Allergies and Empathy

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This morning I read a news story about a seven-year-old boy who was forced to deplane with his family after he had a serious allergic reaction to the dogs that were on board. This incident angered me for two main reasons. The first is that there are a growing number of passengers who insist upon bringing pets on board airplanes, and this trend poses not only a nuisance, but a health threat to other passengers.

The other thing that bothered me about this story is that as the family gathered their belongings to deplane, other passengers started to clap. Apparently, someone’s serious health issue was interfering with their enjoyment of the traveling experience.

I am no stranger to the lack of empathy that surrounds allergies. My son was diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies at the age of one, and he has spent two decades struggling with asthma and taking inordinate care to make sure the food he eats won’t kill him. This is not an exaggeration. Yet I have found people to be singularly unsympathetic to allergy sufferers. Many parents, for example, complain that they must refrain from sending nut products in their children’s lunches due to severe allergies. Clearly they have never had a child in school who had to sit at a special table away from his friends in order to be safe at lunchtime.

People make comments such as, “How come there are so many food allergies now? When I was young, I didn’t know anyone with a food allergy.” The implication is that this is somehow fake. I even had a good friend who didn’t really believe my husband was severely allergic to cats. She was convinced it was all in his head.

Perhaps the problem is that a person unacquainted with allergies has no experience with how debilitating and even dangerous they can be. I have even noticed how in movies, allergies are used for cheap laughs, and the audience cracks up at the swollen tongue or hives of the victim. I have had far too many emergency room visits with my son to make that even mildly entertaining.

Allergies and asthma seem to be on the rise, and medical researchers don’t really know why. But the public should know that these medical conditions can lead to death. Let’s have a little empathy for those afflicted.