TEEN ESSAY: A near-fatal wakeup call about food allergies

It was a normal summer afternoon about eight years ago. I was just a small fourth-grader when my sister came home with a container full of cashews. Since I always enjoyed snacks containing peanut butter and tree nuts, I was eager to taste them, not knowing what was ahead of me.

I grabbed a handful and quickly ate the cashews. About 10 minutes later, I started feeling funny. My throat began to close up and it became harder for me to breathe, I felt sick and dashed toward the bathroom and started vomiting. While all of this was happening, my sister called my dad and asked him what to do. After hearing his advice, she told me that I should lie down and rest.

Half an hour later, my dad arrived home and rushed upstairs to see how I was. When he saw me, he was surprised to see how bad I looked. I was physically weak, my eyes were almost swollen shut and my cheeks were inflated like a balloon. "We're going to the hospital right now!" he said.

He drove me to the hospital in record time. As we got there, the nurse sent me to the emergency room. While in the ER, the nurse laid me down on the bed and gave me a shot of Bena-dryl. About two hours later, I was able to return home.

The nurse told me that I had experienced an extreme allergic reaction to tree nuts called anaphylaxis. Having an anaphylaxis allergy means I cannot consume tree nuts or else my throat closes up, and there is a possibility of me dying. The medicine worked tremendously and I started feeling better within minutes.

Some people may see my allergy as a tragedy, but I see the event as a good learning experience, because while I was in the hospital, I noticed how my life was nearly taken away over one cashew and how I need to learn to cherish every day because I never know which day is my last. I think everybody needs to be more cautious about their surroundings and be more aware of anaphylaxis. Statistics show about 12 million Americans suffer from a food allergy, and about 150 die of a food allergy every year.

To be prepared for anything, I carry an EpiPen and wear a medic alert necklace with me at all times. The EpiPen sends a chemical called epinephrine through my bloodstream to prevent an allergic reaction. The medic alert necklace is to tell paramedics what has happened to me if I go into anaphylactic shock and cannot tell them what is wrong.

I was lucky to have survived such a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. This disease is spreading rapidly and becoming more common: 4 percent of all Americans have a food allergy. To prevent having another life allergic reaction, I have to know what my trigger is and what makes me sick.

That means I can't have any Thai food because it may be cooked in peanut oil, I can't eat such candies as peanut M&Ms and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and cannot eat desserts such as pecan pies and Nutella. This event has changed my life and has made me a more cautious and attentive person.

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