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Business Trip Turned Allergic Reaction to Tree Nuts

In September 2018, I took my first business trip for Alternutive. I went on an overnight trip to Baltimore, Maryland to attend Natural Products Expo East, one of the major trade shows in the food & beverage industry. The trip was a great experience but ended on a dangerous note for me personally. As someone who has lived with a severe nut allergy all my life, I made a serious mistake. This experience re-taught me some valuable lessons about food allergy safety that I’ve shared in a separate blog.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, I flew directly out of Rhode Island with plans to attend the show on Saturday morning. My airline of choice was Southwest. A few months prior to my trip, Southwest announced that they would stop serving peanuts on all flights. It gave me peace of mind to know that they created more of an allergen-free environment aboard their airplanes.

When Saturday morning came around, I caught a shuttle from my hotel to Baltimore Convention Center where the expo was being held. Thanks to my friends at SAP! Beverages, I had a guest badge to get into the expo. If you love soda but won’t drink it because of poor nutritional value, their beverages are a great alternative to traditional soda.

Expo East was an exciting experience. I met new connections and had an inside look at what was happening in the food & beverage industry. Plus, every company gives out free samples. We’re looking forward to exhibiting Alternutive at Expo East in the future!

Before I was about to leave the show and fly home, I spotted the booth of an unnamed company that has a few products without nuts that I’ve tried in the past. I made my way over to see their full product line and snag some more free samples. After sparking up a conversation with a company rep and telling her how I eat some of their bars because they don’t have nuts, she handed me a sample bar to try. “Here, try this!” she told me, handing me a cookie dough flavored “seed” bar that “didn’t have nuts.” The bar went in my backpack and I flew home that afternoon.

Later that same night back home in Rhode Island, I pulled the bar out of my backpack and took a bite. One bite went down and I immediately knew it wasn’t just a seed bar. Reading the ingredient statement to find out the bar contained almonds and cashews definitely ruined my relaxing Saturday night.

My avoidable, rookie mistake was taking the company representative’s word that the bar didn’t have nuts and eating it without double checking the ingredient statement. Rule #1 of living a food allergy: ALWAYS read the ingredient statement…

Allergic reactions are very unpleasant. I immediately started feeling nauseously sick. My tongue, throat, and esophagus were swelling up. The single bite I took was involuntarily rejected by my body within 10 minutes. It was harsh and set in quick.

Because the single bite was out of my system, all I needed to do to recover from this (based on past allergic reaction experiences) was to clean my mouth out and take some Benadryl. Except, my medicine cabinet didn’t have any Benadryl. At this point, roughly 15 minutes after eating it, my mouth, throat, and esophagus are continuing to swell up even more.

My friend had to rush me to the closest drug store to get Benadryl. I had an epi-pen in hand, ready to inject myself in the thigh if the swelling got to the point where my throat was about to close up. It might sound dangerous that I didn’t just use my epi-pen but based on past experiences I felt I had the situation under control. I didn’t want to inject myself with epinephrine unless absolutely necessary.

During the car ride to the drug store, my friend told me the swelling made my voice sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars. It was funnier after the fact than it was in the moment. Haha, Derrick.

I bought Benadryl tablets and took them with water before I even walked out of the store. Drinking water caused my body to involuntarily reject the water on the side of the highway on the way home. When I got home, I cleaned my mouth out and took more Benadryl. Before I went to bed, I stayed up to monitor the swelling and wouldn’t sleep until I knew it was going away. It was the worst allergic reaction I’ve ever had but in the end, I handled the situation properly.

If I decided to eat that bar as a snack on the plane ride home, I could have been in serious danger. If I decided to eat the whole bar in one bite, I probably wouldn’t have had time to get to the store before needing to use my epi-pen or going to the hospital. I’ve never felt my throat and esophagus swell up that much before.

I now know for a fact that eating tree-nuts would most likely cause me to suffocate to death. It’s scary to say but it’s a reality for many people who have food allergies. The reason why I didn’t read the ingredient statement was very circumstantial but I easily could have prevented it. This allergic reaction definitely made me re-evaluate the safety precautions I take for my nut allergy.

In my next blog , I’ll discuss food allergy safety tips so what happened to me doesn’t happen to you or someone you know with a nut or food allergy.