Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Dealing With a Dairy Allergy


So, today (it's 00:23 so.....more like 'yesterday'), I went through a really traumatising experience and that is what inspired me to write this.


As some of you know, I am actually vegetarian although I do prefer to eat vegan foods and I cook/eat vegan food most of the time. Why I do not refer to myself as a vegan is mainly because if the only non-meat thing available contains eggs or dairy, I might eat it (more likely with the eggs). However, I am allergic to dairy.

I'm Allergic?!

I haven't always been allergic to dairy. This allergy started about two years ago when I pretty much cut out all dairy products due to performing or rehearsing often (as dairy products increase the production of phlegm while singing which makes it less likely for a singer (I specialise in opera) to hit all his/her high notes perfectly). I cut out dairy products for about a year, not really intentionally, but just because I knew that I had to sing.

I realised I had become allergic to dairy when I went home on a break from school, had a bowl of cereal and shortly after, had a runny nose and felt a bit odd. The runny nose wasn't like having a cold or something like that. It was more like a tap had been opened up a bit and my body was draining water through my nose to the point that I had to hold a tissue to my nose for some minutes. It was weird, but initially, I did not associate it to dairy.

This symptom occurred a few more times and I was confused because I hadn't experienced it while at school so I decided to look at what I ate often at school and what was different between that and what I ate at home. I then realised that I had barely had any dairy at school so I decided to test that out and the next morning, instead of a bowl of cereal, I had some bread (most breads are vegan) with some strawberry jam (my favourite) and I felt perfectly fine and didn't have a runny nose. Could this just be a coincidence? Maybe. Due to the possibility of it just being a coincidence, the next day, I had a bit of a cereal and guess what - I had a runny nose, felt slightly odd and was a bit bloated.

I went online and looked up the connection between milk and what I was experiencing and everything I read said that I was allergic to milk. So I spoke to my aunt about this (she's a doctor) and she said that my oldest cousin is allergic to milk, she suspects that my brother is too and that some research has said that African/African-American people are more likely to be lactose intolerant or become allergic to milk at some point in their life compared to people of other races. (In case you didn't know this, I am mixed race and my cousin is mixed exactly the same way my brother and I are).

So......I was allergic to milk!

Not too long afterwards, I realised that I experienced the same allergy symptoms from cheese, yoghurts and ice cream (should have been expected) so I had to accept that I was pretty much allergic to all dairy products.

What was the traumatising experience?

Today, I went out to eat at a place I have eaten at a few times and ordered the same thing I always order - plantain tacos and some sweet potatoes. On the menu, it says that the plantain tacos are served with some fresh herbs, adobo and feta cheese so as usual, I asked for the cheese to be excluded.

When my food arrived, the sweet potatoes looked normal, but there was something different about the plantain tacos. It had a white thick-ish liquid/sauce inside it alongside the herbs and adobo sauce (and some sort of beans sauce), but I was sure that it was not cheese.

Initially, I thought it might have been some mayonnaise and I knew that most mayos did not contain dairy. I was eating with friends and we were in a hurry so I decided to just eat the tacos as is. I took a bite and didn't taste anything similar to mayonnaise as all I could taste was the plantain.

I ate my three little tacos and as the next set of tacos arrived (I or two servings of the tacos with a side of sweet potatoes), I immediately noticed that it had WAY more of the white thing. I took a bite of the taco and immediately tasted yoghurt. Oh no! Let's ignore the allergy for a second. Who puts yoghurt on plantain?!

I should have stopped eating then, but instead, because I didn't have as big a breakfast as I normally do, I decided to just eat what was served, face the allergies (that actually aren't too bad) and head out as like I said, we were in a hurry (there was also no time to return the food and have it changed). So I took off most of the yoghurt using my fork and ate the rest of my tacos.

Not too long after eating, paying the bill and leaving the restaurant (we were still walking on the street the restaurant was on), my tummy started hurting and was getting worse. Within a minute, it was almost like having period cramps, but the pain wasn't coming from my lower abdomen (where period cramps are).

I tried to rest it off for about 10 minutes, but had to get up and move around a lot as I was acting in a small film project. I felt so sick and was in ever-increasing pain to the point that I had to ask for the last scene we needed to get some footage of to be cancelled so I could go sit and we start working on editing all that had been recorded and put the film together within a couple of hours.

As we were watching what was filmed and editing bits, the pain got worse and worse and I had realised that I was very bloated so I went to the loo and changed the position of my belt (made it more loose) in hopes of being more comfortable, but this didn't really help. I sat down again, put a little cushion thing on my lap and bent over a bit to rest my tummy on it (which helps at times when experiencing period pains). This did not help in any way. The pain just became worse.

I forced myself to endure the pain till we were done editing and had watched the entire film. A little more tweaking needed to be done here and there, but I knew I couldn't take the pain anymore and needed to pretty much unconscious for a few hours so I asked the film maker who was supervising if I could leave and thankfully, without asking any question, he said that it was okay if I left as most, if not all, of the work that we needed to do was done.

I got my bag, my camera, picked up my phone, headed out of the building, started walking to the tube station (Underground) and sent my mum (who was outside the country) a text telling her to call me at 9pm to check if I'm okay and if I got home because I was experiencing the worst allergy ever. The pain just kept getting worse and at times, paralysing. I had to make my pace slower often and just keep pushing myself so I don't just stop on the streets and put myself at risk by letting people know I was in a vulnerable situation. (In case you did not know, I live in London now and London is a very fast-paced city)

In each of the tubes I had to get on, I felt like I was going to puke, I felt like I needed to stand up and then I felt like I needed to sit down and I was just in so much pain. When I got out of the tube station and started walking home, the pain was excruciating, I felt like I couldn't move forward anymore. It was horrible.

I kept telling myself to take just one more step and eventually, I got home and up to my room. I got myself to my bed and that's when I realised just how bad the situation was. I couldn't get down onto my bed and lie down without the pain going from excruciating to whatever is worse than that. (I began to respect women in labour even more than I already respected them). I knew I had to be in bed so I forced myself down and slowly changed positions, using my spare pillow to help with support until I found the least painful position (which was still pretty agonising). I prayed and prayed to just fall asleep and not feel the pain and eventually, I slipped out of consciousness.

At around 10pm (4hrs after I got home), I woke up. My tummy felt very weird (it still does at 1:45am), but the pain was gone. Thank God!


The situation I was in today (yesterday), made me consider calling 999 and having an ambulance come get me from my building. You know how much I do not like hospitals and doctors, but I didn't know what was wrong internally or how much worse it was going to get and how much I was going to be able to endure.

I put myself at a great risk today by eating something I was unsure of and suspected could have contained some form of dairy in it. I was irresponsible by deciding to just eat the tacos and deal with the allergies later because I was used to the allergies only being a runny nose, feeling slightly odd and some times, a bit of bloating (and breakouts). I compromised my health and comfortability.

What if my dairy allergy had always been as bad as the allergy I have to cherries?

What if after consuming dairy, I was left puking out all the food in me and all the food I might eat later in the day and more?

If the dairy allergy was as bad as my cherry allergy, I wouldn't have put myself at risk, but because I felt it was not so bad, I was careless with my own self.

Dealing With a Dairy Allergy

If you are allergic to dairy or you are lactose-intolerant, do not consume any dairy even if that's all that is available. If you are in a hurry and your food unexpectedly arrives with something you are unsure of, ask what it is or return it to the kitchen immediately. If what was added to your meal was not what was specified to be in the meal on the menu, you are under no obligation to pay for the meal as you were not informed of what was being added to the meal or used as a substitute for, in my case, cheese.

There are a number of dairy-free alternatives nowadays for products that normally contain dairy. There's almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, rice milk, cashew milk, cashew cream, coconut cream, vegan cheese, vegan butter, vegan ice cream (which tastes so good!) and more. There are also vegan pizzas which can be purchased from quite a number of pizza parlours/eateries such as Dominos (in the UK). All you have to do is go to the edit options (where you can add extra toppings, get the crust stuffed or change the sauce used on the pizza) and take out the cheese.

Do not put yourself at risk.

Even if you are worried about stressing others out finding a place to eat, do not compromise your health. You could go somewhere and politely ask for the dairy products in whatever appeals to you to be taken out and if it is impossible to do that, you can purchase your food elsewhere and then join whoever you are eating with.

Do not put yourself or anyone else at risk by just consuming dairy, no matter how little, when you are aware of an allergy or intolerance.

A one-off thing can end up life threatening.

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