By Gary Fitzgerald
Sloane Miller’s boyfriend had a surprise for her. He wrote a short rhyme to help him remember how to use her epinephrine auto-injector in case she experienced a food allergy emergency.
“It was really sweet,” she said. “My friends and romantic partners are very accepting of my food allergies, as well as my asthma, environmental allergies and eczema. Often they become advocates for me, too.”
It’s not needed or expected, Miller says, but it’s one way to win her heart.
“I take my allergies and asthma seriously, so they take it seriously,” she says. “They take their cues from me.”
A licensed social worker, blogger and author of “Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies,” Miller counsels families and individuals about living with food allergies, including how to discuss them in social settings.
“First and foremost, it’s vitally important you understand your diagnosis as you are responsible for taking care of food-allergic needs on a date or anywhere,” Miller says. “You have to understand what you can and can’t eat. You have to know what the symptoms are of an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. You have to know what to do in case of an emergency. You have to carry your emergency medication with you at all times, which for food allergies includes two epinephrine auto-injectors.”
People with asthma or environmental allergies face similar challenges in dating and relationships.
Go on a springtime picnic date in the park and you could be joined by pollen that clogs the sinuses and causes coughing, sneezing and wheezing. Accept an invitation to a home-cooked meal at your sweetie’s place and you could find yourself short of breath if there’s a dog or cat living there.
Choosing the appropriate time to mention your asthma or allergies is a personal decision.
It’s important to feel comfortable with your medical diagnosis and confident in managing your health, says dating expert Jeannie Assimos of the matchmaking web site eHarmony.com.
“If you present your allergy or asthma in a way that’s negative or you feel embarrassed or ashamed for whatever reason, then the other person will pick up on that energy,” Assimos says. “If you present it in a way that is matter of fact, and as something that you have a grasp on and just accept as part of your life, this should make the other person feel more at ease.
“Some people also find it very attractive to talk to someone who deals with challenges, and overcomes them.”
Since dating so often revolves around dining out, the subject of food allergies cannot be ignored. Meeting at restaurants that are food allergy friendly and where you have positive dining experiences may be prudent.
Miller says it’s usually best to keep conversation about your food allergy clear and concise, especially if your date has no or limited knowledge of the condition. “Discussing it in great detail on an early date might be too much, too soon,” she explains. “Understanding what it means to live with food allergies takes time – much like dating.”
When casual dating moves to the next level – a relationship – that’s a more appropriate time to have a deeper conversation.
“Talk about the feelings that may arise after having an allergic reaction, like embarrassment or anxiety,” Miller says. “Show your partner where you keep your asthma or anaphylaxis action plan, as well as how to use emergency medication such as an epinephrine auto-injector. These are not first-date conversations, or even second date; this is when the relationship is more of a partnership. You don’t want your partner to feel helpless in an emergency.”
Most important, when dating, remember to have fun, Miller says. The whole point is to get to know someone and find out if this is someone with whom you want to spend more time. Maybe you’re beyond that stage? Focus on being together and expressing affection with each other.
A medical condition is just one part of who you are; accept your whole self and your partner can, too.
Looking For Love Online
Matthew is 30, single and seeks an adventurous spirit. Sophia is 28, single and wants to connect with a man who has a silly sense of humor. These two lovebirds don’t know each other. Yet.
Tired of the bar scene, they turn to online dating. As Matthew fills out his profile, he wonders if he should mention his asthma – even though it’s well controlled. Sophia ponders the appropriate time to bring up that she has milk and peanut allergies.
“Be authentic from the get-go,” advises Jeannie Assimos, content director of the popular matchmaking web site eHarmony.com. “People mention their health conditions in their dating profiles all the time. You’re letting the other person know that it’s a part of who you are. And you’ll want to know early on if the person you are interested in dating will be mindful and considerate of you and your health issues.”
An estimated 40 million Americans use online dating services. A recent study revealed 1 in 10 serious relationships that began in the last decade started online.
Two of the more popular matchmaking web sites are eHarmony.com and Match.com. Neither site specifically addresses health conditions during the profile creation process, but members are free to mention them.
Alternatives to mainstream online dating sites include Prescription4Love.com and SinglesWithFoodAllergies.com.
Prescription4Love.com asks users to list their medical condition in their member profile, while SinglesWithFoodAllergies.com asks users to list each of their food allergies and if they’re vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free.
Ricky Durham created Prescription4Love.com so that members would not have to disclose their health condition in a “big reveal.”
“Finding others with similar circumstances is a natural desire for everyone,” Durham says. “It makes it easier to progress to the next stage of friendships and relationships.”
And what of our two lovebirds, Matthew and Sophia? Well, Matthew was thrilled to read in Sophia’s profile that she has traveled throughout Europe and discovered restaurants and cafes that catered to her food allergies. Sophia laughed when she read that Matthew juggled his quick-relief inhaler with his water bottle while running a half-marathon.
It was Sophia who made the first move, sending Matthew an introductory email. Did he reply? Click.
Allergic to Kissing?
Ahh, the first kiss. The excitement, the spontaneity, the romance … the hives?
Allergic reactions to kissing can occur – even from a peck on the cheek – when a food allergen remains in saliva.
“Saliva can contain the allergen hours after the food has been absorbed by the body,” says Sami Bahna, MD, allergist and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
Most food allergy symptoms – swelling of the lips or throat, rash, hives, itching or wheezing – are the result of ingesting the allergen. The risk of a severe allergic reaction from kissing is small, but it can happen.
Food allergy consultant Sloane Miller recounts on her blog “Please Don’t Pass the Nuts” (www.allergicgirl.blogspot.com) an allergic reaction she had after kissing a date. He had eaten a salad with salmon – one of her allergens – for dinner, and then a few hours later they kissed.
“I came home thinking, ‘Oh, my lips are all tingly from his kisses,’” she said. “No, I had hives all over my face and neck. It was from the salmon and we hadn’t waited long enough in between the meal and the kissing.”
A few simple precautions can preserve the romance.
Avoidance of the food allergen is the safest choice, but if your date has consumed one of your food allergens, then hold off on any smooching. You may need to wait until after another meal; a 2006 study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revealed that waiting several hours and then eating an allergen-free meal were effective at reducing allergens in the saliva from a previous meal.
While it may not be romantic, Dr. Bahna also recommends you ask your partner to brush his or her teeth and tongue and rinse out the mouth before kissing.
Talk with a board-certified allergist to understand the nature of your reactions, discuss ways to prevent exposure to food allergens and develop or review your anaphylaxis action plan.
Reviewed by Michael Mellon, MD, and Tera Crisalida, PA-C