Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Why fruit is NOT a dessert - Pollen Food Syndrome - formerly known as Oral Allergy Syndrome

Fruit is not a dessert!! a hashtag campaign beloved of the Coeliac on Twitter - they're campaigning for better gluten free dessert choices when out at a restaurant or dinner. 

They're quite right, fruit is definitely not a dessert! Not for me anyway!

For me, there's nothing worse than being handed a plate of fresh fruit or fruit salad as a dessert. And I'm really NOT joking!

You may see a lovely healthy dessert... all I can see is an OAS reaction waiting to happen!

I'm not being obtuse or faddy - I just have trouble with quite a lot of raw fruit and veg. You may think that's rather strange and I would too, if I hadn't experienced it for myself. For years I was rather puzzled, about it, but I certainly didn't trouble the doctors - I worried they would write me off as being daft, so I just avoided the things that gave me grief and got on with it! Then, one day, via the power of the Internet, I discovered an article that described exactly what I'd been experiencing, and I have to say, it was a bit of light bulb moment! 

Suddenly, I discovered I wasn't as odd as even I thought I was! It was a medical condition, others had experienced the same, and it was called Oral Allergy Syndrome, although now it seems to be called Pollen Food Syndrome

Having discovered that it is indeed a real 'thing', I have since tried discussed it with a GP on more than one occasion, but it still seems a bit 'out there' - I've had a few strange looks from doctors, so I've kind of given up mentioning it to them!

It all started when I was about 13, or 14. I've since found out that it quite typically begins during teenage years, and it usually follows that the affected individual is a hay fever sufferer - yep! That's me alright! Apparently, sufferers also often are allergic to Silver Birch Pollen, which I am not. Grass, daisies, lilies - they're more my problem, although there are a few trees that affect me as well.

The Silver Birch is a real problem for many.

I first noticed I had a problem when I started getting itchy and sore lips, tongue (the underside usually), mouth and even throat when I ate certain fruits and vegetables. I soon came to realise that I was affected by more and more different kinds of fruit. It also sometimes affected me when I ate nuts, including some of my favourites, like hazelnut.

It's eased off a bit, I think - either that or I've got better at managing it - as some things don't seem to affect me so badly anymore. That said, I've not dared touch kiwi fruit for many a year... or green pepper - after one reaction that left me struggling to breathe - in those days I was a student, living in a house without a phone and home alone! I can't tell you how scary that was! 

Fortunately for me, drinking water, trying to stay calm and sitting still for a bit gradually saw my symptoms ease off. If that happened these days, I'd call an ambulance straight away! In rare cases, it can cause Anaphylactic shock. 

So do I avoid fruit and veg. altogether? No way!! Instead, over time, I've developed some coping strategies. There are some things that I noticed definitely seem to help me:

  • certain varieties of a fruit seem to affect me less than others
  • over/under ripeness (particularly bananas) also plays a part
  • properly cooked fruit/vegetable cause no problems whatsoever

I've heard chopping, canning and freezing can also help, but in my experience chopping up fruit or veg. doesn't seem to help me much at all - I can still react to raw carrot sticks and even (I noticed this recently) potato, if it's not been cooked properly! And as for canning, well tinned or foil wrapped food brings my face out in an itchy rash, so I don't go there!

You can apparently take anti-histamine to help ease the symptoms, when they occur, but I've got so used to managing it that I don't bother.

Something else - there are apparently different 'families' of fruit/veg. related to various types of pollen, but I seem to blur the boundaries on these (see here, for an informative table)! All I know is that I react more strongly to some than others. So I avoid what seems to affect me the worst, and try those that tend to cause a milder reaction, and then if a reaction develops, and isn't too bad, I drink a lot of water (or, strangely enough, tea) afterwards, to minimise the effects and sooth the itching! 

It's worth knowing that exercise, hormones (i.e. menstrual cycle) and alcohol can raise histamine levels and cause a stronger reaction, so it could be worth watching out for these too! 

If this is something that you or some you happen to know also suffers with, despite my own lack of success in this area, I would mention it to your family doctor. You may also find the Allergy UK - Fact Sheet an interesting read, or this one, by the Anaphylaxis Campaign

Please note the additional advice of the Anaphylaxis Campaign - that some allergic reactions to fruit/vegetable are not due to PFS (Pollen Food Syndrome) /OAS (Oral Allergy Syndrome) but could indicate a more serious form of allergy. If you experience rashes or wheezing, it would be worth your while asking your GP for a referral to have it investigated more fully.

As Pollen Food Syndrome/Oral Allergy Syndrome is something that is still not that well known, among ordinary folks, I'm blogging about it for awareness sake. Something I've found is that each time I mention it, someone else comes to the realisation that they too are not that weird after all! So please feel free to share!

Further Reading:

Article by Allergic Living online magazine: Oral-Allergy Syndrome Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?

Article from Dermatitis: Oral Allergy Syndrome (Pollen Food Syndrome)

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Monday, 1 June 2015

Our Big Dairy Free Day Out at Legoland

Okay, this may well come as a shock to some of you, but I have to say, until recently, the idea of going to Legoland had never really appealed to me...

*Cue GASPS of horror!*

I KNOW! It's practically a rite of passage for any child in the UK!

...until, that is, the day it dawned on me that 'Baby' was probably the only child in her class who'd never been to Legoland. 

It all came to my attention, after she heard about the chips shaped like Lego bricks, from her classmates. Then the begging and pleading began! At this point it occurred to me that actually, we're not very good at putting time aside for things like this, SO, for 'Baby's' sake, I decided to investigate the possibility - cue me throwing out a few questions on Face Book and Twitter. Certain fab people came to my rescue - providing me with enough information to give it a go, and guess what? I'm so glad we did - it was a fabulous family day out and we'd definitely like to return, as there's still plenty to left to do!! Along the way, we learned a few things that might just come in handy, if you too (dairy free, like us, or not) would like to visit Legoland. 

Portal to the land of  LEGO!

So here goes:

1) Cheaper tickets
Okay, okay, so Legoland is not the cheapest option for a day out, but The Hub remembered you could get tickets through the Tesco Club Card scheme - £13 in Club Card vouchers per person - which saved a whole heap of money that we could have spent on tickets!! Marvellous!! 

Since our initial visit, we've bought an annual pass for 'Baby' and 'Me' whilst it was on a special offer - it includes free entry and parking, and you can bring an extra person for £5 on each ticket (that covers The Hub) as well as discounts throughout the park on food and other purchases. The Hub reckoned it would pay for itself in just one or two visits!! Even better!!

There may well be other promotions at various times - it's worth following them on Twitter or keeping your eye on their website, just in case.

2) Parking
The car parks are huge - if it's busy you could end up in the overflow car park (like us). You have to pay £5 for parking anyway and £3 more will get you into the priority parking area, near the entrance. On balance, The Hub decided it would have been worth it, as it would have saved queuing to get in and a certain person's little legs at the end of the day. It was too late, by the time he realised this!

It's also worth knowing that you can pay for your parking before the end of the day at Guest Services, near the entrance. We did this, to avoid queuing for the ticket machines at the end of the day! 

If you have an Annual Pass, then your Standard parking is free!

3) Lockers
There's nothing worse on a a day-out than having to lug stuff about or go back to the car to fetch things. You could take a trolley of some kind, but bear in mind that one of your party will then have to guard it, whilst the others are on rides. Alternatively, Legoland have a number of lockers near the entrance, and in Duplo Land (where the Splash Park is situated) which could save you the trouble. They cost £1 a locker, which sounds reasonable enough, but it is non-returnable - so only open your locker if you have to - if you want to shut it again, you'll need another £1.

4) Queue jumping
Not very British, I know, but unless it's a week day in term time, Legoland gets very busy. There's the potential to spend a whole lot of time queuing, and not a lot of time doing very much. To make the most of your day (especially if you've travelled a long way to be there), you could spend the money you saved (by using Club Card vouchers) to take advantage of the 'Q-Bot reservation device'. 

It's basically a mobile app that allows you to join a virtual queue for a ride (only one ride at a time) - so you can do other things whilst you wait. When you choose a ride, it tells you what time to turn up and you get priority boarding. This doesn't mean you instantly get on a ride the moment you arrive (it's just a shorter queue), but on some rides, it looked a bit hit and miss as to whether we actually managed to beat the queues or not! There didn't seem to be a system in place regarding quotas, so it looked as though it was up to the discretion of the staff on the gate. In order to save more time, The Hub found that it was best to book your next ride, as soon as you had got on one.

Queue jumping?? There's an app for that!

5) Finding your way around
For the old-fashioned among us, there's plenty of maps and signs installed around the grounds, but there's also an app you can use to help you make the most of your time - it can give you updates on queue times on the rides and show times. It's completely free to download, but as we were using Q-bot, we didn't use this app quite so much. 

If your mobile starts to lose power due to overuse, I did spot a mobile charging unit, in the gift shop, in the Knight's castle, and also in the main gift shop, but at £10 a throw, it seemed a bit pricey to me!

6) Getting around
There's a little train that can take you down the hill to the bottom of the park, and back up again. However, if you have a little one and want to leave your push chair at home, you can hire one on site, from a shop near the entrance of the park - there are single and double buggies available. They are also quite handy for transporting all your gear! 

Legoland pushcahirs. These are very popular on site!

7) You actually NEED waterproofs
... which you CAN actually buy at the clothes shop near the entrance, OR one of the Legoland ponchos! Floor length if possible, or at least covering your bum! Yes, you really do!! These cost £3.50 and come in two sizes - Adult and Child. Some of the rides involve a LOT of water - this is something I learned to my cost, when I got a very wet bum! Why did no one warn me of this?? On a hot day, this is probably not such a problem, but on a cold day - BRRR!! There are a few people driers in strategic places, but these cost £2 a go and won't dry you completely within one go. 

8) Drinks!
Drinks are pricey so you may want to take your own, although there is a scheme whereby you can buy a refillable bottle and fill it up as much as you like. There are refreshment booths all over the place, so it's fairly easy to do. The branded bottles cost £7.50 or £12 for two.

9) Food!
Food is quite pricey, so again, you may wish to take your own! We did, but more because we couldn't be completely sure whether we would find something suitable to eat, than to save money. You can find their allergy information online, but it's a bit laborious as you have to visit each restaurant on their website, individually,  to find their allergy menu. This is the allergy menu for the Hilltop Cafe.  However, the information online doesn't give the full picture, if you want to know about cross-contamination etc. The good news is that the restaurants all had the information on the walls too, but not the smaller refreshment cabins, so far as I could see.

If you have food allergies, please remember to keep your wits about you - on their website there is a disclaimer about cross-contamination, so make sure you ask the right questions about how food is prepared/served etc.

Allergy information is available, like so!
To be on the safe side, we decided to stick to our own food, and to avoid lugging a cool box around, we stuck to peanut butter in 'Baby's' and The Hub's sandwiches and almond butter in mine. To be honest, they weren't the most appetising sandwiches I'd ever eaten, 'Baby' would have preferred something like ham, but at least we knew we were safe and the added advantage was that the sandwiches stayed stuck together!

We knew these were safe, 'cos I made them!

The good news is that there are plenty of places you can stop and eat your own food, although not many of them are under cover. The alternative, as suggested by some friends of ours, is to save time by eating whilst you're waiting in queues!

The only departure we did make from our own food was the famous Lego brick chips!

Ta da!

We had to search all over for them, but eventually found only one place that sold them - the Hill Top Cafe, which is situated right next to the 'BIG' shop, near the entrance. It looked like we would have to buy the fish fingers too, which we didn't want, as they contained milk, but we found that you could buy a separate portion of fries for £2.95. As they were cooked in a separate fryer, we decided to take the chance and were fine!

This cafe also now sells Starbucks coffee, which is The Hub's preferred beverage, so he was happy! 

Other suggestions of good places to eat were the Knight's Table Rotisserie (the only restaurant where I could see gluten AND dairy free meals available, but it doesn't stay open to the end of the day) and the Fried Chicken Company. The only reason we didn't try these was due to the lack of Lego brick fries!

10) Snacks and treats
This was the nearest I got to finding dairy free ice cream:

I wouldn't suggest eating these, dairy free or not ;)

... and yes, it's made of Lego! They do sell Calippos, which I know is okay for some folks, but I understand that these may contain milk, so I've always avoided them, like the plague! There are also Slushes for sale, in many of the drink booths.

I saw some popcorn and candyfloss tubs, which I'd have liked to checked out, as these were okay at Disneyland Paris, but I didn't quite manage it! There were also various places that sold sweets, but mindful of 'Baby's' teeth, I gave those a miss!

11) Toilets and baby-changing
If, like me, you NEED to know where the nearest toilets are, they are quite spread out around the grounds. I thought they could have done with a few more! If you've got a little one who's desperate, they can't always hold it in too well!

The cubicles were generously-sized though (handy when you have to take your little one in with you), and had wash basins at kiddy level, which was great! Some of them also had flushes and taps which operated by sensors, which really appealed to me with my OCD nature. The toilet blocks all had baby-change facilities, except the one by the ticket office. There was an additional Mother and Baby facility in Heartland, I noticed, by the toilets right behind the ice cream parlour.

12) Loads for little 'uns
I was super impressed by how much there was to do for the smaller family members. The Duplo section was fab and included changing rooms (not many though) and places to buy swim equipment if you needed it (adults too). Of course, by bringing your own stuff, you can save yourself some money!

The only thing is though, if you go in a group with kids of varying ages, you may need to split your party up, so that everyone gets to do something suitable for them. Oh, and don't think you'll be able to sneak your little ones onto rides that aren't suitable - the staff wield impressive looking measuring sticks and are very rigorous when it comes to checking!

13) Don't save your shopping to the end
The BIG shop near the entrance is rather hectic at the end of the day! Everyone leaves it to the last minute. I'd suggest going earlier and using their pick-up points, or stashing your purchases in a locker, if you can find one! There are some near the top and more in the Duplo area.

14) Plan and prioritise
There's so much to fit in, I don't think there's any way you can do it all in one day. Get to know which rides you'd like to do and go to those first, is the general consensus. Most people mention the Driving Academy, Atlantis and the Viking's River Splash. I'd say the Pirate Falls Treasure Chest is worth it too. I'd also recommend the Pirate stunt show, which was really entertaining. It's based in Heartland. Get there early to get a seat, but beware of getting wet, if you sit too close to the front!

15) With that in mind...
Finally, you may find the following link handy - it's to a website that describes itself as the 'Unofficial Guide to Legoland'. The Hub found it before we went, if you want the lowdown on everything Legolandish, it's definitely a great place to start! Their tip to approach the theme park from the south, to avoid traffic worked for us!

In Addendum:
I can't finish this post without saying a BIG 'THANK YOU' to all those who contributed their hints or tips, whether via Facebook or Twitter. You were a great help to me, and I appreciate your efforts. David (@DavidJ_GF on Twitter) was particularly informative - mind you, I gather he's been there a lot! 

If you have already been to Legoland and can think of anything which you think I've missed, please leave your hints and tips in the comments below!

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McDonald's at Disneyland Paris

The Allergy and Free From Show - to Infinity and Beyond!

Huzzah and hurrah!

The Allergy and Free From Show have recently announced that they are expanding again!

Just a few years ago, when I first discovered that there was such a thing existed, I was excited beyond belief and couldn't help sharing about my experiences at the Allergy and Free From Show in London.

It was such a wonderful experience to be able to visit a show that opened me up to a wider range of Free From products, and where it was possible to hear from allergy professionals and chat with representatives from charities like Allergy UK. And as for the Show bargains... well my cup ranneth over! I brought back a fair haul, I can tell you!!

I have to admit, my joy was tempered somewhat, when various folks expressed disappointment that it only took place in London and wished that there might be an Allergy Show near them. 

I felt their pain!

So, I was really happy when the Allergy and Free From Show decided to exhibit 'Up North' in Liverpool, and then announced they would exhibit in Germany too. Now, it seems Scotland is to share the joy - they're going to exhibit in Glasgow's SECC, as from next year (2016)!

Free From Scots rejoice!

I sincerely hope that the same range of exhibitors and speakers will travel the distance, as the range at the Liverpool show was somewhat more limited in it's inaugural year. However, I gather it was much better last year and hopefully the Glasgow show will get the same level of support. If it does, who knows where it could go?

If you haven't heard of the Allergy and Free From Show, you might like to check out these previous posts:

Fancy a date... at the Allergy Show 2014??

My Allergy Show 2014

The Allergy Show - Mission Accomplished (2013)

And if you'd like free tickets to this year's show in London (which takes place in July, from the 3rd to the 5th), click this link, which will take you to their ticket registration page. Registering in advance, online, will save you £10 at the door! Bargainous eh??

Maybe I'll see you there! 

Oh, and if you have children, make sure you check out Allergy Adventures - she just gets better and better!

Please note changes this year:

  • The Allergy Show is sharing the space this year with two other shows - the 'Just V Show' and 'Love Natural Love Organic'. 
  • There are no Spotlight Sessions this year, the format has changed slightly. Instead there's a 'Schar Learning Center' and all the sessions will be free! Click here, to find out more. 
  • To find out who is exhibiting this year, click here. I'm particularly looking forward to checking out the free from chocolate ;)