Their life is in their own hands

March 24, 2020

It was only moments after her first bite that Ensley started to feel like she couldn’t breathe. She immediately felt dizzy; her throat started to tighten, hives were breaking out on her arms. She clutched her stomach as it started to cramp.

Teen brains are still in development, which means they are less likely to pause to consider the consequences of their actions. It is easy for them to eat something they are allergic to, especially if they are not cautious 24/7. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education organization, most allergic reactions occur as a result of ingesting foods that were thought to be safe. 

When Kylie Cruz, a sophomore at Pinewood High School, was 12-years-old, her level of responsibility was put to the test when she joined a new basketball team and attended a team sleepover. During breakfast, a teammate pointed out she had consumed nuts.

“Both my mom and I forgot to mention I had a deadly allergy to nuts. The cinnamon buns that were served in the morning looked so good, and even though I’m usually really good about asking, I just wasn’t thinking about it that morning. We had to call 911, and I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance,” Cruz said.

After that life-threatening experience, Cruz’s parents were afraid to let her go on a school trip to Asia. 

“My school had a great opportunity to do volunteer work in Thailand. All my classmates were going, but my parents wouldn’t let me because Thailand uses peanut oil in nearly everything without labeling it, and they felt it was just too risky,” Cruz said.

“Tasha has always been great about communicating her condition, even at three years old. She was forced to be very responsible at a very young age.”

— Kristen Lee

Tasha Lee, a former student of Dana Hills School, has also been forced to be extremely cautious her whole life due to her life-threatening nut allergy. Her mom, Kristen Lee, found out she had a nut allergy when she consumed pesto sauce as a toddler. Lee had to be rushed to the hospital and treated with epinephrine, also known as an EpiPen, and other medications to help ease her symptoms.

Her mom described the challenges people with food allergies have to face regularly.

“Nuts are everywhere,” Kristen Lee said. “People with food allergies have to be very careful with personal products, as well as food. For example, almond oil and other nut oils are often found in skin lotions, shampoos, etc. Even toothpaste! With the popularity of more natural and organic ingredients in things these days, Tasha needs to be careful about these items as well. I just saw sponges in the grocery store that are made from walnut shells.”

As well as everyday occasions, the Lee family also learned that simple luxuries such as traveling poses many risks.

“Many airlines hand out peanuts as a snack or people bring it as a treat, the aroma coming from the peanuts can trigger Tasha’s reaction to nuts in the middle of the sky,” Kristen Lee said.

This means a great deal of extra work and planning to make traveling safe for Tasha. 

Furthermore, sometimes just touching a food allergen can trigger a reaction. In one case reported by the Mayo Clinic, a young woman with a seafood allergy had to be taken to the emergency room after kissing her boyfriend, who had consumed a shrimp less than an hour earlier.

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