I am delighted to announce that my Spotlight of the Month for January is the lovely Hannah, also known as @letstalkfoodallergies. Hannah continuously uses her Instagram page to raise awareness of allergies and shares so many useful tips and recommendations.
What are you allergic to?
I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, peas, beans, lentils, lupin and fenugreek.
My first reaction occurred when I was very young, and I was given peanut butter. I came out in a bad rash, so my parents avoided giving me peanuts from then on. I then reacted to pea as a toddler and once again my parents just avoided giving me peas but didn’t think much of it because there was definitely less awareness surrounding allergies back then. Then when I was 5 years old, my family and I went on holiday to Portugal. We went out to a restaurant, and I had a roll with sesame seeds on. Shortly after eating it my tongue became very itchy, my throat felt like it was starting to close in, and my lips became very swollen. Because there was such a lack of awareness surrounding allergies no one really knew what was happening to me. After this more serious reaction, my parents then pushed for me to undergo allergy testing – it was definitely harder to get tested for allergies back then! These tests confirmed my allergies and I now carry my 2 EpiPens with me wherever I go. As well as having these food allergies, I also have pollen allergies, a dust mite allergy, various animal hair allergies and oral allergy syndrome.
Why did you set up your Instagram page and what do you wish to achieve?
I set up my Instagram page during lockdown with the aim of raising awareness and helping those who either have allergies themselves or care for someone who has allergies through sharing my personal experiences. As I’ve got older, I’ve had to learn how to manage my allergies in new situations – from travelling without my parents for the first time to living in shared accommodation at university so I felt that I had a lot that I could share!
Can you share your Top 3 tips for living with allergies?
1. Always check ingredient labels even if you’ve bought a product before – recipes/production lines can change!
2. Don’t be afraid to contact companies asking for further allergy information if needed.
3. Be vocal and definitely don’t be afraid to tell people about your allergies – it will ensure that they feel prepared to help you if you ever have a reaction.
What do you find most challenging in day-to-day life with allergies?
I think there’s a common misconception when it comes to allergies that you can only be allergic to the Top 14 listed allergens. A lot of my allergies are not listed as major allergens which can make everyday life a lot trickier. For example, pea protein is being included in so many foods nowadays – I’ve seen it in foods such as bread, ice cream, sweets, meat products and more! However, this does not have to be highlighted in bold so it can be more difficult to spot when reading ingredient labels.
What is the biggest allergy topic you’d like to raise awareness about?
A lot of the posts on my Instagram account focus on managing allergies at university. I think this is a really important topic to raise awareness about because it is often when the responsibility for managing allergies is fully passed over from parents to the young person when they move away from home. There is so much to think about during this time, such as when is the best time to tell your flatmates about your allergies? Should you teach them how to use your EpiPen? How should you go about sharing kitchen equipment?
Please can you tell us a non-allergy related fact about you?
This past year I have completed my primary school teacher training.
I’m looking forward to advocating for the children with allergies in my school to ensure that school is always a safe environment for them.