First-year creates TikTok for food allergy education

Courtesy+of+Mia+Silverman.

Courtesy of Mia Silverman.

By Hannah Nguyen, Deputy Express News Editor

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, first-year Mia Silverman did what any bored teenager would do—go on TikTok. After posting a TikTok sharing her 50-plus food allergies, she woke up the next day to a million views.

Silverman decided to start posting more allergy-related content on her TikTok in 2021 after her allergist told her she was stuck with them for the rest of her life.

“I had a phone call with my allergist and he was like, ‘listen, Mia, you’re not going to outgrow your allergies. You’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. I’m sorry, but that’s just the truth,’” Silverman, a visual media arts major, said. “And I was like, ‘you know what, I can’t change. I can’t feel sorry for myself. I have to try to make the most out of this and try to use my allergies for good.’” 

After her post blew up, her parents encouraged her to keep posting, and she continued gaining more views and followers. As of right now, she has 53K followers and four million likes.

“I feel like that has shown me that I’m not alone,” Silverman said. “There’s a whole community of people that are just like me, which kind of helped me accept that this is my life. People are going through the exact same problems as me.”

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Silverman has had food allergies since she was born. Her earliest memory of an allergic reaction was when she ate a cookie with nuts in it, causing her to go into anaphylactic shock, where her throat closed up and her whole body turned red and was covered in hives. She then went to the emergency room. 

“Doctors ran lots of tests, bloodwork and skin tests, and they were like, ‘Okay, you’re allergic to this crazy long list. Have fun, figure it out,’” Silverman said. “That’s kind of how it all started.”

While most people eventually outgrow their allergies, she gained more over time, whether it was every couple of years or every couple of weeks. There are eight common allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Silverman is allergic to six of the eight: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts. She is also allergic to other random preservatives, fruits, and vegetables. Most of her reactions are a result of consumption, while her peanut butter allergy is airborne. 

“On average, I have at least one reaction per week,” Silverman said.

Silverman believes her allergies may be related to her dad’s family health history. While her brother outgrew his allergies, the rest of her dad’s family has many health issues, including a history of autoimmune diseases like lupus. Her dad has atopic dermatitis (eczema) and some shellfish allergies. She also has mast cell activation syndrome, which causes her to react to her food allergies at any time.

She has seen at least five or six different allergists throughout her lifetime and is constantly being referred to different doctors because they see her as a “medically complex patient.” 

“I tried all kinds of shots and treatments,” Silverman said. “I tried food challenges where they basically feed me foods I’m allergic to in hopes that I can outgrow it, and it just never worked. My doctors had told me that out of the 35 million people that have severe food allergies, I’m in the 1 percent of the population. I have a very rare case, which is very discouraging if I’m being honest because there’s no cure for someone like me.”

All throughout elementary school to high school, Silverman said she was bullied for her allergies. Some would put nuts in her food to “see [her] die.” She recently transferred from her previous college after one semester because they did not accommodate her allergies. 

“I had to rely on Chipotle as my source of food every single day for a whole semester and Chipotle is not cheap. It’s expensive and my bank account was crying for help pretty much,” Silverman said. “I needed to make a change when it came to my dietary restrictions and I found Emerson because Emerson has the Oasis section in the dining hall, which avoids the eight common allergens, and I have not gotten sick once eating there.”

It’s often a stressful process to find safe food options for her to eat. Silverman usually has to rely on her “safe foods,” which are allergy-friendly foods she brings around in case she’s somewhere where there are no accommodations for her. If she plans on going to a restaurant, she would have to make phone calls ahead of time to see if there are options available to her. Sometimes, restaurants would turn her away.

Grocery shopping can also be difficult. She always has to read the ingredient lists for anything she wants to buy every single time because ingredients can sometimes change and companies will not always disclose that information. 

“The majority of the things at the grocery store I cannot have because all of these packaged foods like Doritos or Goldfish have preservatives that I can’t eat,” Silverman said. “I constantly feel like I’m being left out, and I’m missing out on all the fun snacks because while I can have fruits and veggies, it’s boring. I don’t want to be eating fruits and veggies as my snack. I want to have chips, I want to have junk food, but I literally can’t.”

While she has supportive friends and family members who ensure she’s in a safe, allergy-friendly environment, she said it can still sometimes be lonely and take a toll on her mental health. 

“When it comes to social events, I usually don’t want to go because I’m so anxious,” Silverman said. “I feel like I’m just left out in general. I can’t have what everyone else is having. I’m just not part of that.”

Silverman attended a food allergy conference years ago. Despite being surrounded by others who share similar experiences, she still felt alone. Everyone went around in a circle listing their allergies, as well as the ones they outgrew. 

“Then it was my turn, and I had to go on for five minutes listing all my allergies and saying that I didn’t outgrow any,” Silverman said. “I swear I heard crickets. It was just dead silence. That’s when I knew I was different and that I’m not the typical allergy patient.”

Because there’s a mental aspect to her severe allergies, she sees a food allergy psychologist every two months, in addition to her regular check-ins with her allergist every two to three months. 

Recently, she has gotten brand partnerships like Fig, which helps those with all kinds of dietary restrictions find food they can eat. She was also featured in the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) nonprofit organization’s Instagram page. The organization aims to do research and find a cure for different allergies.

“After being posted on FARE, I received hundreds of DMS, all these different people around the world thanking me for posting and sharing my story,” Silverman said. “People said, ‘I was so scared and because I saw your post, I feel like I’m ready to share my story.’ Comments and messages like that, I thought, were very encouraging and very motivating for me. I finally found my purpose and I’m using this challenge for good and helping other people.”

While she still goes through her fair share of struggles, Silverman said using her TikTok to talk about her allergies has given her confidence and allows her to connect with others who are just like her. 

“I felt alone my whole life, and now I don’t anymore, and that’s what matters,” Silverman said. “I feel like I am loved.”