Is a Peanut Allergy a Disability?

PeanutsWhen a lot of folks hear the word “allergy” they picture someone from a Claritin commercial–sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes.  While sneezing isn’t exactly how I want to spend my day, it’s also not life-threatening.  But a anaphylaxis is a whole different animal.        

I’m allergic to peanuts, but this isn’t your watery-eye-level allergy.  Once, while standing in line at Disneyland, the woman in front of me opened a jar of peanut butter.  I got my butt out of there as quickly as possible, took fast-acting allergies meds.  But I still had to use my Epi-Pen and call 911 to come escort me off to the ER.  And all because of a jar of peanut butter that I didn’t eat or even touch.

It Effects My Whole Life

The impact my peanut allergy has on life is not limited to vacations.  Due to displays of peanuts, most of the grocery stores are so unsafe for me that I can’t even walk in the door.  And when I want to shop at one of the “safer” stores I have to bring someone who is trained on how to operate my Epi-Pen and the importance of calling 911 to act as lookout and bodyguard; they scout out the grocery store, checking for peanuts and figuring out the safest route for me through the store, before I’m even able to venture inside.  And, once inside, they have to literally stay at my side while I figure out what kind of shampoo or veggies I want. 

I even have to bring a scout or call ahead if I want to swing by a coffee shop.  I’m unable to go to most people’s houses, due to the likeliness of running into peanut products.  Going to holiday or birthday parties aren’t options (unless I’m the one hosting it).  If I go to the movies, I have to bring Epi-Pen trained friends or family members and I have to wait until the movie has been out for a bit and go to a morning showing to make sure there will be less people.  And going to my university is the scariest of all (see Food Allergies: When College Isn’t Safe). 

In short, my peanut allergy has gotten to the point of being disabling.  It impacts where I can go, when I can go places, what I can do, and even if I can go grocery shopping by myself.  Personally, I feel like my allergy is a disability but having it “officially” count as one as far as my school is concerned is another matter.  But as of today I’m starting the processes.

Allergy Prevention

I talked with a very helpful woman at Disability Support Services (DSS) at my university about having my peanut allergy count as an official disability.  This would mean that I wouldn’t just be pleading with my classmates to not eat peanut-y products in class; it’d be required.  It also means that if someone cracked open a bag of peanuts behind me while in the middle of a test (something that’s actually happened before), I’d possibly have a better chance of being able to reschedule my test. 

But the main thing I’m looking for is allergy prevention.   And some support.  It’d be so helpful to not be at the mercy of my teacher understanding that when I say I have a life-threatening airborne peanut allergy I’m not saying it’ll make me sneeze (how seriously the teacher treats my allergy impacts how seriously the whole class treats it). 

The first step is getting my regular doctor to write a note explaining the severity of my peanut allergy and what accommodations he recommends (peanut-free classroom).  Once I get that letter, which will hopefully be very soon, I get to plead my case to DSS.  Wish me luck!


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15 thoughts on “Is a Peanut Allergy a Disability?

  1. I wish you luck and a good outcome. My banana allergy is that bad. I developed it in my late teens/early twenties. One day I came home from a college class and decided it would make a quick snack. My tongue began going numb before I had eaten more than a bite or two. Years later just a dab on my tongue sent my throat closed up tight and I had an anaphylactic reaction. I couldn’t even be near anyone who had a banana. Since I have been doing my LDA (low dose antigen) I still can’t eat bananas but my husband can now eat one in the same house as myself.

  2. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, good luck!
    I’m actually quite surprised that you’re having a hard time getting support from your peers, I thought in the US people were understanding about food allergies. Well, getting a medical certificate sounds like a good step forward.

    My son has had desensitization therapy for his severe milk allergy, and it has greatly alleviated his reaction. The therapy doesn’t always lead to a runaway success, but I believe it will still lessen the severity of the patient’s reaction to allergens. Maybe this is an option worth considering.

    Ayano xxx.

    • Thank you for your kind comment! I’m sorry it’s taken me so very long to reply! I was successful in getting my school to help. I now have signs on the doors of my classrooms and inside the classroom reminding students not to eat anything with peanuts, my teachers are required to make an announcement at the beginning of the quarter, and the school emails everyone in my class telling them not to eat peanuts before or during class. It’s still scary sometimes at school because there are still a LOT of peanuts on campus, but it helps so much. 🙂

      I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but a lot of folks in the US who I run into are completely unfamiliar with food allergies (they often think it means you get a runny nose or that it’ll make you sneeze). It’s not that they’re down right difficult but very uneducated when it comes to food allergies. Hopefully that’ll change.

      ~Kelsey

      • Wonderful news!
        Yes, it’s very difficult to change people’s views when they already have a fixed idea of what food allergy is. I often have to deal with teachers and mom friends who just can’t seem to accept my son’s condition. Thankfully (or not), things are beginning to change with the media taking a lot more detailed but positive coverage into severe forms of food allergies, due mainly to the fact that more children are getting diagnosed with them.

        I hope that my son will grow up to be as brave as you, having the guts and confidence to take initiative to secure safety of one’s own self.
        Best of luck with the campus life!

        Ayano xxx.

        • Awww … Thank you, Ayano! It’s been hard learning to stand up for myself, learning to be bold about telling people about my allergy and even training them what to do in the event of an emergency. While it’s sometimes awkward to introduce myself as the girl with allergies, I know it makes me safer.

          Thank you for leaving such kind, encouraging comments. I both love and hate meeting other people who have to deal with severe allergies. I love knowing I’m not alone but hate the fact anyone else has to deal with it.

          ~Kelsey

  3. Wishing you the best of luck! My son 9 does not have any allergies but my daughter 6 is anaphylactic with peanuts (unfortunatly we know this from experience) and we don’t know the severity to tuna, salmon, cod, or bees. Our family and close friends understand and take it seriously. The school system has been great with peanut free classrooms and a peanut and tuna free table at lunch. We have been told that her allergy is the worste they have had thus far so we have done a lot of educating. I just wish more people weren’t so ignorant and realized that there are quite a few instances when it is life threatening and people aren’t just making up a story. Reading some of these blogs makes me so upset and I just can’t believe that so many people are so heartless and think that kids should be homeschooled and it is the allergy persons problem not everyone else’s.

    Anyways, good luck with your school and hopefully something comes up that will alleviate your symptoms, airborne is horrible I couldn’t even imagine if my daughter’s becomes worse than it already is.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I always appreciate hearing from others who have to deal with food allergies on a daily basis because I feel like it’s a huge part of my life that most people can’t understand. I’m sorry it took so very, very long for me to reply!

      That must be challenging and frustrating dealing with ignorant people as a parent trying to protect your kids. Sadly, it does seem like too many folks think people with truly life-threatening allergies are just being drama queens and need to chill out. It’s so frustrating and makes things even scarier knowing that if there is a problem people might not take it seriously.

      On a better note, DSS has started working with me! Hooray! They now tell my teachers to announce to the class that they can’t eat peanuts, put signs on the doors and in the classrooms I’m in, and email all of the students in my class. It’s still scary sometimes being on campus but it helps a lot!

      Thanks again for commenting. 🙂

      ~Kelsey

  4. My allergies are not nearly as bad as yours in any means, although eating them does put me out of commission for a few days, however, I am according to the government, officially one with a “disability.” I had to file a form with my allergist and everything, just so that I could get of my school meal plan.

    • That’s crazy that it took so much work to get off the school meal plan. When I decided to go back to college a large part of why I decided to go to a local university was due to allergies — didn’t know if I’d be able to get off the meal plan or eat anything if I was off of it and if I had a roommate who didn’t understand the whole no peanut thing it’d be horrible! Thankfully, the Seattle area has a lot of schools so it wasn’t an issue to find one that I love. And DSS has started working with me! They now tell my teachers to announce to the class that they can’t eat peanuts, put signs on the doors and in the classrooms I’m in, and email all of the students in my class. It’s still scary sometimes being on campus but it helps a lot!

      ~Kelsey

  5. As a celiac with multiple food allergies, I’ve blogged about how they relate to the ADA. They are a life-limiting condition and in your case life-threatening. If you need to, I’d invoke the ADA. I’ve had to bring this up at work before to get a few very minor accommodations. And you probably know, but it helps to keep a note from your doctor with you wherever you go.

    • Good advise! Bringing a doctor’s note explaining the severity of my peanut-allergy is actually what finally got me some help. Disability Support Services (of students on campus) now considers it to be an official disability (the same has not been true when I’ve tried to get accommodations at jobs because they didn’t consider it a true disability but at least it’s worked at school). DSS helps out by contacting my professors and putting peanut-free signs on the doors of my classrooms.

      Sadly, some of the problems are just too big for DSS to tackle — like the fact that the school store sells PB&J’s, students eat peanut products EVERYWHERE so lunchtime is dangerous, and the library just started allowing food (I’m now unable to go in the library, use the computers or printers, or get tutoring). I’m hoping to at least tackle the library issue. And several of the librarians are now willing to discuss possible accommodations for me, so we’ll see what happens.

      ~Kelsey

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