Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tomato, tomahto....

Back in the summer of 2008, in the early days of this blog (relatively speaking), I had a weird reaction to something I ate. After much testing, further reactions and a great deal of anxiety and stress on my part :p we eventually pinpointed tomatos as the most likely culprit. You can read about some of the various reactions I went through over the next 2-3 years under the "allergies" category of this blog.

Eliminating tomatos from my diet -- particularly as someone married to an Italian (!!) -- has not been easy.  You don't realize until you can't eat them anymore just how ubiquitous tomatos are. (Sort of like when you're diagnosed as infertile and suddenly start seeing pregnant women & babies everywhere, lol.)  They're chopped in salads and sliced on sandwiches. They're grilled and served as a garnish at some restaurants. They're in salsas and dips, barbecue sauces used on meats. Tomatos and tomato sauce go hand in hand with pasta & pizza. I even had to stop eating plum sauce with my chicken fingers -- one brand that was in my refrigerator listed tomato paste as an ingredient, and who knows what's in the stuff they serve you in restaurants? I've started ordering pasta alfredo & caesar salads, which aren't as healthy as pomodoro sauce and garden salads.  I've learned to read labels, ask questions and straight out tell waiters at restaurants that I have a tomato allergy and would they please double-check with the kitchen. Most of them are happy to comply.

(There was one downtown Toronto restaurant where, four years ago this spring (FOUR YEARS??!), we took my retiring senior manager for a farewell lunch. I ordered veal limone, after asking the waitress and being reassured that it did not contain tomatos. When a plate of veal -- with a suspicious pink glaze -- landed in front of me, I immediately blurted out, "Oh no no -- I can't have tomatos!"  The waitress again assured me that there weren't any tomatos in the dish. I shrugged, took one bite -- and in front of my stunned colleagues, IMMEDIATELY broke out in red blotches. At that moment, the waitress appeared at my elbow with an apology -- she was so sorry, but she had just found out, there WAS tomato paste in the sauce. Despite her reassurances, she hadn't actually checked with the chef before this. Gee, thanks for telling me, lady, after I asked you three times. :p I popped a few Benadryl and one of my colleagues went with me outside to sit on the steps & get some fresh air, before heading back to the office.  For days afterward, I received calls from the restaurant owner, apologizing and asking me to call him, inviting me to return to be his guest, etc. It finally dawned on me that he probably wanted some reassurance that I wasn't going to sue his ass. I called & left a message on his voice mail thanking him for his concern, saying I was all right now, but I'm sure he understood I was not particularly anxious to return to his restaurant anytime soon. And I haven't been back to this day. Do you blame me??)

I do carry Benadryl (which has always worked for me) & an Epi-pen (which I have thankfully never had reason to use) in my purse, and I am happy to say (as I vigorously knock wood) that, thanks to careful avoidance and vigilance, I have not had an episode in more than three years now. 

In fact, the scratch tests done at my last two visits to the allergist showed no major food reactions -- including to tomatos. Go figure?? My former allergist retired a year ago, and in January 2013, I had an appointment with a new one -- a young woman I immediately liked. She did both scratch and blood tests for tomatos and a couple of other foods. Absolutely nothing registered as a problem.

She cautioned me that I should not run out & start eating tomatos willy-nilly. (Not that I was inclined to do so anyway.) She recommended that if I would like to reintroduce tomatos into my diet, I should bring a tomato to her office and eat it in front of her. Even then, she would recommend that I continue to carry the Benadryl and Epi-pen for at least a year.

I told her I would think about it. I was in no rush.

I went back again today for a checkup. Unfortunately, Young Dr. Allergist turned out to be on maternity leave (figures...). Her mat leave replacement was another young woman who noted my lack of reactions over the past few visits, and urged me to give the oral challenge test a try.

I'll admit, the very idea still scares me. But I decided to give it a try.

My appointment is next month. I'm going to book a personal day at work, and dh is going to come with me. We have the first appointment of the day, and we'll bring a couple of fresh tomatos (and a couple of books to help pass the time). She'll do a skin scratch test using juice from one of the tomatos. If I don't get a reaction to that, she'll ask me to eat a small piece of tomato and we'll see what happens.  If nothing happens after that, I'll eat a larger piece. And so on. Not sure how many times we'll repeat the process, but she warned me it will take a few hours. If all goes well, dh & I will celebrate with lunch & a trip to one of the mega-bookstores downtown. If not -- well, I'll be in a safe place with my Benadryl & my epi-pen and my dr, and dh will be with me.

Wish me luck!


  1. Good luck! It's so strange how allergies can just appear and disappear like that! I've never dealt with severe ones myself (no food one, just situational & medications), but my nephews are constantly finding new things they're allergic too or foods that hadn't been an issue becoming one. I can only imagine. It must be difficult.

  2. Wishing you tons of luck! still a month to go, too much time to fret...
    But how glorious it would be to eat all Italian food again.

  3. I know this sounds weird, but I kind of think this is exciting. A science experiment you get to do on yourself! That hopefully means you can eat tomatoes again!

    Your reaction to tomatoes is the same one I have to beef and pork, after I quit eating meat for a year in college and then had toasted ravioli one evening when the dining hall had nothing good to eat. Hives and the hotness and shortness of breath is scary, so I'm not discounting that. I have no desire to eat beef or pork at all, so no inclination to experiment on myself, but if I couldn't eat tomatoes, I'd be exactly where you are. Good luck!

  4. I really hope it works for you, and you've somehow out-grown your allergy. I cannot imagine not being able to eat tomatoes. They're my favourite fruit/vegetable on the planet. (And I immediately started imagining what I would be able to cook you without tomatoes WHEN you come to visit! Turns out, there's a lot.)

  5. Good luck! It would make me nervous too, I admit, but having to avoid tomatoes for the rest of my life isn't something I'd want to do either, so I applaud your decision to give the test a try! I hope absolutely NOTHING happens and you come home with a full tummy and an armload of new books!

  6. Oooh! Sending a lot of good thoughts. I hope it turns out that the allergy has left your system.

  7. GOOD LUUUCCCKKKK!!! It's kinda strange how allergy reaction reaction can appear and disappear like that hmmmhhh...but I can't imagine not being able to eat tomatoes, either.

  8. What if it's something about how the tomato is prepared or processed? Do you think you should bring tomato sauce too? Or something with just a little bit in it? Cause what if you have no reaction with a tomato slice and then go out and have pasta sauce and you have a reaction?

  9. I became allergic to macadamia nuts about 5 years ago (after our trip to Maui incidentally) but it's pretty easy to avoid macadamias. I can't imagine having to avoid tomatoes. It's like sugar or soy, it's in almost everything! I forgot to say: You'll be fine. No matter what, you'll be fine. Here's wishing you are no longer allergic.

  10. Thank you all! :) A friend's husband had a peanut allergy from the time he was a kid. Then a couple of years ago he checked in at the allergist & they did some scratch tests. No sensitivity to peanuts detected whatsoever. His stocking at Christmastime was full of peanuts & he happily ate them all without incident. I am hoping for something similar with me & tomatos. ;)

    @Deathstar: Good point, I will give the allergist a call a few days ahead. I have heard of several people who have reactions to raw/uncooked fruits or vegetables but they can eat them when they're cooked. But I haven't heard the other way around.

  11. Good luck! I'd be devastated to suddenly be allergic to tomatoes!!