Allergies affect us all

Chartwells, Oakland University’s contracted food service vendor meets regularly with residents with dietary restrictions to cater to their needs at college. “We work with the housing and disabilities offices to see if our meal program will fit the student’s profile,” said Resident District Manager Gerald Gatto.

Affecting upwards of 15 million Americans according to Food and Allergy Research and Education (FARE), food allergies are a growing concern for many, the consequences of ingestion or touch — as in the case of the untimely passing of OU student Chandler Swink — often life-threatening.  

“There has been a nationwide increase in all allergies to foods in the last twenty years,” said Dr. Carl Lauter, MD, FACP, and the director of Division of Allergy and Immunology at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “It’s doubled, if not more so, in the last ten years.”

“People tend to say it’s not that serious and they don’t take allergy education that seriously,” said the mother of Chandler, Nancy Swink. “They think ‘it doesn’t affect me so it doesn’t matter,’ but in [a peanut allergy] especially, the intense oils can contaminate shared desks, faucets and bathrooms, and it affects everyone.”

For Kathleen Peterson, an OU senior who has known about her severe nut allergy since she was very young, coming to college included a new set of dietary and social concerns.

“You have to really watch out for yourself because not a lot of people understand what it’s like to have a life-threatening allergy,” she said. 

“Sometimes people will be like, ‘Oh, you don’t know what you’re missing’ when they’re eating a Reese’s or something, but for the most part, people are pretty accepting,” she said. “It helps a lot when people ask questions if they don’t understand it.”

According to Lauter, those with allergies should let the people around them know about their restrictions, as well as carry two EpiPens on their person at all times.

“If the first dose doesn’t work within ten minutes, administer a second one and dial 911 at any sign of a bad reaction,” he said. 

As for friends of those with allergies, Lauter said that understanding is key.

“Be respectful. Don’t be a non-believer,” he said. “It’s no different than if they had any other health problem.”


Do you or a loved one have a food allergy? 

Here’s what you should know:

-Make the call: if you or your friend have a bad reaction, call EMS immediately.

-Trying new things isn’t always good: Don’t knowingly eat what you don’t know.

-Avoid pre-packaged foods from stores: “Food labeling in this country isn’t trustworthy,” said Lauter. 

-Speak up: Let people know about your allergy and how they can help you. If you are a friend with questions, ask them.

-Two pens are better than one: make sure your epinephrine devices are within date and have two with you at all times. According to Lauter, Benadryl is not effective when having a severe reaction.