What You Need To Know About Severe Allergies, Part 2

Kathryn Zajac talking about the EpiPen

I was truly surprised by the overwhelming response I received about my first food allergies post. Thank you so much for the support, and to those of you that emailed and who are directly impacted by food allergies, thank you so much for sharing your personal stories.

I believe a lot of the challenges that we face regarding severe allergies is due to a lack of awareness and understanding. One of the biggest unknowns is what to do and how to respond if someone has an allergic reaction, and, additionally, what types of exposure can cause reactions.

Through awareness, I believe that we can help this next generation of children, adolescents, and young adults who are growing up in an environment where food allergies are more prevalent than ever. I encourage you to a take a few moments to watch the following video that describes exactly how I feel about my allergies in a better way than I ever could.


What You Should Know About Exposure


When you have a severe allergy, exposure to the allergen can come in many different ways – it’s not just by directly consuming the food. I wrote about airborne reactions in my last post, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the scariest ways is through cross contamination. One example is in a restaurant when they are preparing foods in the kitchen where the allergen is present and it comes in contact with your food. An example might be in the area where they prepare salads. Let’s use me and my nut allergy for an example. If there is a container of nuts that spills into the container of cheese, and that cheese is used on my salad, I am likely to have a reaction based on cross-contact, even though there were no nuts technically in my salad.

Another way is by sharing cups and utensils. I never share my food or my drinks. If I fear that someone sipped from my drink, I get rid of it. This is challenging because its something the average person would never think of (I mean, why would they!). Even as a mom, I don’t eat off my kid’s plates, and they cannot touch my food since I don’t know where their little hands have been.

Even kissing. If you kiss someone that ate your allergen, you can have a reaction. When my husband and I first started dating, there was one time that he ate scallops at lunch. When I kissed him later that evening, my lips swelled up and I had to take medication (luckily it was no more serious than that). Same with my kids. We give them peanuts regularly because while they do not have allergies now, they are more susceptible due to my history. The most recent studies show that exposure to common allergens helps to prevent the development of severe allergies. But if they’ve had peanuts, I have to be very careful around them, and that means no bedtime kisses.


What You Can Do To Help


I mentioned in my last post that I carry several medications with me at all times. First and foremost is my Epi Pen, which is the drug epinephrine in a shot form. I also carry Benadryl, my rescue inhaler, and an oral steroid.

The Epi Pen is the most important drug used to manage symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction can vary, but may include hives, swelling of the face, neck, throat, diarrhea, vomiting, and wheezing. Another symptom that is not commonly discussed is mental confusion where the person experiencing the reaction may not be able to communicate what is happening. These symptoms can quickly worsen to an extent where the person cannot breathe, becomes unconscious, and eventually may lead to shock or death.


How To Respond


First and foremost, 911 should be called. An Epi Pen should be administered at the first signs of a reaction. That person, due to the reaction, may not be capable of administering the medication themselves.

This may be the most important fact in this post: There is no harm in administering an Epi Pen if someone believes they are having a severe reaction. Additionally, the Epi Pen does not cure the reaction, and emergency medical care is 100 percent necessary. Time is very important, and managing symptoms quickly is crucial.

I’ve read stories where an allergic person has died because the people around them didn’t know how to respond and were afraid to administer the Epi Pen. This is not to fault anyone, but truly demonstrates the acute lack of awareness.

I’ve created a short tutorial video about the Epi Pen. I hope you take the time to watch and feel free to contact me with questions. Being comfortable with the Epi Pen might save someone’s life one day.

Thank you all so much for your compassion and for taking action to learn more about allergies.

IMG_1037 from Kathryn Zajac on Vimeo.


  • The latest from Kat
Owner & Operator | Ascend Cycle
Combining her degree in Exercise Science with her past experience as a healthcare consultant, Kat blends her fitness expertise with her background in superb customer service ethic to create the Ascend Experience. And don’t be surprised when she knows your name – Kat’s goal is to get know her community on a personal level. She’s a mom of two energetic toddlers, but still makes time to crush a ride on the bike and just for balance, relax with a glass of wine at one of her favorite local Del Ray spots.

Climb higher, sprint faster, Ascend.

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