I have an allergy to every single tree nut with the exception of Brazil nuts. I am not allergic to peanuts. I found out about this allergy in the worst possible place, up in the sky.
This happened on my first trip to Disney World, when I was 11 years old. We boarded the American Airlines plane to go to Orlando and I couldn’t be more excited. We were even able to upgrade to first class because of the miles my parents had saved up.
We were up in the air for a little when when the flight attendant came around passing out warm mixed nuts. Now please know this, I had eaten cashews and almonds and other nuts in the past, though I didn’t really care for them. I looked at the nuts and was intrigued by the salt on them. I picked one up and put it in my mouth, then spit it right out which gave me the taste of salt that I wanted. I went on doing my coloring when my tongue started feeling strange. I thought maybe a piece of the nut was still on my tongue. I asked my mom if anything was on my tongue and she said no. Then my lips started feeling hot and itchy and hives came all down my mouth and throat. I started panicking because I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
The flight attendant noticed that there was a problem and called for a doctor on board, then alerted the pilot as to the situation. The doctor said to find Benadryl and an Epi pen and the pilot started making calls to potentially have an emergency landing of the plane. Luckily, the lady sitting across from us had Benadryl in her purse and two other people on board had Epi pens just in case. I took the Benadryl and luckily it worked within minutes in stopping and reversing my reaction so the pilot never had to make the emergency landing. However, the doctor told us that with nut allergies it’s common after four hours for the symptoms show up again.
Once we landed, it would be almost exactly four hours from the first reaction so we ran for the nearest kiosk still open in the airport for more Benadryl. We made it to the kiosk five minutes before it closed. It was a whole day of very close calls. Yes, one could argue that I was already allergic to tree-nuts and sooner or later my allergy would have showed itself but finding out at 30,000 feet in the air is was an ideal place.
If no one had Benadryl or Epi pens on that plane who knows what would have happened. At least on the ground, the chances of your being able to find help are greater. I was very lucky on that plane, but as lucky as I was it would have been easier if airlines didn’t serve mixed nuts or peanuts while on board.
A few years later, for a class project I wrote a letter to American Airlines asking if they would consider serving steamed vegetables (which would even be cheaper than having mixed nuts) and asking people not to bring nuts of any kind of board because the same air circulating over and over makes it hard for people with an allergy. They responded with something like they can’t enforce that and that I should just take precautions while flying with them. We need to make people and companies more aware of common allergies and understand them better so we don’t have accidental reactions. Besides, you can always eat your bag of mixed nuts once you land.