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The night began as a casual date at IHOP after a Wednesday night prayer meeting. After lingering over IHOP’s famous buttermilk pancakes, Jessica Hahn’s boyfriend, now husband, Chester, drove her home, walked her to the door and kissed her goodnight. A harmless goodnight kiss, she thought, until 30 minutes later when she felt the first twinges of nausea, which quickly escalated to intense vomiting. She knew immediately, it was a pancake kiss laced with gluten.
“I was throwing up for three days straight,” she said.
Hahn, a junior, deals with a serious form of a gluten intolerance known as celiac disease.
HONESTY IS BEST
Students need to know how to treat allergic reactions in themselves and those they interact with because severe allergies are becoming more prevalent in college students, said Amy Cameron in a 2006 article for “Allergic Living” entitled “Off to College – With Allergies.”
These students can avoid reactions if they are vocal about their triggers to the people whom they interact with frequently.
According to MedicineNet.com, symptoms of allergic reactions are different from person to person and allergen to allergen.
Symptoms of allergic reactions vary not only in the place they present themselves but also in severity.
Senior Emily Estill said that most of her reactions are minor, such as intestinal problems, mouth sensitivity, watery eyes, an itchy nose and even emotional reactions including sadness and anger. Exposure to eggs, however, can lead to an anaphylactic, or severe, reaction in her case.
Some allergies do not develop until later in life. Such is the case with Dr. Jeremy Neill, assistant professor in philosophy.
“I can’t be 100 percent certain, but I have a theory that I just ate too many peanut butter sandwiches. I just know there was a time when I didn’t have it,” he said.
Even though Hahn technically always had her allergy, she did not become aware of her specific allergy until her 19th birthday.
“At first I was depressed about not being able to have something as simple as a slice of pizza, but my body adjusted,” Hahn said. “Eventually, I started to associate gluten with the stimulus response my body would have if I ate something that contained gluten so I grew to not miss eating foods that had it.”
For a successful transition from high school to college, students with allergies should be completely open with the institution they choose to attend about any health issues they have, Cameron said.
The University seeks to help students living with allergies in several different ways.
Mark Endraske, director of residence life, expressed openness in his desire to hear students’ concerns regarding their allergies and their living situations.
Endraske also encouraged students to speak with their resident assistant or resident director about their allergy needs and list their medical information on their application for inclusion on their emergency cards.
Estill acknowledged that managing her food allergies, which include gluten, dairy and sugar, became more difficult when she entered college because of the restrictions that had to be placed on her suitemates and those she interacted with since she cannot even be exposed to the smell of certain foods.
Peter Huber, director of Aramark Food Services, explained that the University relies on the services of a registered dietician who works at several larger Houston-area colleges and universities to make sure that students with specific and unique allergies and food requirements are having their needs met.
Huber said that because the campus does not have a large enough population to warrant sections of dining that are completely free of certain common allergens, such as lactose, gluten or peanuts, it is difficult to cater to all needs.
Despite these limitations, Huber said students can request foods that do not clash with their dietary restrictions.
“We do our best to accommodate students and are always happy to work with them one-on-one to find a dining option that will work for them,” he said.
Aramark and campus chefs currently work with two students who email head chef Michael Konzem whenever they plan to come in for a hot meal so the kitchen can be prepared. Estill is one of those students.
She said the process of informing the appropriate people on campus about her specific needs was a simple one.
“I met with Peter Huber who directed me to the chef,” Estill said. “The chef met with me in the fall to discuss a meal plan and the specific items I could eat and even researched and ordered some gluten-free foods.”
WHAT IS GOING ON?
There are several different ways that an allergic reaction can present itself. Neill develops classic signs of an anaphylactic reaction including hives, closing of the throat, swelling, a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, confusion and disorientation. This prevents him from administering the medicine he needs because he becomes unable to comprehend that he is having an allergic reaction.
No definite timetable exists for when symptoms of an allergic reaction will start to show.
According to MedicineNet.com, symptoms can occur anywhere from seconds to an hour after exposure.
Some reactions cannot be treated once symptoms start to show.
“While there are articles about scientists who are in the process of developing a drug that would curb my reaction if I were to have one, the only thing I can do currently is let it run its course and get out of my system,” Hahn said.
Hahn added that she tries to be proactive in identifying ways she can protect herself from having a reaction, including changing her diet to only gluten-free foods, eating only at restaurants that are certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group and looking for the gluten-free symbol while shopping.
“I even asked to see the labels of food on my honeymoon cruise,” she said. “Despite the chef telling me the food was gluten free, I wanted to see for myself.”
ALWAYS ON THE LOOKOUT
The best way for students to prevent allergic reactions is to constantly be aware of their surroundings, Neill said. He paid special attention to this fact when he offered one of the classes he is teaching the option to bring snacks to class.
“No one in the class had a specific food allergy, but it is important to be aware because you just never know,” he said.
Neill added that he is especially careful, no matter where he finds himself, to make sure he does not accidently ingest something that might contain traces of peanuts.
“I don’t eat food at random social occasions where I don’t know how the food was prepared, and I always ask at restaurants to be sure,” he said. “It is important to not eat any food where you don’t how it was prepared and what went into it.”
Neill explained that he was disappointed when he realized he could no longer eat or enjoy a food that he had eaten for so long, but his advice on dealing with the realization can be used by anyone who suddenly finds themselves dealing with the onset of an allergy to a new food or other substance.
“There is disappointment in life, and you just have to live with the knowledge that you can no longer have that particular food and know that your life will be better for it,” he said.