7 Things Never to Say to Someone With Allergies
Trust me on this.
Allergy talk can spark a lot of awkward situations during social gatherings where people are grabbing at things to talk about. Chances are that if someone has allergies, they do not want it being the main topic of discussion at the dinner table or have it be the thing that defines them.
I was born with a surplus of severe food, pollen, and dust allergies, so by now I’ve gotten just about every reaction in the book. The replies I get from people are varied—sometimes dismissive, usually overly pitiful, and occasionally, flat-out offensive. Honestly, it’s not even that most of them have ill intentions. But unless you grew up with someone who suffers from allergies, most people are just ignorant on the right and wrong things to say.
If you need an etiquette rundown on how to react to someone with allergies, I’ve compiled the worst responses that I’ve actually received over my many years of allergy-living. I speak on behalf of all the allergy sufferers out there when I say this: please avoid saying any of the below.
“I know how you feel.”
Unless you personally have allergies, this one just comes off a bit disingenuous. You really don’t know how it feels, and although we appreciate your attempt to relate to us, your slight gluten intolerance is not exactly the same thing as our anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.
“Oh, so you’re lactose intolerant?”
The answer is no. Quick breakdown: Lactose intolerance is caused by not having enough of the enzyme lactase in your system, which is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. This usually comes in the form of abdominal bloating, pain, or cramps. This is not to be confused with a milk allergy, which is a true food allergy caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in milk. Reactions can range anywhere from swelling of the mouth and throat to trouble breathing and/or death.
“Do you think you’ll outgrow it?”
Again, no. Case in point: I’ve had a Neopets phase, a flared jeans phase, and a phase where I attached the letter Z at the end of every word in order to make myself sound more hip. Allergies, on the other hand, are not a phase that you “grow out of,” and it’s certainly not something that comes and goes. It can also sound like you’re undermining the severity of the situation when you act as if allergies are something that we can get over.
“Are you sure you’re not imagining it?”
Believe it or not, I’ve received this reaction from several people, usually from restaurants owners who are trying to deflect blame from a kitchen mishap. Some allergic reactions are more visibly apparent than others, and just because a reaction is happening inside the throat doesn’t make it any less serious than an external rash (if anything, it’s more dangerous).
“How do you survive without eating *insert food here*... it’s so good!”
Alternatively, this can be said as “you haven’t even lived until you’ve had pizza” or something along those lines. Well gee, thanks for telling us. And honestly, how are we supposed to respond to this? It’s information that we do not need to know, and it’s not helpful for us to know that we’re actually dead inside since we’ve never had your favorite food. Plus, knowing that we’re missing out on something “so good” is not doing us any favors. Best to just keep that to yourself.
“You should just eat your allergen to cure it.”
There is no cure for allergies. Yes, allergy immunotherapy (a practice where you expose someone to bits of their allergen at a time in order to suppress the immune system’s response) is a thing. However, this is not possible with more severe allergies, let alone life-threatening ones. And it’s not even close to a promising treatment (I can attest to this first-hand).
“I feel so bad for you.”
We’re doing just fine, so please do not throw us a pity party. We don’t need it and it makes everything a lot more awkward for the both of us. We also don’t appreciate references like "bubble girl" or “freak of nature,” so please stay away from those too. After all, we like to consider ourselves relatively normal aside from our finicky immune system.