Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Gifts for the Allergic & Asthmatic

by Robin Bayley, Victoria, BC

Many of these tips are common sense in any gift-giving situation. They entail knowing (or finding out about) the recipient, listening to and observing their preferences or triggers, and taking the perspective of the recipient.

Remember, when you give a gift to an individual, everyone who shares the home is exposed to it. Generally, avoid:


Please don't let any trepidation you may have about giving the wrong thing cause you to end up not giving a gift. If you would give a gift to someone who didn't pose the same gift-giving challenges in the same situation, persevere and find something appropriate. Finding out what you could give is simple.

Many food allergic people have a list of foods. If not, ask for one. Future gift-givers or potential hosts of that person will benefit.

You may still be able to accomplish a surprise if you ask a close family member or friend of the recipient who is well aware of the person's allergies or asthma triggers.

I can't count the number of people who assumed I couldn't enjoy fresh cut flowers because of my perfume allergy. As a result, I not only missed out when food goodies were given out as rewards at work, I also missed out on flowers, which I could have enjoyed.

People naturally want their gifts to be a surprise. However, think of it from the recipient's perspective and compare the downside of not having a surprise with the awkwardness of not being able to use the gift and not knowing how to broach the subject with the giver.

I once received a gift of an expensive, high-angora-content sweater. Anyone in my immediate family and most of my friends could have told this person that it was inappropriate and I would never be able to wear it. While I am not sure that I am "allergic" to it, fibers like angora and mohair irritate my skin, and I cannot enjoy them.

If you know someone has an allergy to nuts, simply asking the chocolaterie to include only chocolates without nuts may not be enough. The allergy could be so extreme that cross-contamination could cause a serious reaction. You need to find out not just what triggers reactions, but how severe they are, or if a specific item is OK.

Be creative and pro-active

If you are visiting a home and would like to bring something for the hosts, don't say "what can I bring", suggest what you would like to bring, and ask if that would be OK, and have a backup in mind if the first idea doesn't work. Having an idea in mind helps because those with allergies can feel that explaining what they can and cannot have is too complicated. It is also difficult for some people to ask for anything, especially something that would not be considered customary.

Don't give up if traditional gifts won't work for the particular recipient. Think outside the box regarding what to put into the box.

Although one cannot assume when dealing with individuals with allergies and asthma, here are some ideas that might be safe.

Listen and observe

I received a gift basket of highly scented luxury grooming products as a wedding present from a store that emitted so much scent that I had to cross the street (or avoid that block). The invitation had asked guests to refrain from wearing scented products, in consideration of the bride's allergies, yet somehow, this crucial fact was not considered in the choosing of the gift. Luckily, a sensitive and proactive friend removed it from the gift table before I was exposed, and I was able to have it given to someone who had helped with the wedding and really appreciated the items. However, imagine how difficult it was to write that thank you card.

If you are thinking of giving gifts of entertainment or experience, such as a luxury spa package, restaurant gift certificate or ballet tickets, do some research to make sure these would be enjoyed. It may be that the recipient's perfume or food allergies prevent them from using such a gift. Consider the situation the recipient would be put in when receiving something that he or she could not use. They would agonize between whether to tell you the truth or thank you and feel dishonest. In addition, they would not be able to use the gift and might not even be able to pass it on to someone to whom they are indebted or want to treat, because the gift is only in the recipient's name.

Don't be shy of giving any gift of experience though. If you know that the recipient cannot dine out, but has a hobby like taking dance or other lessons, find out which company they do business with and give a gift certificate. Many businesses that do not ordinarily offer gift certificates will do it when asked. You may have to go beyond the first contact person to a manager who has the authority.

So many people are on special diets and have food intolerances now, that it is becoming common to see questions about these in conference registration forms and other situations where food is served. It is always a good idea to find out if anyone in the household is allergic to something before showing up with it. Also, if your hosts ask you not to bring anything, don't.

I had a colleague of my husband's arrive with a dish of food containing ingredients that were strong allergens for me, despite the invitation clearly asking guests not to bring food. I was torn between "making an issue of it" by not serving the dish, and supporting my husband's business relationship.

If you do want to bring a surprise gift, ensure that it is packaged well, so that, if it contains a trigger, it won't affect the recipient if left unopened. It is best if it does not have an expiry date, so that if you have guessed incorrectly, it can be "re-gifted".

The keys to safe gift-giving for the allergic and asthmatic are essentially the same as for anyone — Do some research first and consider the recipient.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 4 2005

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