By Erin Crowell
Several years ago, Zoe Batzer sat before a gymnasium full of high school
classmatesthe back of her chair at her chest, arms folded over the
topand proceeded to have a heart-to-heart with friends and with people
she hardly knew.
With a calm yet resolute voice, Batzer made her plea to each grade
individually at Brethren High School:
Do not bring oranges, or anything containing oranges, into the building.
She was allergicand just days before had suffered a reaction when a
friend at school had peeled open an orange, sending her to Westshore
Medical Center in Manistee.
It was Batzers first allergy attack to a food sensitivity shes known
since a young age; and while some are raresuch as that to orangesfood
allergies are quite common, and studies show such cases are increasing.
Allergy in general, whether its food or things we breathe, has been
increasing in prevalence, said Dr. Robert Lazar of Grand Traverse
Allergy. This could be partially attributed to something called the
hygiene theory: the cleaner the environment, the more we develop allergy.
For example, the passing of tighter building standards in the 70s seems
to correlate with the spike in allergy.
A SERIOUS MATTER
There are various degrees of food allergy, characterized by reactions
ranging from skin irritation and upset stomach to tightness in the chest
and difficulty breathing.
Batzer, now 27 and working as a police officer in Chicago, has had more
than one serious allergic reaction.
Not long after the first attack, Batzer was wrapping up a ski lesson with
a group of five and six-year-olds at a Northern Michigan resort and was
settling the kids in for lunch when suddenly she was unable to breathe.
Just behind her, a coworker had peeled back the skin of an orange. The
spores reached Batzers lungs, and in a matter of seconds, she was going
into anaphylactic shock.
I couldnt breathe and my chest was tightening up, Batzer recalls. I
left the kids with the other instructor and made my way outside to the
locker room where my (epinephrine) pen was, but I passed out in the snow.
A co-worker had spotted Batzer; and knowing of her allergy, sprinted to
get the EpiPen. Ski patrol arrived to administer the shot (a delivery of
adrenaline that opens airways, increases heart rate and constricts blood
vessels), however they removed the pen too early, hardly giving Batzer the
correct amount of dosage.
When something traumatic happens, people freak out, she said. So,
basically EMS got there soon after and I got more epinephrine in the
ambulance. I almost died.
FROM DAY ONE
While these reactions can become worse over time, some are deadly from the
beginning. Tiffany Albro was just a day old when her body began to shut
down, leaving the doctors at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids stumped.
The staff noticed an olive tint to her skin, said her mother, Cathy
Albro. Her pediatrician said she was one of worst jaundice cases he had
Because Tiffany had vomited most of her mothers breast milk, the doctors
put her on a variety of formulas, some resulting in further projectile
With a plan in the works to helicopter her to the University Hospital at U
of M in Ann Arbor, one physician decided to test Albro for galactosemia
a rare genetic metabolic disorder inherited from the recessive gene of
both parents. The body is unable to break down lactose into galactose and
glucose (a sugar used by the body for energy). The stored lactose acts as
a poison. Its a disorder that occurs in 1 out of every 60,000 births.
The decision saved her life. Albro tested positive for the disease that
kills 75% of infants if untreated.
Among the serious complications from galactosemiawhich includes an
enlarged liver, kidney failure and brain damageAlbro suffered only from
cataracts, leaving her with a slight learning disability.
Despite a few close callseating cheese pizza in the fifth grade and a
trip to the ER this summer after using a facial cream containing dairythe
30-year-old massage therapist at Living Light in Traverse City has managed
to live a normal, healthy life.
I take calcium and magnesium supple-ments; and I read lots of labels,
Her diet restricts all lactose products including milk, butter, cheese and
whey replaceable items thanks to alternatives such as soy.
While galactosemia has all the telltale signs of an allergy, it
technically is not, said Dr. James McClellan, allergy and immunology
specialist at Bayside Allergy in Traverse City. Most people confuse
intolerances such as lactose intolerance with an allergy. The same goes
for celiac disease, a gluten intolerance.
RARE AND RANDOM
While galactosemia is uncommon other allergies and intolerances are even
more rare, but they do exist.
For example, aquagenic urticaria is an allergy to water, while
electro-sensitivity, like it sounds, is a sensitivity to electromagnetic
fields or EMF smog created by computers, cell phones, microwaves and cars.
Some women are even intolerant to their partners seminal fluid (called
human seminal plasma hypersensitivity), resulting in rashes, difficulty
breathing and faintness immediately following sex. However, patients can
overcome the allergy by exposure method through a series of seminal
This exposure method is similar to efforts by Dr. Wesley Burks and
colleagues at Duke University who have begun oral immunotherapy for
children with severe peanut allergies, a procedure that has patients
ingesting very small amounts of peanut protein over a period of time,
gradually increasing the doses for higher toleranceand in some
The results have been outstanding, said Lazar. This is the first time
in history that has shown change to food allergy although the treatment
is not yet available at allergy practices.
The best advice I can give right now is that once the diagnosis has been
made, avoidance should be 100%, he said, adding that those with such
extreme allergies should carry an EpiPen with them at all times.
Avoidance. Its advice Lazar gives to all his patients, including Helen
Ropers of Traverse City. For Ropers, that means avoiding consuming and
being around peanuts entirely.
For years I went without eating nuts and peanuts, she said. They
thought I had a sensitivity to both (peanuts are a legume), but in the end
its peanuts that will send me to the hospital.
In a recent study published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical
Immunology, peanut allergies among children have more than tripled between
1997 and 2008 from 1 in 250 to 1 in 70.
Researchers have linked this increase to a number of causes, including
women who consume a large amount of peanut products during their pregnancy
and the exposure to children.
Peanuts are an inexpensive source of protein that kids like and are given
a lot of, said Lazar. Most allergists are recommending children avoid
peanuts until the age of three.
On the food front, groups are trying to produce natural or
genetically-engineered varieties of peanuts that are less allergenic, as
quoted by Soheila J. Maleki, research chemist at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) in a July 2010 Health Communities article.
The hypoallergenic peanuts would be used in oral immunotherapy, according
After learning about her allergy, Batzer made a difficult decision. The
high school athlete had speed, running the 100 meters in track & field in
just over 12 seconds, with a partial scholarship in the works to run at
Grand Valley State University. However, with track athletes required to
participate in the indoor season, as well, the potential for Batzer to
encounter her allergy was high.
Track people eat oranges, like, all the time. Theyre everywhere at track
meets, said Batzer. It was a question of do I want to put myself in
The resounding answer was no. Instead, Batzer pursued rugby, focusing the
rest of her time on a criminal justice major.
And while her allergy has seemed to diminish (Batzer said she can now be
in the same room with someone drinking a glass of orange juice or who has
an orange garnish on their plate), her carefulness has not.
I read labels on everything, she said. Youd be surprised because
orange juice and orange concentrate is in practically everything
cleaners, Chinese food, cake, barbecue sauce
Caution is also about planning ahead even if it doesnt always go smoothly.
Ropers and her husband once attended a dinner party and had requested that
the hostess ask all dinner guests bringing dishes to avoid using peanut
During the dinner, I began feeling extremely ill, was developing a
horrible headache and I was having trouble breathing when a person across
the table asked if I was feeling okay. They said my face was turning red,
said Ropers. So Tom went back into the kitchen and asked our hostess if
any food had peanuts in it.
I only put a little peanut oil in the salad dressing, (the hostess)
said. It was just a little bit. Its no big deal.
That no big deal turned into a trip to the ER for Ropers.
Some people just dont really understand the seriousness of a food
allergy, she said. I try to be as responsible as I can and I dont want
it to ruin anyone elses good time.
GET CHECKED OUT
Batzer said that if anyone is even suspicious of having a food allergy,
they should get it checked.
I cant stress it enough, she said. You just never know. If it
progresses it could be a really terrible situation, like what happened to
Once diagnosed, there are a variety of resources available.
The best is the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network an excellent
resource for cooking alternatives, said Lazar. They also send out
notifications regarding cross contamination of food.
There are also a variety of support groups available, specifically for
food allergies which can be found on the FAAN website: foodallergy.org.
Just enter your country and state.
For those suffering from food intolerance or allergies and would like a
safe way to dine out, visit AllergyEats.com and search for safe eating
alternatives near you.