A Quick Note On Food Allergies

Okay, so we were out to eat today with our friend Kendra in Columbus, and we ended up eating at The Cheesecake Factory, mainly because she knew she could get something gluten-free to eat there.

Kendra suffers from celiac disease, and thus cannot tolerate gluten from wheat or barley products. Wheat is in a lot of places you would never think to look in most restaurant menu items and in processed food. This makes going out to eat with Kendra challenging–and for Kendra–it makes just eating feel like a game of Russian roulette.

I really wanted salmon, but I was worried about mercury levels in salmon–it being a top of the food-chain predatory fish. Mercury is very not good for wee, developing fetuses, so I decided to get shrimp instead.

So, I did.

And let me just say as an aside–the portion sizes at The Cheesecake Factory are obscene. The plates were so big they looked like feeding troughs, and the amount of food on them was daunting, even for a healthy-eating woman who currently has a pregnant lady metabolism. (Which means I eat a lot anyway, but when I am pregnant, and get those “I am starving” hunger pangs, I can really put away some food.)

I looked at the pile of food on my plate, and was horrified. I was even more scared of the amounts of mashed potatoes piled onto Morganna and Zak’s plates–I swear that they had a full cup and three quarters of mashed spuds on each plate, which just goes above and beyond necessity into the realm of ghastly.

Anyway, I started eating.

I have eaten shrimp hundreds of times in my life, and I love the stuff. And this recipe was okay–it was the Jamaican black pepper shrimp.

But about a third of the way through the pile of sauteed shrimp on my plate, I noticed my tongue felt really funky.

It felt for all the world as if it had been scraped raw. It was tingling and felt like it was starting to swell up.

I put my fork down and said, “I feel really weird, guys.”

When I described my symptoms, Kendra looked at me, her eyes big. In addition to having celiac, she also recently had a severe alaphalactic reaction to hazelnuts, so she, like me, knew darned good and well what I was going through.

A mild case of anaphalaxis–an allergic reaction to some food item.

As I reached for my purse to pull out the Benedryl that just happened to be there because I took it to the campout on Saturday in case my tree pollen allergy bothered me (it never did), I felt my throat start to swell up a little bit.

I had no idea how much to take–but I took 50 mg–it is a safe dose during pregnancy.

What is odd is that just an hour before I had talked about the fatal anaphalactic cases I had heard about in culinary school–one of which involved a student who ate a shrimp eggroll without knowing there was shrimp in it. He went back to his dorm room, fell asleep and died.

Needless to say, Morganna and Zak were quite frightened, as was Kendra.

I was nervous, but mostly puzzled and saddened–because if I turn out to have developed a shrimp allergy, I fear it may only be a matter of time before crab gets to me.

And it is one of my favorite foods of all time.

Anyway, we ended up driving home soon afterwards. All the way home, I paid attention to my symptoms, which lessened as the Benedryl kicked in–which tells me that it was most likely a real-live allergy and not just a sensitivity.

I am calling my doctor tomorrow–this was just a mild case–a shot across my bow, as it were. I want to see if they can do a blood test to determine if I have a severe enough allergy to warrent carrying an epipen–a dose of adrenaline, which is given to those who have severe food or insect allergies, to prevent a full blown case of anaphalaxis, which can be deadly.

At least I don’t have asthma–that makes everything worse.

Now, I just feel a little bit weird in the throat and tongue area. No shortness of breath or air passages closing or anything like that, so I think I will be fine now.

I just have to be careful from now on, and avoid shrimp. So, no more minced up dried shrimp in my Sichuan green beans or shrimp paste in my curry pastes.

Life is full of odd little adventures, that is for certain.

Look for at least the first part of the roundup for The Spice is Right sometime tomorrow–I have a lot of great entries to share with you all.


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  1. Wow, Barbara, I am so sorry! I completely agree about the Cheesecake Factory portions, too. They are outrageous.

    I have a good friend in Columbus who is also a celiac, and she could not even eat the buckeyes I made last summer because the powdered sugar had cornstarch in it. Very sad. My boss’s wife is also avoiding gluten, and so lately I have been coming across some nice desserts that do without it.

    Also, many, many congratulations on your pregnancy!!! That is so fantastic. Deep wishes of joy to you, the little one, and the rest of your family.

    Comment by Faith — April 17, 2006 #

  2. At least when I go there I can look at the food on my plate and convince myself that it’s worth it to pay the price. I’ll have lunch and dinner in leftovers for the next two days practically.

    Comment by Bastlynn — April 18, 2006 #

  3. Hi Barbara – I think you need to get an allergy panel(it’s usually 3-4 courses of getting “pricked” with little multi-pronged devices) – just to see what you’re allergic to, it’s a bit of a pain – you need to go multiple times, and if you are allergic you’ll get minor reactions, but that’ll help you plan. Along the lines of seafood, the Missus loves shrimp – especially the spotted prawns that you buy fresh from the tanks. The bad thing is, to get them at a perfectly tender state they are cooked to a perfect medium-well, the bad thing is, they are cooked to a medium-well, which apparently does not kill all of the toxins or enzymes in the shrimp, I’m perfectly fine, but the Missus will break out. Sadly, beyond that state the shrimp will not be as sweet, nor as tender….but better safe then sorry! Still, the Missus ( with a Master in Chemistry and a certified CCRN and ICU/ER Nurse still will go for the partially cooked stuff… go figure)

    Comment by Kirk — April 18, 2006 #

  4. You got lucky. Mild cases of anaphalaxis can happen only a few time before you get the more sever kind. You might want to find out what was in that dish other than shrimp. You might have been alergic to something else. Don’t go trying it on your own though.

    With anaphlaxis a first exposure could be mild and a second quickly fatal. Once you body gets a wiff of something you are elergic to it want to react very quickly. I have suffered from multiple chemical sensativities since I hit puberty. And every time I have severe skin reaction, I end up sensative to more things.

    On the other hand the reaction you had could have been oral allergy syndrome which is very mild and quite common. Oral allergy syndrom is common to a whole heck of a lot of fruits and veggies. It causes a tingling and numbness of the tongue and mouth and a soreness of the throat. It is however often a mild allergy. It can also be seasonal coinciding with pollen allergy season. Common alergens include: melons, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers and a whole host of fruits.

    It could be your pregnancy hormones that are making it act up and it might go away afterwards. So doing an allergy panel now might not be accurate. But I would get the exact list of ingredients from the Cheesecake Factory and check with your doctor.

    Being a foody with allergies is no fun.

    BTW you can order half portions at The Cheesecake Factory.

    Comment by Kitarra — April 18, 2006 #

  5. Congratualations on your pregnancy, good luck at the doctors!

    Comment by Pamela — April 18, 2006 #

  6. Hope it turns out OK. Having to cross shrimp off the menu would be very sad (says the person who used to adore fish stew and now feels nauseous just from the smell of it).

    Loved the long pepper article – that’s my favorite spice. I got introduced and addicted to it through my medieval cooking.

    Comment by Christina — April 18, 2006 #

  7. Shrimp allergies can be non-permanent, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s pregnancy-induced. I would ask your doctor about that possibility, and if it would be okay to carefully try a tiny bit of shrimp again a year or two after you’ve had the baby.

    That’s really upsetting, though. I’m glad you’re okay.

    Comment by Mel — April 18, 2006 #

  8. My mom had an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting while she was pregnant with my brother. She had to carry an epi-pen with her for the rest of her pregnancy. But she isn’t allergic now–it was pregnancy-related. I hope for your love of shrimp that this will turn out to be the same.

    Comment by Amelia Sunderland — April 18, 2006 #

  9. Hey Barbara,

    That is why I go to cheesecake factory only for the cheesecake…of course those are also large enough for two or three people…shrug.

    I wish you luck with your medical endeavours. Sounds like you’ve gotten a lot of good advice and I know your a smart cookie so I don’t need to lecture you. I will say though that my mother, who is currently in her mid fifties, developed an allergy to shrimp and whatnot a few years ago completely out of the blue. She isn’t exactly sure which creature it is that causes her reactions so now she just avoids all sea crustaceans and shellfish. That would be so unfortunate if you had to do the same. Please keep us updated as to what you find out.


    Comment by Benjamin — April 18, 2006 #

  10. Thank you, everyone–the support here is great.

    I think there may be a second possibility, re: the apparent allergic reaction. Kitarra–your comment made me wonder.

    And then, when I sat down to eat lunch, I really began to wonder, because as usual, I put a generous cranking or two of black pepper from the mill on my macaroni salad and lentil soup. And as I ate it, I noticed that the pepper really made my tongue tingle–a lot more than usual.

    So, I made that observation to Zak, and then opened up the peppermill and took a whole peppercorn and chewed it up slowly, then swished it around my mouth with water.

    A very similar, but not as obvious and acute, reaction happened in my tongue and mouth–lots of tingling, slight numbness and a sort of raw feeling.

    It could have been the pepper in the sauce last night, not the shrimp, that did it. Or, it could have been a combination.

    Whatever it is–the reaction I got with the peppercorn today is very odd, because I am used to eating very spicy food, with a lot of pepper in it.

    I think it may be that because of pregnancy, my sense of taste has become more sensitized–or my reaction to the chemicals in spices is becoming more noticeable.

    In either case, I have an appointment with my regular doctor tomorrow, and I am going nowhere without benedryl now. Hopefully the doc can give me some tests and some answers for what is causing this–I hope it isn’t full blown allergies, but if it is, I will deal with it.

    Just please, let me still be able to eat crab and scallops. I think I can live without shrimp, but not crab and scallops, too!

    Comment by Barbara — April 18, 2006 #

  11. I’m curious about the person with celiac’s who can’t have cornstarch – I can only assume the person has another allergy/intolerance, because cornstarch doesn’t contain gluten, unless they’re making it with weird things outside Australia.

    My partner’s allergic to wheat and rye, but is safe with other grains, but he’s also allergic to dairy, a whole chunk of fruit, alcohol, and can’t have high concentrations of sugar. Toss in my mushroom and peanut allergies, and you’ve got a whole load of fun.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if your pregnancy hormones are kicking other things around a bit, food reaction wise, but good luck at the doc’s. And congratulations on the pregnancy. 🙂

    Strangely, I went through a phase where I couldn’t have any seafood but shrimp without feeling horrifically ill afterwards. Once I kicked out of my teens that seemed to go away, and I can have seafood to my heart’s content now. 🙂

    Comment by Jennifer — April 18, 2006 #

  12. Hi! I’m a new reader and former pregnant lady… just chiming in to agree with those above who’ve mentioned that it’s very likely a hormonally-linked allergy. My body chemistry did a lot of weird things when I was pregnant and for several months after. I discovered a couple of new allergies, and stopped liking a lot of tastes.

    Since that time – I haven’t had the allergies tested (I should, it’s been almost 4 years), but my taste buds are definitely different from the old ones. I like things like salsa and olives, for example, that I never could stand previously.

    Good luck and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that it’s temporary and doesn’t include crab or scallops.

    Comment by Stacey — April 18, 2006 #

  13. An update on the allergy issue: I went to the doctor today and they did a blood serum test, which is safer than scratch tests when a woman is pregnant. I will hear back from them in about eight days or so–they had to send it off to a lab.

    Stacy–I am very much hoping it is a pregnancy issue, or something else other than a real allergy. (And while I am here–welcome to the blog! I am always glad to greet new readers!)

    I am noticing changing tastes, too. I will post about it tomorrow, though–because it is a drastic enough change to note in a longer post.

    Jennifer–I would hate to have lots of food allergies–the few that I have are bad enough. (Moldy cheeses–and I adore blue cheeses! But boy do they make me sick as a dog…)

    Comment by Barbara — April 19, 2006 #

  14. hi barbara, haven’t been here in a while. Congratulations on your new blessing!!! How wonderful for you and your family.

    Re the allergies: I’m also allergic to shrimp, have been actually all my life, first allergic encounter was when I was around 8. I *still* eat shrimp. My “magic” antidote is Coke, or anything with lots of sugar, or even, when desperate, just a huge spoonful of sugar. I don’t know *why* that works for me, but it does.

    Interesting that you should post about allergies too, as my blog is now an “allergy-free” blog. We finally found out exactly what my hubby’s allergic to and it’s wheat, dairy, and eggs (among other things). So now I have a whole new mission LOL.

    Good luck on the pregnancy, will pray that it’s a smooth one for you.

    Comment by stef — April 20, 2006 #

  15. I’m late on this thread, but thought I’d comment anyway. :^) I’ve never been in a Cheesecake Factory, I don’t think they have them around here. But we recently watched a new VeggieTales video – “Sheerluck Holmes”. The first half was a humorous retelling of Man of La Mancha. The La Mancha Cafe is threatened by a new restaurant called “Food Factory” whose tagline is something like “Food as big as your head”. I guess now I know what restaurant they are making fun of!

    Tricia (who developed a shrimp allergy as an adult, but is fine [so far at least!] with crab)

    Comment by Tricia — April 28, 2006 #

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