I am allergic to caffeine. Unlike my more anaphylactic-style allergies, my allergy to caffeine involves abdomen, jaw, neck, left arm, and chest pain. It also involves a faster heart rate and a pretty bad headache. And it doesn’t take much to trigger it.
In ninth grade, at the holiday party for my dance class, I had a single sip of Dr. Pepper. This was the first time I remember ever feeling the reaction. Within minutes of taking that one sip, I felt like I was dying. Having lost both of my grandfathers to heart disease less than three years earlier, I knew what the symptoms meant. It was scary. I didn’t ask for help because I knew that if I did, people would think I was nuts. Teenagers don’t have heart attacks.
And I wasn’t having one either. I was having angina attacks, which is also rare for teenagers. They aren’t all too rare in my family, though. My father also has this unusual reaction to caffeine. And, like me, he has spent a lot of time trying to get it across to doctors, nurses, and laypeople that he can’t have caffeine.
It’s a hard allergy to have because caffeine is in a lot of products. I have to ask people giving out food samples if there’s caffeine in the products, no matter what product it is. I have to be careful what medicines I take. For example, my old headache doctor decided it would be okay to give me something with ergotamine and caffeine. I tried it once, and it caused a reaction. Another time I tried something with theophylline (an asthma medicine) in it, and it caused the same reaction.
After almost 14 years, I am pretty much used to having this allergy. I worry about people who might have this allergy, but don’t know it. I worry about people who are so sensitive to caffeine that all it takes is a small amount to cause them to have an actual heart attack. I worry about people who have the reaction, but don’t put two and two together and end up dying from taking in too much caffeine.
Even though cardiac reactions to caffeine and other medications are extremely rare, they do happen and they can be very serious. This is why I want energy drinks to be investigated. This is also why I want things that have caffeine in them to have warning labels.