fear control your life!

    Again, thank you so much for reading, and if there is anything that I could help with, you can always send me a direct message at demosure@gmail.com

    Be careful out there,

    ~Denise

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  4. Superb piece of work!!! Thanks for your quality work as it is really inspirational and though provoking too. From your article it is evident that people who are Dealing with Anxiety should consider proper treatment. Thanks and best of luck!!!

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  6. Hi Denise,

    Thanks so much for writing this blog. I'm a social anthropologist and have just started doing research on peoples' experiences of food allergies in the US, UK and Japan. This is also a topic close to my heart as I've been allergic to nuts and fish since I was a kid and have also been wondering recently about whether reactions are sometimes fear-induced panic attacks or actually 'real' symptoms.

    Thank you for posting about your experiences and experiments!
    Emma

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    1. Hi Emma,

      Thanks for reading my blog. I am glad you found it helpful. Good luck. And be careful out there.

      Delete
  7. Thank you so much for writing this. I have done similar experiments as I have only recently become deathly allergic to peanuts, but have always been allergic to soya. I had always believed that the smell of the food did not cause true anaphylaxis. However, it is possible to panic to death and there have been times it was close. I have also heard stories where parently panic so much over yheir children that the children panic themselves and go into shock and possibly die due to shock.

    I have made my own experiments with this allergy in the past in a controlled manner...near a hospital and with an epipen. The smell of peanuts causes swelling it feels like maybe half swelled up but I can still breathe. After 15 minutes without the smell the problem disappears. I have wondered if mild swelling might be possible just in preparation for immune system to combat this rediculously deadly pathogen.

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  8. When I read this story I was reminded of my long struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

    The first time it happened, I was a young teacher having a friendly meeting with the principal when all of a sudden I felt a strange flutter of nervous energy that went all through my body and became so intense that I could hardly breathe.

    I thought I was having a heart attack. a co-worker rushed me to the doctor, who gave me a prescription and told me to go get some rest.

    For many years after that, I suffered through more and more panic attacks. It got to the point where I never felt secure or at ease anymore. In fact, I felt that any day I would end up in a mental hospital.

    When I sought help from doctors, they gave me the same knee-jerk reaction many of you with anxiety or panic attacks may be familiar with: a hasty prescription for a botle of pills. Unfortunately, those drugs did nothing about the root cause of my anxiety and actually made my condition worse much of the time.

    I knew that there had to be another way. I searched long and hard and finally came across some simple natural remedies that finally made my horrifying panic attacks disappear for good...to the amazement of my doctor.

    In fact, you might want to check out this article, it really helped me a lot:

    http://www.journalofnaturalhealth.com/panicattacks

    Hope it helps anyone reading this!

    Name: Don Lewis
    Email: donlewis1a@mail.com
    URL: http://www.journalofnaturalhealth.com/panicattacks

    ReplyDelete
  9. I want to thank you for writing this - and for doing this experiment on yourself. I have conditioned myself to fear peanuts, and you have motivated me to try to undo this once and for all.

    A few years ago, I kept having a situation after lunch where I would be STRUGGLING to breathe. I immediately blamed the problem on what I was eating for breakfast every day - peanut butter on toast - and lunch - a Lara bar (lots of walnuts in there). I knew these were big time allergens and thought that I had eaten them too often and my body just can't handle them anymore.

    What was really happening was acidosis. I have a condition where my body can't release enough aldosterone to balance my sodium and potassium levels. I didn't know this at the time. So for the last 4 or 5 years, I have been convinced that I am allergic to walnuts and/or peanuts, and I have avoided them.

    Once I realized that the reaction was acidosis from the large amount of potassium in the Lara bar I had just ingested, I realized I wasn't allergic to peanuts. But every time I tried to eat something with peanuts or peanut butter in it, I would end up having a panic attack. And it was really hard to tell whether I was just panicking, or if I was having anaphylaxis. I would take a bunch of steroids or Benadryl and would eventually calm down.

    I know I'm not allergic to peanuts. I am determined to recondition my brain so that I no longer fear eating them. You have given me hope that I can work through a panic attack by controlling my mind. Thank you!!

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  10. I want to thank you for writing this - and for doing this experiment on yourself. I have conditioned myself to fear peanuts, and you have motivated me to try to undo this once and for all.

    A few years ago, I kept having a situation after lunch where I would be STRUGGLING to breathe. I immediately blamed the problem on what I was eating for breakfast every day - peanut butter on toast - and lunch - a Lara bar (lots of walnuts in there). I knew these were big time allergens and thought that I had eaten them too often and my body just can't handle them anymore.

    What was really happening was acidosis. I have a condition where my body can't release enough aldosterone to balance my sodium and potassium levels. I didn't know this at the time. So for the last 4 or 5 years, I have been convinced that I am allergic to walnuts and/or peanuts, and I have avoided them.

    Once I realized that the reaction was acidosis from the large amount of potassium in the Lara bar I had just ingested, I realized I wasn't allergic to peanuts. But every time I tried to eat something with peanuts or peanut butter in it, I would end up having a panic attack. And it was really hard to tell whether I was just panicking, or if I was having anaphylaxis. I would take a bunch of steroids or Benadryl and would eventually calm down.

    I know I'm not allergic to peanuts. I am determined to recondition my brain so that I no longer fear eating them. You have given me hope that I can work through a panic attack by controlling my mind. Thank you!!

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  11. It is quite common for those suffering from an anxiety to feel as if they are losing control in one fashion or another.
    it is important to seek medical assistance as there are many anxiety attack treatments available today.
    For more information: anxiety attack symptoms

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete