Navigating Social Invitations When You Have Allergies

Nobody wants to be a stick-in-the-mud, but allergies are serious business and if you have one, it's your job to politely make friends and family aware of your sensitivities. You can still take part in a fun weekend retreat or dinner party—in spite of your allergies—by educating your hostess and taking on some of the burden of accommodating your problem.

With the proliferation of today's dietary restrictions and food intolerances, a genteel hostess will usually be happy to make adjustments. No one wants her party to be remembered for a guest's emergency trip to the hospital. Ignoring a nut or shellfish allergy is most definitely poor form but so is dictating a menu.

The Right Approach

Jennifer Collins, MD, an allergy and asthma specialist in New York, suggests talking to the doctor who treats your allergies about putting together a plan for accidental or unexpected exposure to pet and food allergens. "When you have a clear, advance plan in place, you don't have to miss out on any social events," she points out.

From a medical perspective, joining in on the fun leaves you no choice but to gently inform your hostess (and possibly the other guests, too) about the everyday substances that can make you sick and, in some cases, put you in anaphylactic shock. It goes without saying that you must carry your allergy medication wherever you go, including an auto-injector pen, if you have one.

In terms of etiquette, it's important to be sensitive to the stress of entertaining so be sure to inquire about the menu plans well in advance of the actual dinner party. Hosting guests is a lot of work and etiquette experts say it's important to let the host know you appreciate his or her going to extra trouble on your behalf.

Be prepared to offer suggestions for substitute foods if you see trouble on the menu. For instance, if you're allergic to shellfish and peanuts, and your host is planning to serve shrimp with peanut sauce-food guaranteed to do you in if you so much as smell it-offer to research similar, allergen-free recipes or help out by making a go-with side dish.

Another polite gesture is to offer to bring an allergy-free alternative you can eat and share with the other guests. Even your best friend, caught up in the details and stress of entertaining, might overlook your problem, so be sure to give a reminder and check again about the ingredients used in different dishes once you get to the party.

Breathe Easier Around Animals

Most people don't object to accommodating an allergy but not everyone knows exactly how. If your hostess doesn't have allergies herself, she may not know that it isn't enough to keep her cat in her bedroom while you're visiting if she hasn't thoroughly cleaned the rest of her home.

If you're concerned about heading to a home where dusting and vacuuming isn't done frequently, you might drop a indirect hint by saying something innocuous like, "You know, I'm so allergic to cats, I can tell as soon as I walk into someone's home whether or not they've vacuumed recently because animal dander settles into dust and sometimes pet owners just don't realize it."  

If your allergies are severe and difficult to control, it may be impossible for you to spend the night, or even a few hours, in the home of someone who has a dog or cat, or who has thick carpets and decorates with a lot of heavy fabrics, and doesn't mind, or notice, how much dust has settled in the room.

If there's an event you can't miss, like a wedding or family reunion, and you foresee a problem, look into alternate accommodations, such as renting a nearby hotel room.

Jennifer Collins, MD, reviewed this article.




Jennifer Collins, M.D
Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
New York, New York