Club hopping

Classical musicians linger outside their concert venue, digging into a large cheese pizza for dinner. Having eaten his fill, a cellist marches into St. Michael’s church and readies himself to play.

Seated with the orchestra, he feels hives breaking out on his skin and begins to have difficulty breathing as his tongue and throat swell. He throws up and passes out in his seat, cello in hand, entering anaphylactic shock.

The cellist, Jonathan Lee ’08, woke up on his own without medical treatment and suffered no serious side effects, but was unable to play in the Major Works concert that night. He scheduled an appointment with an allergist for that weekend, but was unable to go.

A few months later, Lee again entered anaphylactic shock after eating pizza, and after receiving an allergy test, the allergist informed him of his allergy to gluten, a protein found in some grass-related grains, notably wheat, rye, barley and some oats.

“I stay away from foods with gluten as much as possible,” Lee said. “Unfortunately, there are things that have wheat that I just can’t avoid.”

Allergic reactions to foods can sometimes cause serious illness or death, meaning many students with food allergies must take precautions to avoid allergens at all costs.

Lee, for example, almost never eats unpackaged food from the school cafeteria. He either brings lunch from home or eats packaged snacks.

Michael Boggan ’09 also avoids unpackaged cafeteria food because he has celiac disease. The disease, which is technically an auto immune disorder rather than an allergy, makes Boggan intolerant to gluten. When Boggan eats gluten, his immune system responds by damaging the small intestine, harming his ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Boggan brings lunch to school every day and usually brings food to friend’s houses as well.

“I can eat all sorts of meat, chicken, vegetables, fruits,” Boggan said. “My favorite food has got to be a protein burger at In-N-Out.” Protein burgers are served wrapped in lettuce instead of the bun, which contains gluten.

For  the  cafeteria to accommodate these students with allergies, they should take precautions to cook all their food separately, said Santa Monica pediatrician Dr. Richard Levy, who handles numerous childhood allergy cases.

“They can certainly make sure they don’t mix ingredients that could be reacted to in people who have allergies,” Levy said. “Some schools go so far as to be nut-free or peanut-free.”
Students with less extreme allergies or allergies to less common foods can eat at the cafeteria without any problems.

Eight foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. These include peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and tree nuts, such as walnuts or cashews.

Carter Chang ’08, for example, is allergic to shellfish. If he eats shellfish, such as shrimp, crab or lobster, he breaks out into a full-body rash for a few days.

The allergy is weak enough that Chang can eat a few pieces of shellfish without noticeable symptoms.

“I have one or two bites usually,” Chang said. “I’ve taught myself not to like shellfish. I don’t like shrimp anymore, but I still like lobster and crab.”

Few people get tested for allergies as a preventative measure, Levy said, because it isn’t usually necessary, so most people discover their allergies by eating an allergen and reacting to it.

Lee discovered his gluten allergy at an older age because he most likely acquired the allergy over time, Lee said. Students who are born sensitized to certain foods usually discover their allergies at a younger age.

Chang discovered his allergy to shellfish at the age of 6 or 7 when he ate a shrimp dish and broke out in a rash that lingered for a few days.

Taylor Lasley ’08 discovered her allergy to strawberries when she was in first grade. The night before a piano competition, Lasley ate strawberries and broke out in hives.

Worried she wouldn’t be able to play piano the next day, Lasley soaked in an oatmeal bath to soothe the hives and took Benadryl. The remedy worked well enough to allow Lasley to play in the piano competition the next day.

Boggan was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of two after he fell very sick. Ever since, he has stayed away from gluten products.

Students with extreme allergies to food substances should carry EpiPens with them to school, Levy said. EpiPens are used to self-inject epinephrine, a medicine that treats anaphylactic shock. The athletic trainers keep EpiPens in Taper Gym.

Boggan doesn’t carry one because he doesn’t risk anaphylactic shock if he accidentally ingests gluten.

His body instead responds by attacking his small intestine. Neither Chang nor Lasley carry EpiPens because their allergies aren’t extreme enough to cause anaphylaxis.

Lee didn’t have an EpiPen at the time of his anaphylactic shock in St. Michael’s because he didn’t yet know about his allergy. Now, he keeps one in his backpack, just in case.

“I hope I never have to be in a position where I use it,” Lee said.