The cost and fear of living with allergies
Food costs more, doctors bills rise, and eating the wrong thing can kill you.
By Damien Henderson
DailyFlipz.com staff writer
By Damien Henderson
DailyFlipz.com staff writer
Katherine Coffey wakes up every day and wonders whether the food she'll eat will kill her.
She'd love some french fries, but can she have them? She likes cereal for breakfast, but one bite could make her sick. Nuts? Forget it.
Coffey, a cheerleader and long-distance runner from Kettering Fairmont High School, has food allergies.
“The soy and nuts cause my throat to swell up, my lungs tighten, my airways close and I can't breathe," Coffey, 18, said. "It’s called anaphylactic shock. The cherries, corn and dairy give me severe upset stomach.”
Coffey is one of the estimated 15 million people living in the United States who have food allergies. Roughly 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care as a result of allergic reactions to food, according to Food Allergy Research Education Organization. Food allergies costs families some $25 billion a year, the FARE reported.
The Coffey's are one of those families.
Coffey's allergies include soy, nuts, gluten, beans, cherries, corn and dairy. Having these allergies her entire life, Coffey and her parents are on a constant mission to avoid potentially deadly food allergies.
In an effort to simplify their lives and minimize their visits to the hospital, Katherine's’ dad spends a lot of time taking precautions at the grocery store.
“I’d just go into Kroger’s at like 2 a.m. and go down the aisles and just read the labels for hours,” Rusty Coffey, 41, said.
The father and daughter don't have to read every label but they need to be cautious.
“There’s just some things I just know because I buy it all the time. But we are always reading something to try and find new things I can eat," Katherine said.
Seems like a smart move for one parent wanting to be proactive regarding his daughter's life. However, reading food labels isn’t enough to stay in the clear. Nowadays, Coffey has to worry about where her food is being manufactured. For example, she'll look at a food label that'll indicate the food is safe for her to eat. But if they made it in a facility that was used to make something I couldn’t have, then I’d have a reaction, Katherine said
And that reaction could cost Katherine her life.
Katherine seeks out stores she and her family are most familiar with and groceries that stock organic foods. “We prefer cooking at home cause I can make more stuff that's better,” Coffey said.
Cooking at home may help avoid a severe food reaction, but it comes at a price. It costs the Coffey's about $200 every two weeks just for Katherine, about twice as much as what it costs to feed her sister, who has no allergies.
“The problem we run into is the prices," Katherine said. 'If we buy two boxes of chicken nuggets, one box for me, that's organic, and the other one [is] for my dad and sister. My box, which contains six nuggets, costs roughly $6. For $6, you can buy three pound chicken nugget boxes for everyone else. They know they can get away with racking up the prices.
"If we don't buy the food then we die,” Katherine says.
While Katherine likes to eat out on occasion, she realizes she need to be careful.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble with restaurants because they tend to be [misinformed] with telling what’s actually in their foods. Their allergy menu claimed their french fries didn’t contain soy." But a manager told her the fries were fried in soybean oil, a product the soon-to-be-Wright-State-student can't have.
Katherine now has to deal with the stress of misleading menus. It’s hard enough guessing where her food may have been made.
“We learned what restaurants we can trust. Normally I just do grilled chicken or salad. Most of the time I bring my own dressing or i do a plain vegetable or a baked potato,” says Katherine.
Katherine also has to watch out for cross contamination.
“It can be just from my food sitting on a table that's touched a table that's had a piece of bread on it,” she said.
Rusty Coffey recalls a time Katherine had an allergic reaction and had no idea what caused it.
“She got fingernail polish from Walgreens and it had soybean all on it. We didn’t find out until her hand swelled up and both arms had hives.”
Unfortunately for Katherine, cross contamination is everywhere. Keeping this in mind, Katherine makes sure she carries her epipen with her at all times. Having at least five allergic reactions a month, her epipen is her best friend.
The culture of food greatly impacts individuals dealing with food allergies. Having one or many allergies, there is always a constant worry if the food one eats will kill or make them severely ill.
Do you suffer from food allergies?
Katherine Coffey and her dad, Rusty.
$25 Billion: The amount of money families spend on children with allergies.
$15 Million: The number of Americans who live with allergies
200,000: The number of Americans who need emergency care as the result of allergies
“I’d just go into Kroger’s at like 2 a.m. and go down the aisles and just read the labels for hours,” Rusty Coffey.
"If we don't buy the food then we die.” Katherine Coffey