I have a few true allergies: Pineapple, honey, and sunlight all give me hives. (I swear my body just hates yellow. LOL!) I have a dust allergy developed as a kid that makes me sleepy. And I don’t mean just a little tired. I mean the doctor discovered it after I almost slept an entire month away one summer. That is the only allergy that has improved over time. (My track record with any other allergy/intolerance is that it only gets worse with exposure.) Whenever I’m in contact to a lot of dust I get very, very sleepy. I’ve joked over the years that the sandman just really likes me. But none of this came even close to being life-threatening. My husband has a childhood allergy to peppers and onions that he has mostly been able to recover from, but it has taken him quite some time to get his body to adapt. Frankly I don’t know how he managed it especially when even just peppers cooking used to make his throat swell.
I you have never had an anaphylaxis attack it is really hard to understand what it is actually like. I had been with my husband for decades and even I didn’t get it. And I surely couldn’t appreciate how hard it was for him to find a way to mitigate his allergy.
Frankly the first time it happened to me I didn’t even know what was going on. Roughly a half hour after eating homemade tortillas with baking soda, the acidic baking soda taste had crept out of my stomach and up my throat, making my tongue feel strange and prickly/tingly. Then my lips started to tingle a little bit as I noticed that my tongue felt fuzzy & puffy. After that I realized that it felt like all of the oxygen was slowly being sucked out of the room and I couldn’t quite take a full breath. I was an idiot and should have been heading to the ER. But I had never had any reactions even remotely like this before and truly didn’t know what was gong on until it was getting pretty severe. I had to put my hands behind my head with my elbows up to force my lungs open more just to get close to enough breath. My husband was asleep at the time and I had initially been worried to wake him up because I knew he needed to sleep since he worked the next day. I was still scared to pieces. I was also concerned that somehow I was overreacting(?!?) for no reason and kept telling myself that if it got any worse I’d wake up my husband to take me to the ER. In retrospect we should have bolted out the door fifteen minutes previously. I was unbelievably stupidly lucky that it began to resolve itself right after that when my breathing slowly began to improve.
It wasn’t until the next morning that the reality of it sank in. Part of why I was so confused about what was going on was because at the time my throat didn’t feel any different, it was the upper half of my lungs and the airways in my nose that felt restricted. My throat felt fine. Or so I thought. The next day my throat was sore and feeling like it was stretched out.
I cannot even tell you how baffling this whole thing was. I was mostly in denial that a food I’ve eaten my whole life I was suddenly and deathly allergic to. It made no sense whatsoever. Trying to research ‘baking soda allergy’ online was near useless. I only found one site that mentioned it was a possibility (and also listed the symptoms I had) but it was so rare that it was really nothing to worry about. REALLY?? I know that’s true for almost everyone, but I’m that random freak who has to take it very seriously. Even my nurse friend up in Canada could only find one other reference to it.
For most people, baking soda is a ‘wonder’ ingredient or cleaning aid, touted as a miracle all over the internet. Please excuse me if I don’t join in the celebration.
So having the analytical mind that I do, and have used the process of elimination to pinpoint my honey & sunlight allergies in addition to figuring out all of the crazy stuff that has been making me sick these last few months, I had to do more tests to make sure it was really baking soda at the root of the problem.
You can be completely sure my husband was entirely aware of it this time and I kept him constantly updated on how I felt.
I carefully ate some homemade GF baking powder biscuits to see if I’d still react since there is a small amount of baking soda in baking powder. And right on queue my tongue and lips felt a bit funny/tingly/numb but not enough of a reaction to change my breathing at all.
In some of the research on baking soda I found that almost all baking soda was chemically produced, while there was two brands that were still naturally mined. One of which was Bob’s Red Mill brand. I’ve known for years that my body doesn’t react all that well to various lab-produced frankenfoods (they just make me feel yucky but nothing I’ve ever been able to pinpoint) so I thought that there was a chance that the natural form could be safe. My thinking was the connection between commercially produced citric acid (corn-based) and natural citric acid from fruit. When I first realized that any prepackaged food with added citric acid made me sick, I feared that I’d eventually not be able to eat anything with citric acid from any source. I assumed it could be an allergy would develop over time like my pineapple allergy did.
Knowing that essentially all baking uses baking soda/powder for anything fluffy and isn’t a hard rock, I wasn’t willing to give up just yet. So the testing process was repeated with the Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda. I cannot explain how terrified I was. Seriously, I almost cried before eating a tortilla and I had been panicking all day. But my husband had the day off and I assured him that I would not have tested it without him being there and fully awake. This time I was completely prepared to go to the ER and we would have left the moment it even remotely seemed necessary.
It seemed like some stupid nightmare as a kid, being terrified of eating a tortilla that had the potential to kill me. But I got my answer.
Within three minutes of eating 1.5 tortillas (containing less than 1/32 teaspoon baking soda) I was getting a distinct reaction. So what does this really mean?
These are standard Dritz long pearlized sewing pins. The head of one of these pins is probably a smidge larger than 1/32 teaspoon. So if I eat two pin head worth of baking soda, without access to treatment, it very easily could be enough to kill me.
I am really not the type of person who enjoys being melodramatic. But this is still hard for me to wrap my mind around. Even now parts of my mind are still in a state of shock over all of this. There isn’t any logic to this allergy, making it easier to understand. And since baking soda/bicarb/bicarbonate of soda is so exceedingly common worldwide and safe for practically everyone else, I do not have resources to fall back on of lists of products that use this like even exist for uncommon corn allergies.
So I have no one else to talk to and discuss if there is even a brand of corn-free baking soda free toothpaste that won’t prevent me from breathing. How do I find a deodorant to use? I can’t use the gel kinds because they always give me severe rashes. And it looks like washing soda needs to be added to my banned list. But does that mean we will have to switch to liquid laundry soap to eliminate the worry that dry laundry soap would trigger a reaction just from the powder getting in the air close to me? Is carbonation in soda/pop produced with baking soda? Never? Sometimes? Frequently? What other food or cleaning products might contain baking soda? Does it have any ‘hidden’ names like corn? At least the brand of cat litter we use doesn’t have baking soda. I also try and eat in a way that I don’t need antacids. But there is baking soda in fire extinguishers?!?! At least I don’t have to worry about self-rising flour since I can’t eat wheat anyway.
My husband got stung by a wasp the other day and I had an instant panic attack and guilt trip all in one that nearly made me flip out. I couldn’t remember if he was allergic to them (if so, it isn’t significant according to him) but at the time I only knew that baking soda and water are most commonly used for putting on the bites. He practically never complains about pain, but his ear was hurting bad enough that he was yelling and nearly in tears. I was madly searching the net on my phone to find an alternative to baking soda while panicking so badly that I nearly started crying myself. At the time I was thinking that he may be allergic and if I didn’t find a solution fast enough that his life could be in danger because we got rid of all of the baking soda in the house. The easiest alternative we found was a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar. (Yes, it seemed to work.) In some ways it felt like this whole thing was so stupid because if it wasn’t for the baking soda allergy this would have been a calm non-issue even though my husband would have still been in pain for a while.
All because of something I would have never fathomed I could ever be allergic to, especially not even to this degree.
Most days I’m still lamenting that this, even more so than my wheat/gluten intolerance, has felt like the death knoll to my love of baking. Emotionally I feel like London after the end of WWII. I’m afraid to ask what more foods can be taken away from me because then the universe or the Fates would do just that.
If nothing else, this whole ordeal has really proven something to me that I have observed for a long time. That Americans, and especially humanity as a whole learn to adapt and continue to move forward. I just didn’t know I’d have to learn that lesson so well in my everyday life. Here and there I’ve found small sparks of hope on how baking can work without baking soda, but in this modern age it is just so counter-intuitive to the ‘baking laws of the universe.’ It really is hard trying to think about it any other way.
I’ve never been the type to give up easily. I thought I’d never be able to bake again ‘properly’ once eating wheat was out of the question. But I’ve adapted. and it’s always amazing when I find something very close to the wheat counterpart. My baking may not have the range it used to but that’s no reason to give up entirely.
Baking is an expression of love to me, one I can share with others. It simply makes me happy. And that most of all is something I will not give up on.