As a lifetime patient of both asthma and allergies, I am all too familiar with the late night ambulance trips to the emergency room because of an asthma attack or the rude interruption of a peanut or tree nut in my body at a classy restaurant. Such unfortunate circumstances are a constant fear in my life—just like they are for many others with asthma and severe allergies. Though my asthma has improved since I was a young child (I am now a passionate long distance runner—still running with my inhaler, of course), the risks of asthma are ever-present. Just like so many others, I can never be too careful.
I have found that many times, the cause of problems with allergies involves a lack of understanding. In 2011, while in a restaurant with my family, I carefully asked the staff if a particular item had nuts. Though the waiter answered "no," almost immediately after eating a bite of food, I felt an itch in my throat. By the time I had caught my mom’s attention, I could feel my throat closing. One of the worst experiences of my life, I remember being paranoid about everything I ate afterward.
When every packaged food says "may contain peanuts or nuts" or when a camp counselor denies knowing if a sandwich has any nuts and advises me to bring my own lunch instead, I and many others are not living a life without limits.
From a young age, it has been a goal of mine to overcome my struggle against asthma and allergies. Taken to music early on, I began playing the flute at the age of five. At the time, my asthma was especially severe. My mother had suggested a wind instrument, thinking it might increase my lung strength.
As I continued playing, I developed a passion for music. I later picked up a South Indian classical instrument called the veena, after which my love for music grew. I have since continued my studies with both flute and veena, participating in performances and competitions.
Early this year, I began pursuing the idea to put on a benefit concert to increase allergy and asthma awareness in society and to raise money to help support efforts for research in search of cures. After researching different organizations to support, I came across the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), a non-profit with a goal that I shared: education, advocacy, and research for allergies and asthma.
- Education, to teach people—both with and without allergies—how severe allergies are and how to take care of those with allergies;
- Advocacy, to stand up for those with allergies and asthma so that no individual has to be afraid to speak up for themselves;
- Research, to potentially relieve those with allergies and asthma of their chronic conditions.
These efforts work to make sure that every individual lives a life without limits—to ensure that those with allergies and asthma can live life just as those without the chronic conditions. Though many people have yet to understand the enormity of a food allergy, education has come far in making people aware that even a small amount of cross-contamination can cause a trip to the ER.
However, further work in advocacy is needed—ensuring that the answer to this fear of anaphylaxis is not liability denial in a signed release form, but active work to ensure that every individual is offered a chance to feel free in their decisions. Each stage of this process as pushed forth by AAFA is integral in making food allergies a problem of the past.
As I filled my lungs with air to blow a beautiful melody from my flute, and as my fingers traveled across the fretboard of my veena, I was proud to be using my passion for music to support my goal towards enlightening others on the topic of allergies and asthma.
Raising money for this organization while doing something that I love felt amazing—that I was able to fund research for desensitization research, or antibody studies, while simultaneously bringing peace both to myself and my audience through the unifying nature of music. Though it will certainly take time to heal chronic conditions like asthma and allergies in the body and in society, continued education, advocacy, and research is at the forefront of the fight.
With events like my benefit concert, my hope is to help the effort stay strong and successful.
Shreya Narayan, 17, is a high school student in Minnesota. Recently elected president of her school’s National Honor Society, Shreya is thinking about studying biomolecular engineering and music when she goes to college next year.