What does anaphylaxis feel like?

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What does anaphylaxis feel like? via @lizandcode @5troublemakers

katerha via Flickr (license)

In 2011, I ate peanut butter sandwiches every day for about two weeks, simply because they were the easiest to make on a whim, and also because I was burnt out on Hot Pockets, pizza, and other frozen dinners. On the day of the third week, after eating a peanut butter sandwich, I experienced what I thought at the time was just an asthma attack. It wasn’t hot outside, but asthma attacks happen at random moments for me, and the windows in the house were all open.

It wasn’t until I told my doctor at the time what had happened that I learned it could be a peanut butter allergy. She’d said to avoid things with nuts for a few weeks, then to have a small spoonful to see if it was an allergic reaction rather than an asthma attack.

I did that, and the same asthma attack feeling happened again.

But it wasn’t exactly like an asthma attack. Asthma attacks happen, and I can usually calm myself down from them. I also have an albuterol inhaler when prescribed, but new doctors often try to put me on other things, even though albuterol is the only dairy-free/lactose-free inhalant.

The reaction

Anaphylaxis includes major allergic reactions, from hives to throat swelling. Hives don’t cause me too much trouble, they’re just really itchy and cannot easily be stopped without an antihistamine, a shower, and some sleep. For convenience, I’ve antihistamine ointment specifically for hives, which I get more often than I lead on. Sometimes I’ll post photos of them on Instagram, but that’s only because people keep asking me the much dreaded, and very annoying, “So what does ___ do to you?” question.

For starters, I can smell it. My body reacts to the smell of peanuts and goes into this overprotective mode where it wants to stay far, far away from peanuts and anything peanut—immediately. For this reason, I can tolerate neither the smell nor the taste of Wowbutter, which is soy butter, but I’m allergic to soy, anyway, so I’m not missing anything there.

The smell of peanuts is so awful to me that I will literally feel sick enough to vomit. For this reason, I often spray perfume a little higher on my clothes if I’m going to have to be around them, because the smell is too tantalizing—it’s there, but I can’t get rid of it.

After ingesting the peanut butter, I started to feel like I was having an asthma attack, but worse—I was going to choke, but I couldn’t perform the action; I was drowning, but I couldn’t get out the water; I couldn’t breathe, and when I tried to cough, nothing would come up. I was wheezing—trying to gasp for air. The only thoughts racing through my mind was that I was going to die right then and there, and no one would know until it was too late. I rushed to my room, found my inhaler, and used it twice, as usual, then a third time.

I later learned I’m also allergic to all nuts, including tree nuts, and the FDA-categorized nut, coconut.

It doesn’t get better—it gets worse.

The more an allergen is consumed, the worse the reaction can be. It gets worse each time. I have EpiPens (you have to buy two at once; can’t buy just one, so…) for when my inhaler isn’t enough. I’ve been lucky enough to not yet have to use them. Had I had them before, during my first experience with anaphylaxis, I likely would have used one, or both, and hopefully I wouldn’t have needed more, like I read about some people needing.

Anaphylaxis is scary. I once was a peanut butter-and-jelly-loving, and peanut-butter-cup-addicted, gal, eating those things all the time, and now I’m not. It’s not easy to transition into having no nuts anything, but a life without them has caused my life to have a little more breathing room.

P.S. New reader? 14 Things That Prove You Have Allergies… do any of these fit you?

Comments on this post

My 18 year old son recently went through anaphylactic shock in reaction to his allergy shots. I was unfortunately at work, so he drove him self to the allergist where they gave him a shot of an epi-pen and at least 4 different medications. It was scary for him, and for me after, knowing he had to go through it alone. I’m sorry you had to go through that also.