A Reaction at College
A college student who is allergic to peanut shares with us the circumstances involving an allergic reaction she had in the college dining hall. Although the ingredients of the food she ate were properly listed, she relied on a special symbol that the school used to indicate that a food was allergy-free, instead of reading the ingredients.
After just a few bites, the girl’s mouth and lips began to itch. In the past, she had experienced only mild symptoms during a reaction, and she assumed her reaction would be the same this time. She left her friends in the dining hall and ran to the bathroom, where she quickly began to feel worse. Here, she describes what happened next:
“My lips started to swell and my whole body was itching, and I was sweating like crazy. Just as I stepped out of the stall, a woman asked if I was okay. Miraculously, she worked at the health center and was able to take me there and get me in.
“I was getting weak and threw up a couple of times, and finally the doctor came in. At this point I couldn’t think, I couldn’t talk (my mouth and tongue were swelling), and I just couldn’t stop crying. But he talked to me and gave me epinephrine and Benadryl®. I felt like my hands and feet were starting to shake like they were being electrocuted, and my stomach started to cramp up. My heart was racing, and my sweat had soaked through the paper on the bed.”
The student was then taken by ambulance to the local hospital for further treatment. Luckily, she survived her reaction. Doctors at the hospital told her that she needed to carry self-injectable epinephrine with her at all times, in case she has a severe reaction in the future.
“I don’t want to think about this prospect, but I guess I have to now,” she writes. “I am very much not invincible, and I can’t pretend that I can live my life the same as before.”
How can you avoid a similar situation?
- Food labels sometimes change, so don’t rely on past experience. Always double-check for yourself to make sure there is not a relevant food allergen on the label. Also, inform the cafeteria staff about your food allergy history before the school semester begins, just as you would do with the student health clinic and the appropriate authorities in your dorm. This educational process will serve you well in the event of an accidental food allergen ingestion.
- Have your physician write you a detailed Food Allergy Action Plan that you can take with you when you move to school every year. Make sure to leave a copy on file with the student health center.
- Carry medicine to treat an allergic reaction with you at all times. If your doctor prescribed self-injectable epinephrine (such as EpiPen® or Twinject™), know when and how to use it. Studies show that the faster you use epinephrine during a severe reaction, the better your outcome will be. Don’t delay!
- Enlist the help of your friends if you think you are experiencing a reaction — never go off by yourself, even if you normally have only mild symptoms. Your friends may be able to help you administer medicine and can call 911 at the first sign of trouble.
- Seek medical attention. Reactions can quickly go from mild to severe. After using your medicine, call 911 or the campus health center. In the event of a food-allergic reaction, especially one that requires management with antihistamines and epinephrine, plan to be observed for up to four hours in a medical facility. Occasionally, there can be a delayed reaction that will require further therapy.