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How IAN MCANDREW Lives with Life-Threatening Allergies

piPen prices are skyrocketing and researchers are hard at work finding medications to prevent fatal allergic reactions. But what’s it really like having life-threatening allergies? Instructor IAN MCANDREW opens up about what he wishes people knew about living with an allergy….

I joke around that my body with allergens is basically a genetic failure. Since I was little, I’ve been dealing with allergic reactions. I had my first when I was an infant and now I’m going 27 years strong on reactions!

My personal list of allergens includes all nuts (yes, I have to specify, because some people are only allergic to specific nuts); shrimp (but not lobster or any other shellfish for some reason); soy; bee stings; orchard fruit (specifically the pectin in the skin on apples, nectarines, etc. so I can eat them if they’re cooked or juiced) and the usual seasonal allergies/dust. I’m also lactose intolerant. Essentially, I’m a mess, but the peanut/nut allergy issue is the hardest one for many reasons. Here’s a few things that I think people should know about living with nut allergies:

1. We’re not faking.
This is the first thing I always reiterate. There is a very big difference between a dietary restriction and an allergy. With vegetarians and dairy-free diets and gluten-free diets and every other kinda "free" diet becoming a thing lately, people tend to take allergies less seriously. Here’s the difference: If someone is a vegetarian and accidentally ingests meat, he/she probably won’t die. Same with most dietary restrictions. People might feel ill or get rashes or something, but it won’t send them to the hospital with their throat closing up. With an allergy, (and to be fair, you can be allergic to dairy and to gluten), the allergens sends your body into anaphylactic shock. This is a severe allergic reaction that causes a flood of chemicals to be released by your immune system, causing shock. Your blood pressure drops and your airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe. If not treated immediately, it can cause death.

2. It’s really scary.
You know how when you were little and went swimming in a pool, there always seemed to be a bunch of pool floaties and toys around? And how sometimes, you would go underwater and start to come up and somehow get stuck underneath one of the floaties that had people on it and you felt like you were starting to drown, but you were somehow able to kick your way to the side and come up for air? It’s kinda like that. Except scarier. For some people, allergies get worse as you age, too.

3. Nut allergies are some of the most sensitive allergies around.
Peanut and nut allergies in general are a real treat because of their sensitivity. With my shrimp allergy, I can be around shrimp. I can even share a fork with someone if they’ve had shrimp. I can kiss them, too! Not so with nuts. Sensitivity to touch and smell is huge with nut allergies. Flying seriously gives me such anxiety, because some airlines don’t take the allergy very seriously and still serve nuts even after I say I can’t be around them. There is even a FAA law that protects peanuts over people! Even the SoulCycle studios I teach at do their best to maintain a nut-free environment because if someone eats a handful of peanuts and then puts my mic pack together and puts my windscreens in my little mic bin, I will react from the peanut dust on the mic pack. I’ve had reactions in the studio from high-fiving somebody before class who had just eaten almonds. I can’t have any nuts in the house or anything because I truly can’t be in the same room. Sometimes I react, and sometimes I don’t. But rather be on the more cautious side, right?

4. EpiPens just buy us time.
A common misconception is that EpiPens cure allergic reactions. Not true. The EpiPen basically shoots adrenaline (epinephrine) into your body to get your body to fight the reaction, but it’s not really the cure for the reaction. It gives you time so that the doctors can come in and do what they need to do — which can include getting an antihistamine, albuterol and an IV drip to flush out your system. The EpiPen usually buys you 15-20 minutes when the reaction happens, giving you time to get help from an EMT or doctor.

5. It’s really uncomfortable to ask people not to eat certain things around you.
Y’all, I can’t stress this part enough. And you’d think we wouldn’t be uncomfortable since, you know, it’s our life at stake… but it’s SO awkward. This, for me, generally happens on planes. I ask the gate agent to let the in-flight team know that I have an allergy to peanuts/nuts and to ask that they do not serve them and make an announcement to please not open nuts while in flight. On the last flight I took, they forgot to make the announcement, but still didn’t serve nuts. The woman in front of me opened up her own personal bag of peanuts and because I didn’t want to reach over and ask her to please not do that, I just covered my face with my t-shirt for the rest of the flight and breathed through it like a mask!

6. Eating out can be terrifying.
I can’t go into a Thai restaurant because I can’t touch anything. And when I go to a dinner anywhere else and someone orders a dish with nuts and then wants to try something off my plate or it’s a shared plate situation, I can’t let them. A lot of my friends now know to just not order anything with nuts so that I don’t freak out and panic, but it still happens from time to time. I’ve left numerous dinners because I didn’t know it was gonna be in a Thai restaurant where peanuts are everywhere, or bars that have nuts out on the bar for snacks, etc. Rather than making everyone else have to deal with it, I try to just remove myself from the situation. Although I can’t really do that on planes… so please listen to the announcements, y’all! All in all with allergies, it’s scary! Do your allergen-sensitive friends a favor and ask if you’re not sure if something could hurt them. Or just share this blog post and be aware that living with an allergy is really serious.

IAN MCANDREW leads the pack at Castro, Marin and Union Street. Questions or comments? Email! Want to ride? Click HERE to grab a series and book a bike.
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