Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hypoallergenic Peanuts are a Terrible Idea

I've been seeing many articles on the web recently about how researchers are developing a hypoallergenic peanut.  This company called Xemerge is hoping to commercialize an enzyme treatment that will reduce two key peanut allergens by up to 98 percent.  Here is the link to the article that I recently read:

I think hypoallergenic peanuts could be beneficial to people who are undergoing immunotherapy under a doctor's supervison to reduce or eliminate their peanut allergy.  But the suggested uses go even further; the article goes on to say “Treated peanuts can be used as whole peanuts, in pieces or as flour to make foods containing peanuts safer for many people who are allergic,” Dr. Yu said."  Are you kidding me?  For people with severe peanut allergies, NO FOOD CONTAINING PEANUTS IS SAFE.  

I think it's great that science has figured out a way to reduce two known peanut allergens.  I would never eat this 'hypoallergenic' peanut: to me eating this thing would be like putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger with a 2% chance I could die.  So not worth it.  I am extraordinarily sensitive to peanuts: in 2011 an accidentally ingested speck of peanut dust put me in the ER overnight and the ICU for a day.  

And even if most peanuts were treated to make them hypoallergenic, and I was able to eat them in small amounts, this would make me dangerously comfortable and complacent.  Hypoallergenic peanuts could make me lazy about being vigilant, and reading labels.  Until that one day that I eat something containing peanuts that weren't hypoallergenic.  I could die or get really sick.  

Hypoallergenic peanuts provide a false sense of safety.  People with severe peanut allergies need to be hyper-vigilant and mindful about everything they eat.  Being conscientious and creating a routine to avoid deadly anaphylactic food allergies is a good thing: it keeps me alive.  Hypoallergenic peanuts are not the answer.  

Hypoallergenic peanuts won't be safe for me until every peanut on earth is hypoallergenic.  And realistically that's not going to happen.

The truth is, I don't want to eat highly processed 'reduced-allergen' peanut products.

I want science to cure peanut allergies.  

I want to be free.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Peanut Allergy Blog Survival Shopping Tips

Peanut Allergy Blog Survival Shopping Tips

This evening, I went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I am one of those peanut allergic people who does not happen to have a severe tree nut allergy.  Sometimes, when I go shopping I buy raw walnuts and cashews for when I feel I need protein.  And when I buy these nuts, I am completely unable to buy them from the bulk food section.  

Buying tree nuts in bulk, when you have a deadly peanut allergy can kill a peanut allergic person, due to cross contamination with peanuts.  It can also be messy and really uncomfortable.  Once, I ate Macadamia nuts I purchased in bulk from Central Co-Op, and about a half hour later, I broke out in severe eczema and was itchy for a week.  My skin looked like it was burned, and rashy itchy patches wept clear fluid.  It felt like I was covered in mosquito bites.  Whatever hell that I went through that week, it could have been worse, I could have died of anaphylaxis due to cross contamination.  So I never, ever, eat any tree nuts from the bulk food section.  

Unfortunately, because of this I have to endure paying more money for packaged nuts with labels on them saying if they were made in a peanut facility or not.  Most of the time, I make this choice when I shop, because I prefer to eat a sustainable, eco-friendly, plant-based vegetarian diet when I cook for myself at home.  And meat is awkward for me to cook, and I don’t really know how and don’t want to learn, because I cuddled with a chicken named Opal recently, and she was so sweet, and organic chicken was pretty much the only meat I taught myself how to cook and eat, so now I won’t eat chicken anymore, because it makes me feel sad to eat my gentle animal friends, so I don’t.  

I realize the previous paragraph was probably the most flakiest, hippy-dippy prose I have ever written.  But that is okay.  

I get big packages of tree nuts from Trader Joe’s.  Their nuts clearly state if they were made in a peanut facility or not(ornah).  I buy Trader Joes’s nuts and snack crackers for all of my protein-carb munchie needs.  But my anti-peanut allergy regimen does not stop when I purchase the food at the check out.  I learned that lesson the hard way.  The almost-died way.  I have to take additional steps to make the packaged food safe for my consumption because of a deadly mistake I made in 2011.

On August 16th, 2011 I purchased two cans of Blue Diamond Almonds from Albertsons on 130th & Highway 99 in Seattle, on my lunch break from work.  After work, I cracked open a can of almonds and started snacking on them with my bare fingers while I driving to my mother’s house in Kirkland, Washington.  I ate them happily, voraciously, and confidently: Blue Diamond Almonds are made in a peanut free facility.  The drive was about 20 minutes.  I arrived at my mother’s house and was talking and socializing with her.

Then my brother joined us and we continued talking.  I started to feel itchy.  I went into the bathroom, and there was a hive on my neck.  I told my family I thought I was having an allergic reaction.  My family told me I was crazy and freaking out over nothing.  My mom and my brother told me to chill out because I was obviously having a panic attack.

I went in the bathroom again, and I started itching my stomach.  The moderate itching resulted in a inordinate amount of blood at the surface of the skin: which I didn’t realize at the time, but I do now: increased capillary permeability was a sure sign of anaphylaxis.  I left the bathroom, my single lone neck hive had multiplied into hundreds more hives on my torso, neck, and arms.  My throat started to close up.  I told them to call 911, which they did, but my brother remained in complete denial.  

“This is not true anaphylaxis,” he reasoned, “this is not a rapidly progressing cascading reaction.  It has been like 15 minutes from when you got that first hive to now.  That does not fit the classical description of anaphylaxis.” I begged for the Epipen, and he refused to give it to me.  My mother was on the phone to 911, at least she believed me.  I actually was not doing this for attention because I was crazy, as they initially seemed to suggest.  I struggled to breathe because my throat was rapidly closing up.  

I was in such shock, I sat down on my mom’s kitchen floor and tried to stay conscious and keep breathing.  Four younger firefighters and paramedics arrived.  They started an I. V. and found it challenging and in the process sprayed my blood all over my mother’s remodeled kitchen shelves and floor.  My poor mom.  She looked on in shock and horror and disbelief.  I begged them for the Epipen.  My brother, an EMT, and in complete denial, explained to them that I was out of my mind and did not need it.  I continued to use all of my willpower and energy to breathe.  My throat continued to close up.  The I. V. was in my arm at that point and a good portion of my poor mother’s kitchen was covered in the blood my veins had sprayed all over.  

My mom’s expression at that time was one of shock and numbness, but it was mostly complete horror.  I will never forget that expression for as long as I live.  I continued to plead with them for an Epipen injection.

The tables on my anaphylactic reaction started to turn when the senior EMT Medic arrived at the scene.  He seemed to have the most field experience with anaphylactic reactions.  He was surprised that the medics had not given me the Epipen yet.  The younger EMT Medic seemed to protest, but he raised his voice and said,

“Nobody ever begs for an Epipen when they do not need it.  Even if they do need it they try to talk themselves out of it.  LOOK AT HER, she is exhibiting all of the signs of a severe allergic reaction: GIVE HER THE EPIPEN NOW!”

The nice lady medic unsheathed the Epipen and rammed it into my right quadricep.  It hurt like hell. The pain made me laugh. It hurt so bad it was ridiculous.  The Epipen is a huge hypodermic needle and it shoots deep into your muscle with the force of a metal spring.  Leaves a bruise that lasts for two weeks.  I am grateful to this pain because it is way better than the other option: death.

And then, as if by magic, breathing got easier.  I was loaded up into the ambulance, where I got a second shot of epinephrine.  At the hospital I received a third.  They also hooked up large doses of intravenous steroids and benadryl, pumped into my bloodstream every hour.  The E. R. kept me overnight for observation, and in the early hours of the morning I was transferred to the ICU of Evergreen Hospital.

I continued to breathe oxygen and receive steroids and Benadryl intravenously for most of the next day.  Around 6 they released me and my mom drove me back to her place, in her car, with my loving dog, Pork Chop, happy to see me alive, and licking my face.  The hospital told me to avoid all tree nuts, as they believed tree nuts were the cause of my anaphylactic reaction.  However, I was not so sure.  I was sure this was not sudden onset tree nut allergies.  It had to have been something else. But what?

I had a close call with death, and a 2 day hospital stay.  Why?  What was the reason?  The employer I worked for at the time was an allergy testing lab, and my subsequent blood plasma showed no new tree nut allergies.  I took that with a grain of salt, but I was still very curious.  I booked an appointment with my allergist at Virginia Mason because I wanted answers.  What happened?  What set off the anaphylactic reaction?

My allergist read my detailed notes of everything that happened that day when I went to see him in September.  He has a ton of experience with peanut allergies.  He received a grant from NIH to study peanut allergies.  He is kind of a genius when it comes to allergies, and what he told me was extremely important to my subsequent survival.   

My allergist agreed that yes, Blue Diamond Almonds were peanut free.  However, in his experience, his patients developed anaphylactic reactions from Environmental ingestion.  He explained to me that anaphylactic reactions were known to have been set off from tiny crumbs.  

He explained that someone who was shopping for groceries hours or days before me had been eating peanuts and had peanut crumbs on their hands and picked up the can of Blue Diamond Almonds, and decided not to purchase it, and put it back on the shelf.  Then I came along and bought the can of almonds.  When I opened the can, my fingers got tiny amounts of peanut protein on them.  I ingested this tiny amount of peanut protein when I snacked on the almonds and went into anaphylactic shock.  

The implications of his insight:  I have to wash every bag of food I eat, eliminating the possibility of anaphylaxis from environmental causes such as peanut crumbs.  This is a pain in the ass, but since I have started washing all food packages I buy, I have not experienced severe anaphylaxis.  

So my peanut allergic (and those who have peanut allergic loved ones) friends, please be vigilant, and take the extra time to wash all of your food packages before you open and dig into them because unseen, tiny amounts of peanut protein on the outside could kill, if they get ingested.  They almost did me.  

As always, thanks for reading.  Subscribe to this blog, because all my writing is helpful and rad, and check out my Youtube Channel,  Also check out my Twitter:  @demosure.  And my Vine, I am “Denise Ure” on Vine.  Thanks everybody, be careful out there and stay vigilant.  Your fellow peanut allergy survivor, Denise Ure