What is Epinephrine?

When someone with an anaphylactic allergy is having a reaction, your first responsibility is to use their EpiPen. EpiPens slow down the reaction to allow for enough time to reach the hospital. But how exactly does that happen?


Let’s review: What is an anaphylactic reaction?
An anaphylactic reaction occurs when the body of a person with allergies goes into shock. The reaction starts when the body thinks a harmless substance is actually a threatening invader. Say a knife that was used to spread jam onto a piece of toast, was previously used to spread peanut butter somewhere else. The oil from the peanut butter has turned the jam into poison. As someone bites into the toast, the cardiovascular system is immediately affected. It thinks the peanut butter, a food that provides protein and potassium, is actually an invader. The heart will start to beat at a speed faster than Usain Bolt. The muscles will start to contract, and one’s ability to breath will immediately decline. The face will swell and turn the colour of a ripe blueberry and the throat will close. The only chance of surviving is an EpiPen.

 

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Never seen a reaction before? Just picture Will Smith’s character in Hitch…


So…What’s an EpiPen?
An EpiPen is a popular brand of an auto-injector and is used in case of an anaphylactic shock. A small needle injects a dose of hormone, called epinephrine, into the body and temporarily deflates the reaction to the allergen. An EpiPen is administered into the side of the leg at the spot that is exactly a thumb to pointer finger away from the hip and a thumb and pointer finger away from the knee. Once the hormone is injected into the skin, the blood vessels tighten throughout the body. This increases blood flow. As a result, some of the swelling in the body will go down. It also relaxes the muscles. The airways in the lungs will open enough to allow breathing again. Finally, it makes the heart beat faster to prevent cardiac arrest.

 

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What is epinephrine?
Epinephrine is created in small amounts in the body. It is more commonly known as adrenaline. Your body releases it when you experience strong emotions like fear or anger. Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response? This natural reaction occurs when the medulla of the adrenal gland, which is the middle of the gland, releases epinephrine. The medulla releases epinephrine to prepare or reacts to the perceived threat. It increases your heart rate, muscle strength and blood pressure.

Epinephrine is the only drug that acts on so many body systems at once. When an anaphylactic reaction occurs, an EpiPen, or any auto-injector, provides the temporary relief needed to get someone to the hospital.


Why is this important?
In 2009, the price of two EpiPens in the United States was approximately $100. Today, the same will cost consumers around $600. This is an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007. This dramatic increase has left many people struggling to purchase the life-saving device.

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Hope this helps you understand a bit more about an anaphylactic reaction, and how an EpiPen can save a life.

The Best Peanut Butter Alternatives

Peanut butter and nut butter are everywhere. They’re a staple breakfast condiment, source of protein, and popular ingredient in baking.

So what do you do if you or your child has an allergy?

There are a few allergy-free alternatives on the market. Here’s the round-up:

Sunflower Seed Butter

Sunflower seed butter is my go-to. It’s made out of sunflower seeds (duh) and has a thick and smooth texture. It’s the most similar to actual peanut butter and is a great source of protein. SunButter is my favourite brand. It comes in a few different versions, such as creamy, crunchie, organic, and no sugar added.

I use it in any recipe that calls for peanut butter (same ratio), in my overnight oats (recipe to come), and spread it on toast for a quick morning breakfast.

Soynut Butter
Made out of roasted soybeans, soynut butter has a lot of protein. The consistency and colour are similar to peanut butter, but I find the test to be a little strange. I’ve tried WOWButter, or you can make your own.

Tahini

Tahini is made out of sesame seeds. It also has a fairly nutty flavour and has no sugar added. It’s traditionally a fairly thin consistency, but I’ve also seen it sold as a spread to be used on toast or bagels. The Minimalist Baker has a great recipe if you want to make your own.

Coconut butter
I’ve never actually tried this one myself, but I’ve heard it has a great ‘nutty’ favour and it’s naturally sweet. It’s made out of 100% shredded coconut and all you need is a blender or food processor to make it. The Kitchn has a great recipe.

A PSA to anyone who doesn’t have an allergy

If your child, friend, family member, neighbour, a distant cousin who lives in Michigan, your significant other’s best friends sister, or pretty much anyone on this planet has a peanut or nut allergy, there are a few things you need to know (these also happen to be some of my biggest pet peeves):

  1. Coconut is not a nut.
    It’s actually a seed! We appreciate your concern… but out of all the things we can’t eat, coconut is not one of them. So just try and do some research.
  2. Nutmeg…again, not a nut.
    See above. However, I understand how this one confuses most people. With Nutella becoming a popular staple in people’s diets it’s easy to associate nutmeg with it. But nutmeg is actually a dried seed grounded up into a seasoning.
  3. If you’re with anyone listed above, don’t stick something that contains nuts in front of their face.
    It’s not funny- no matter how you look at it. It’s actually pretty rude. So just keep your cereal bar to yourself ok?
  4. Don’t tell them it’s an inconvenience to not to eat peanuts or nuts.
    (This one is more for those school lunch days where everyone has to eat in the same room.)
    It’s not our choice to have this allergy thing. If you like to eat peanuts or nuts for all your meals, leave the room. There’s also the option of trying something new instead. It’s one meal out of your day. It’s not that hard to eat your daily dose of peanut butter for breakfast instead of lunch.

Try and keep these in mind the next time you’re around someone with an allergy.  When in doubt, it’s better to be overly concerned for someone’s safety (see points 1 & 2) than treating their allergy like a joke.

 

 

You need to start reading, so here are the best sources

One of the best ways to stay informed is to read. From new advances in research and medical studies to current safety information, and more, there’s always something going on in the allergy community.

There are a number of great resources to stay informed (aside from this blog of course). Here are my top sources:

Allergic Living Magazine 
allergic-living-logo.jpgAllergic Living Magazine is one of (if not the) best allergy publication. It’s a source for current information on allergy safe products, new recipes, stories and from people who have allergies. The information is well written and carefully explained so that all medical jargon is actually easy to understand.
Food Allergy Canada
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Food Allergy Canada educates, supports and advocates for the needs of people living with food allergies and the risk of anaphylaxis.

I like this site for its quick fact information. You can select a food on their homepage (peanuts, nuts, eggs, wheat, etc.) and it provides a variety of information from common sources of the allergen, other names it could be listed as on an ingredients list, and tips to avoid a reaction.


Kids with Food Allergies

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Kids with Food Allergies is a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). It’s a great resource for parents with young children who have an allergy(s).
They have a whole section on the website dedicated to information on being recently diagnosed. It’s full of facts, common questions & answers, quick how-to guides on what to do during an attack, and more.

 

These websites also offer newsletter sign-ups and subscriptions so you can receive information straight to your email. It’s a great feature for parents to stay up to date since the information will come straight to you, saving you from having to go and search for it.

Top tips to help you prevent an attack

I read an article the other day about the timeline of ‘the peanut allergy’. It said that in the 1980s people didn’t talk about it. They were considered rare and the media had no interest in them. In the 1990s, medical journals finally started the conversation when they realized how serious they were, and by the mid-1990s, newspapers began publishing articles with headlines such as, “Nut Allergy Girl’s Terror; Girl Almost Dies from Peanut Allergy.”

This seems strange to me- living a life where peanut allergies aren’t talked about. For all I know, that article could have been about me. In the mid-90s, I had my first anaphylactic attack.

In 2013, medical journals began calling peanut allergies an ‘epidemic’. More and more people became aware of what it was, media coverage increased, and people started diagnosing themselves. Although it’s not clear if more people have an allergy now then before, the conversation had changed.

At the same time, I had already been living and dealing with my allergy for nearly 20 years. That’s no small feat, 20 years and only one attack. For that, I have my mother to thank. She instilled in my brain 4 easy steps to preventing an attack:

  1. Read the label. Read the label. Read the label. Even if you think you know the answer, it doesn’t matter, read the label. In Canada, it’s mandatory for all products to have an ingredients list. More importantly, it’s mandatory to have an allergy warning on it. If there are peanuts or tree nuts in a product it will say on the ingredients list in bold letters- you can’t miss it.
  2. If you don’t know, ask. If they don’t know, then don’t risk it. Sure it would be nice to have a taste of the delicious looking dessert, but if you aren’t certain then it’s just not worth it.
  3. As a follow-up to number two, bring your own food. Growing up, my mom would always bring a dessert to parties and family gatherings. Peanuts and nuts are most commonly used in baking. As someone with a major sweet tooth, I’m always looking for a little something after my meal, and what’s a party without cake? So my mom would make something herself to ensure there would be at least one thing I could eat.
  4. Keep your hands away from your mouth, and wash them frequently. Now I’ll admit, this is the tip I had the hardest time with. I’d forget and find myself resting my head in my hands during class or something. A peanut allergy isn’t about the actual nut, it’s the oil from the nut that causes the reaction (fun fact for you there). Since you can’t see oil residue easily, you never quite know if someone who touched the doorknob before you grabbed it while eating a peanut granola bar. So throw some hand sanitizer in your bag.

 

Welcome to Blue to the Sky: The Basics

Let’s start off with the fundamentals. There are a few terms, and facts you should know before continuing reading anything else on this site.

What does it mean to have an allergy?
It means the body reacts to something, which sends it into an abnormal reaction.

What does anaphylaxis mean?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “An acute allergic reaction to an antigen (e.g. a bee sting) to which the body has become hypersensitive.

What does this actually mean?
In human terms, it means the body is very sensitive to a particular substance. When the body is exposed to that substance it goes into anaphylactic shock… aka the body freaks out (tongue swells, airways close, etc.).

Are you a doctor?
No. I am a twenty-something-year-old who’s had an anaphylactic peanut allergy since I was born. The content I provide on this blog is based on my personal experiences, the advice given to me by my doctor, and studies I have found for the purpose of providing you with more background information. Please take everything into consideration based on your situation.

What can I expect on Blue to the Sky?

This site is a place to learn about what it’s like having an allergy through my personal experiences, medical research, and new advances in the market. It’s a place to find some of the best allergy-free recipes, local restaurants, and products on the shelves. It’s a place to find tips and tricks on dealing with diet restrictions. Most importantly, I hope it becomes a community for anyone who wants to know more about allergies or is looking for a place to belong.