Peer Review by A Breath Into Silence (United States)

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Learning to Thrive with Food Allergies

By: Hannah Gaudette - JoyfulWriter

When I was six years old, I experienced anaphylaxis for the first time. And we didn't know what was happening. All we knew was that I was having a harder and harder time breathing.

Food allergies. Simply described as an abnormal or adverse reaction to a specific food. But this serious condition has generated astonishing stigma and myth over the years. While the numbers of those affected continue to rise, so does the amount of misinformation. Though often serious, food allergies can be life-threatening.

After my first anaphylactic reaction, our lives changed significantly. There was no taking chances anymore. And gradually, a greater isolation took hold. A second episode of anaphylaxis occurred several years later due to cross-contamination. After that, my own preparedness became intense anxiety whenever I was confronted by a situation that presented the allergen. I was no longer comfortable entering situations in which the risk could have easily been managed.

A study conducted with Australian teens suggests that adolescents with food allergies are twice as likely to experience mental health problems, including ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. This is hardly surprising when you consider the extreme isolation that is caused by severe allergies.

Raising a food allergic child also causes significant anxiety in parents. Activities away from home are limited, and often fraught with risk and hypervigilance. Public schools present even greater challenges, to both physical and mental protection.

When assessing the potential damage to teens' long-term well-being, it is important to remember that the myth and misinformation out there causes incredible isolation. When people don't understand the potentially life-threatening nature of food allergies, they immediately - if unknowingly - heighten the anxiety and the actual risk for those with the condition.

So let's look at some facts.

Food allergies can be genetic. My dad has EOE, triggered by wheat, chocolate, and most grain. My mom is allergic to kiwi and at risk for anaphylaxis.

Not all food allergies are life-threatening - all are serious. Whether it is a minor reaction or a major one, damage is done to the body.

There are different types of anaphylaxis, including airborne, ingested, and contact, all varying the degree of risk which is acceptable to the individual person.

Anaphylactic shock is the beginning of the end result of anaphylaxis, when the person loses consciousness. In serious cases, it is entirely possible for this to be fatal.

We must raise awareness for food allergies. Those of us who live in its shadow every day will be the first to tell you we just want to be normal. But we can't be. And we'll make our peace with that. But you can help us make this allergy-filled world a little safer. We can break down the stigma, take apart the myth.

Just surviving isn't enough. We want to thrive.

Message to Readers

Peer reviews needed! Let me know your thoughts on this piece.

Peer Review

You have a great and really developed style of writing, and it shows. Your essays have begun to vary from the traditional format, which is GREAT! I loved reading your piece; it was easy to follow, and I finished with a clear understanding of what your goal was.

You take the food we eat, point us in the direction of allergies, and explain the issues faced by people with food allergies. It really is about something "more than food" -- but at the same time, it's only about food (allergies).

Some examples of how people accidentally heighten stress and anxiety for those with food allergies. Since I do actually have an allergy (ish, it's really an intolerance) I immediately understood what you were talking about, but the average reader might want some more information on that.

*Chomps down on the hook* It's a great introduction/hook! I immediately understand why you personally care about this issue.

Carry on! You've got a great style and more than enough passion to drive the words home.

Reviewer Comments

Hi! I loved your essay!

If you're wondering why a solid third of this essay is highlighted..... I've been writing college-level essays, and your essay really reminded me of them! I love helping people improve things, especially when they have such a strong base to build on, and when I read this essay that's what I started doing.

I'm sorry if this is an overload of comments!!!

Also, side note: I have Celiacs, so I understand exactly where you're coming from here. Several of my friends also have food allergies, and I think many of us feel the same way. You're not alone. We're all in this together.