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What Does it Feels Like to Live with Food Allergies? October 18, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — malawer @ 5:30 pm

If you don’t have food allergies, it’s hard to fully understand what it’s truly like to live with them.  Even as the parent of a food allergic child, I sometimes forget how hard it is to face this life threatening and socially stigmatizing disease every day.


On Monday morning, all it took was french toast to remind me.


My husband had gotten all the kids dressed and ready and ushered them to our favorite breakfast spot in town.  By the time I met them, everyone had ordered and was eagerly awaiting their meal.  My oldest son – who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and dairy – departed from his usual breakfast and ordered french toast.  He loves french toast – especially the kind with cinnamon sprinkled into the batter.  We almost always have to custom order this: first looking to see if the bread is safe, double checking that there is no milk in the egg batter, then asking the kitchen not to use butter in the pan (or to use non-dairy margarine).


Although they are both very good at ensuring a safe meal, I couldn’t help but ask my husband and son if all of the proper questions were asked when his meal arrived.  Because my son had ordered french toast all summer – at a similar, but different, restaurant – they had totally forgotten.


No problem!  My son held his fork as I flagged down the waitress.  “Can you grab the ingredient list of the bread in this french toast? My son had multiple food allergies.”  Unfortunately – as in many restaurants – there was no ingredient list.  The bread had come from a supplier and the ingredients were not listed on the packaging.  Even if everything else was safe, this meant the meal was a no-go.  The possibility of dairy or sesame, in particular, made this entire meal a risk not worth taking.


The reaction was immediate.  My son, a mature 11 year old, slumped into the corner of the booth and looked at the wall sullenly.  Disappointed isn’t a word that covered it.  Defeated.  Gently and with a lot of love, I repeated to him that he is my most precious gift and there was no way I would take a risk just for, in this case, french toast.  I offered every alternative on the menu.  I told him I’d head home that moment and make a big batch of my world famous french toast.  He remained ashen and silent and just shook his head no.  And, though I tried to give him space, I watched heartbroken as a tear rolled down his cheek.


Sometimes, it just takes a small thing, like french toast, to bring all those buried feelings of rejection, disappointment, and injustice to the surface.  It’s HARD having food allergies.  It’s hard not having the freedom to choose what you’d like.  It’s hard to watch others jump in excitement over a class treat/birthday cake/ice cream truck you cannot have.  It’s extremely hard to live both yearning for the ability to eat anything you want and fearing what will happen if you accidentally took one wrong bite.  It’s hard enough being a kid – nonetheless one who must have the composure and control to keep him or herself safe all the time.


In a moment of real clarity months ago, my son articulated what it’s like to have food allergies.  “It feels like you’re in detention for something you didn’t do.  Like you need to stay home doing homework while you miss the class trip to the water park.”  Having food allergies, can sometimes, feel like you’re being punished for no reason.


But surprisingly, having food allergies is not all rain showers.  On more than one occasion, my son has pointed out that he is who he is because of his food allergies.  They have made him resilient and patient.  They have taught him to be empowered and bold.  They have highlighted our family’s support for him and made him grateful for good friends and the extraordinary lengths they go to include him.  And, at times, food allergies have even made him feel special.


So, what does it feel like to have food allergies?   It appears to be different day to day.  As a parent, it may be impossible to protect our children from experiencing all the emotions that go along with growing up with a food allergy.  But as long as we maintain an open line of communication, provide a safe environment for our kids to express their thoughts and emotions, and continue to try t0 empathize, we can help make sense of whatever they’re feeling and keep them on the path towards growing into confident, healthy adults.




New and Safe for Your Lunchbox! Enjoy Life Mini Cookies October 8, 2016

 This is a sponsored post.

We have a hard time finding safe baked goods.  Between actual ingredients used in the items and processing issues (may contain, made on equipment with…), it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack trying to buy something off the shelf for a family managing multiple food allergies.

I often find myself baking late into the night so that my son has fun and delicious treats to eat after school or to share with a playmate. But, homemade products aren’t always a practical option and worse, they don’t last that long.

I know most of you can relate.  Well, problem solved!  Enjoy Life, who produce food always free from an amazing number of allergens, just released a line of Mini Cookies.


The Mini Cookies line include: Soft Baked and Crunchy Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Brownie, Crunchy Double Chocolate, Crunchy Vanilla Honey Graham, Snickerdoodle, and Sugar Crisp.  They are Kosher, Halal, are non-GMO and use no artificial ingredients!  They’re better than homemade!





The Soft Baked Snickerdoodle cookies were perfect for toting along to my daughter’s playground play date.  They kept fresh in their pouches, despite the muggy weather and the kids DEVOURED them.  The parents were able to get in on the action and loved this flavor.  Bonus:  safe for every kid there despite varying food sensitivities!


Enjoy Life’s Mini Cookies are a lifesaver in the  morning.  I can’t tell you how happy my tired brain was when I remembered to throw in this surprise snack into my son’s lunch!  He was thrilled!

These Crunchy Sugar Crisps were an easy snack to supply for the whole flag football team. No matter the allergy or sensitivity, everyone (including siblings) could enjoy a pouch of these crispy, crunchy and satisfying cookies.

Go out and give them a shot.  I think, like me, you’ll be hooked.  The Crunchy Double Chocolate flavor is already on my grocery list for this week!


Motivations: Dr. Douglas McMahon, Doctor, Inventor and Entrepreneur October 4, 2016

Filed under: Preparedness — malawer @ 7:30 pm

Dr. Doug McMahon is more than your average allergist.  His out of the box thinking led him to create an affordable epinephrine auto-injector whose practical design could save lives. His device, named AllergyStop, is a palm-sized auto-injector – small enough to attach to a key chain.  Read about his journey below: what led him into allergy and immunology; the inspiration for his invention; and how you can follow the process of getting AllergyStop to market.



1.  What led you to become an allergist?  Did you feel a connection to the field?

When I was very young I had food allergies, environmental allergies and asthma.  I was under the care of various doctors who said that  I should be home schooled, shouldn’t play sports or go to friends houses.  My mother knew that there were many other kids in my situation living a normal life so we found a specialist to work with and I lived a ‘normal life’.  This impact made me want to become a doctor and an Allergy specialist in particular.

2.  Have you experienced an allergic reaction yourself?  Anaphylaxis?
Yes, I have had a few significant reactions.  Thankfully no anaphylaxis in the last 25 years.  Most of the severe anaphylactic reactions were when I was very young and they didn’t know yet I was allergic to tree nuts.
3.  What led you to develop AllergyStop?  Describe your “Aha!” moment.
When I was in high school and realized I needed to start carrying this bulky device everywhere. I took apart my EpiPen and realized it didn’t need to be so big.  I started playing around with parts over the years and when I became a doctor I realized the small amount of epinephrine needed.  I was busy in medical school but still toyed around with it.  In residency, I learned how inexpensive the medicine and parts were so I started building prototypes.  AllergyStop is the best one I developed that is efficient, compact and inexpensive.  We will be working on other improvements on the device through the years.
4.  How does AllergyStop differ from current epinephrine auto-injectors?
It is more compact and you can have an adjustable needle as some patients are too big for the EpiPen needle length and it does not go intramuscular as intended.  Some are too thin and it goes into the bone.  AllergyStop has resolved this issue.
5.  Where does the product stand now?
We have a functional prototype that I currently carry on my keychain.  We have a patent pending and are finalizing the patent.  We are contracting with manufacturers that will make the device and fill with epinephrine and have a few bids in right now.  Once secure we have an outline of the regulation tests required by the FDA and then we will submit to the FDA ‘fast track’ via 505 b2.
6.  What hurdles remain to overcome?  How can those interested stay informed on its progress?
Hurdles include the money for the testing that is estimated at upwards of $3 million.  The problem is that venture capitalists are interested but they often expect a large return on their money and would want AllergyStop’s price to increase.  We want to keep the cost affordable for patients.
7.  How has your experience both having food allergies and developing AllergyStop changed/enhanced your relationship with your patients?
I can relate well to my patients that have had reactions and have the burdens of watching what they eat.  I think it makes the patients more appreciative and comfortable.  It’s actually tough to see some of them wanting my device now and yet the FDA advises against giving it out without all of the regulatory steps.  Hopefully soon.


If you want to help support the process of getting AllergyStop to market, please visit AllergyStop’s IndieGoGo page.



On the Radio – Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish September 27, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — malawer @ 10:23 am

Image result for CBS radio logo


This summer, I visited our local fire department to learn more about how epinephrine is carried on ambulances [see Does Your Ambulance Carry Epinephrine?].


I discussed my findings – and surprise – with Megan Lynch, fellow food allergy parent and reporter for CBS Radio.  Megan created a series about food allergies with topics ranging from an introduction to and insights into the realities of living with food allergies to issues of concern to the food allergy community such as bullying and emergency care.



Megan and I discussed many things related to food allergies, but one subject that we circled back to was emergency response.  I shared with her what I had learned in my research and at the fire department.  In short: not every ambulance carries epinephrine and not all emergency medical personnel are authorized to use it even when it is present.  More than one medical professional I spoke with mentioned an unfortunate irony.  Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of heroin (and other opioid) overdose, is widely available (without a prescription in several states) and yet epinephrine is not universally available even to ambulances and EMTs to save the life of someone suffering anaphylaxis who may have accidentally eaten a trace amount of peanuts or milk, taken the wrong medication or been stung by a bee.


Narcan (by PunchingJudy via Flickr)


We spoke at length about the rising cost of EpiPens and the effect that has had on low-income families  [Read: The High Costs of High Prices: EpiPen’s Real Cost to Families].  Megan asked me what advise I had for lawmakers and for parents.

  1.  More transparency is needed so the public can understand why epinephrine isn’t available on all ambulances and to discuss how it could be; and more communication is needed to inform us where it is and isn’t so people can have appropriate expectations.
  2. Consider making epinephrine available to all emergency personnel and training them on its use.  (*Kudos to Illinois who joined several other states in allowing public venues to keep stock epinephrine (just as they do defibrillators) and for allowing the police to carry epinephrine.)
  3. I reminded parents to familiarize or RE-familiarize themselves with how to use their epinephrine auto-injectors and when to use them.  Train everyone who cares for your children as well: babysitters, family members, after school program managers… If you have a pre-teen or teenager, now is a great time to train their close friends on the signs of a severe allergic reaction and prep them on how to respond.
  4. Finally, carry your epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.  Even when it’s inconvenient.  This is especially important to underscore to teenagers and college age students.  In a life-threatening situation, every minute counts.  Having epinephrine on hand is critical during anaphylaxis.


Check out Megan’s five part series about food allergies – it’s sure to be both interesting and informative.  Be sure to listen all five episodes, airing this week both on the radio and on the internet.


Listen on the radio (locally in the St. Louis area): KMOX NewsRadio 1120


Online at CBS Radio St. Louis

Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish – Part 1

Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish – Part 2

Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish – Part 3

Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish – Part 4

Food Allergies: The Deadly Dish – Part 5


I’ll keep updating the list as they air segments.  Check in everyday this week to catch more of Megan’s excellent and thorough coverage.



No Bake, Almost Everything-free Granola Bars  September 20, 2016

Filed under: Recipes & Cooking — malawer @ 11:43 am

It’s only the third week of school and I’m not going to lie: packing school lunches are weighing me down.  Each day I struggle with not just what to pack each day but how to streamline the process so I can get the kids out the door on time.  After I make five meals inside 40 minutes (not to mention rounding up shoes and homework and instruments and sports equipment…), there isn’t time to think about baking safe snacks.  I’m exhausted just writing about it…


Food allergic families cannot often rely on convenient, pre-packaged foods like breakfast bars and snack bags due to unsafe ingredients or cross-contamination.  Here’s an easy no bake recipe for peanut-free, tree nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and optionally gluten-free granola bars that you can make ahead of time and freeze for your child’s lunch box or a quick after school snack.  These granola bars are the perfect combination of salty and sweet; I dare you not to eat one once the kids jump on the bus!


No-Bake, Almost Everything-Free Chocolate Chunk Pretzel Granola Bars (Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan and optionally Gluten-Free)



Granola bars are traditionally hard to find without dairy or cross-contamination with nuts. And, gluten-free varieties are costly. These no-bake granola bars are as easy to make as they are to consume! Once made, you can wrap and freeze the bars so that they’re ready to pop into a lunchbox in the morning or into a hungry mouth in the afternoon.



¼ cup honey

¼ cup dairy-free butter

¼ cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp Sunbutter or other safe peanut butter substitute

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 cups regular or gluten free quick oats

1 cup Rice Krispie cereal or Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice cereal (a gluten-free alternative)

1 cup pretzel or gluten free pretzel pieces

1 cup dairy free chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life Chocolate Chunks)



Place parchment paper in 9×13” baking pan.


In large bowl, combine oats, cereal, pretzel pieces and chocolate chips. Set aside.


Over low heat, melt honey and butter together. Remove from heat and whisk in brown sugar, Sunbutter and vanilla extract. Pour over dry mixture. Fold repeatedly to thoroughly coat dry mixture.


Pour contents of bowl into baking pan. Press down firmly and evenly to distribute the mixture. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour before cutting into squares or rectangles (like supermarket bought granola bars).


Wrap unused bars in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for best quality.




Always Allergy-Friendly Philly Swirl September 1, 2016

Filed under: Grocery and Supermarkets — malawer @ 12:00 pm

This is a sponsored post.


Summer’s not over yet!  I, for one, am riding out my free-wheeling, fun-loving summer mentality well into September.

Which is why we said “yes” to trying new PhillySwirl products that are always allergy-friendly and easy to share.


First, we shared PhillySwirl’s Lemonade Swirls with my kids and their playdates.  I’m a sucker for lemonade flavors.  My particular favorite was the Pomegranate pop, which offset the tartness of the lemonade with the gentle sweetness of pomegranate.  There are a few clever pairings, like Blueberry and Watermelon Lemonade pops.  But if you’re a classic combo person, you’ll be happy to know these come in Classic Lemonade, Strawberry and Lime.

Next, we handed out PhillySwirl’s Icee Mix It Up pops at our barbeque.  My daughter loved the Green Apple & Watermelon both for the flavor combination and the colors (she’s going through a pink thing!).  The Strawberry & Kiwi got rave reviews.  And the Red & White Cherry and Blue Raspberry & White Cherry flavors would have been perfect for our 4th of July party!

Finally, we sampled the Organic Jungle Swirls.  The interesting flavor combinations got my children’s attention.  But the organic and always allergy-free ingredients got mine!  These would be great for a post-game or a back-to-school classroom snack.  My son even wants me to bring these into school for his birthday treat – what a great, easy idea!

Gluten-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, and containing no high fructose corn syrup, it’s easy to say yes to PhillySwirl.





BEST Gluten-Free (and Optionally Egg-Free) Chocolate Chip Cookies from Cole’s Moveable Feast August 31, 2016

Filed under: Recipes & Cooking — malawer @ 11:45 am

Lucky us, Nicole Seevers of Cole’s Moveable Feast didn’t just answer my questions… she also shared her BEST Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe (which contains instructions for an egg substitute)!  Now’s a great time to make a batch to pop into lunch boxes… or mouths.

Nicole, taste buds everywhere are thanking you!

BEST Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine, room temperature (my favorites are Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Sticks or Fleischmann’s Margarine)

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute for cookies (below)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend (King Arthur Gluten Free Multipurpose Flour is my favorite off-the-shelf blend)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Enjoy Life Mega Chunks are my favorite)



  1. In a stand mixer, cream together butter/margarine and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs (or substitute) and vanilla and beat until just combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine gluten free flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat on low until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  3. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.
  4. When ready to bake, heat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Scoop dough out in tight rounded mounds (I like to use an ice cream scoop) and place about 3 inches apart on baking sheets. (You will need to do multiple batches ~ refrigerate dough between batches). Do not flatten the dough.  Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer with a spatula to cooling racks to cool completely.
  7. For EACH egg, combine 2T unsweetened applesauce, 1t ground flaxseed meal and 1/2t baking soda. Allow to stand a few minutes before using in cookie recipe.