My Sunflower Challenge Experience
Updated: May 28
When I was in eighth grade, I did a challenge for my sunflower seed allergy. This means that I had to go into my allergy doctor for an entire day (9 am to 3 pm) and eat sunflower seeds until I had a reaction, in order to test if I was still allergic, or if I had outgrown the allergy. I went into the office that morning feeling confident. I had expected that I would be able to eat the sunflower seeds with no problem, successfully complete the challenge, and be able to say I had completely outgrown my allergy to sunflower seeds. My allergy doctors had previously told me I had very, very low numbers on the scale of how allergic I was to sunflower seeds (close to 0) according to my blood and skin test results.
I remember sitting in a room with my mom and feeling excited to try sunflower seeds, as I hadn’t eaten one since my first allergic reaction to one many years before. Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn't more nervous considering I was eating a food that I could possibly have a life threatening reaction to. I think because my numbers were so low, I was confident I wouldn’t have a reaction, and even if I did, I felt confident with how my doctors would handle it. My allergy doctor came in with an extremely small portion of sunflower butter, and immediately I got nervous. I don’t know if it was because the sunflower butter looked exactly like peanut butter (which I was also highly allergic to at the time) or because I realized it was actually, finally happening, but nonetheless, I was scared. I ate a little bit of the sunflower butter and I absolutely hated the taste and texture. It reminded me of peanut butter and it gave my mouth a weird feeling. This made me nervous at first, but after drinking a lot of water and eating some pretzels, my mouth felt fine and I felt ready to try the next dose in half an hour. The next few doses were higher amounts of sunflower butter, and while I still hated eating it, I didn’t have an allergic reaction. After those doses of sunflower butter, I switched to eating sunflower seeds, which I definitely liked better. The texture and taste didn’t remind me of peanut butter, and it was not miserable to eat. The first few doses went great. I had no problems whatsoever and I was positive that I had outgrown my sunflower allergy. At that point, I had eaten about 10 sunflower seeds and the previous doses of sunflower butter, and I was still fine, having no symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The doctor walked in with one of the last doses of sunflower seeds before the challenge was completed. I don’t remember the exact number of how many sunflower seeds it was, but if I had to guess, I think it was about 13 seeds. After I ate this dose, I immediately could feel that I was having an allergic reaction. My stomach felt horrible, and I felt like I was going to throw up. The weird thing about this is that I have never felt this feeling before when having an allergic reaction. Every single time I have had an allergic reaction whether it was to sesame, peanuts, or tree nuts, my mouth has felt itchy, stingy, and my throat feels like it’s closing up. So, it was strange to me that this time I had really bad stomach aches and felt like I was gonna throw up, as this has never happened before. Still, I knew it was an allergic reaction.
I called my doctors into the room and explained how I was feeling. To be honest, I was feeling like I urgently needed epinephrine, and it took them longer than I was hoping for them to administer it because they kept on asking me a bunch of questions regarding my symptoms instead of administering the epinephrine. Eventually, of course, I was given the epinephrine shot and it felt like I got better in seconds. I was relieved that my horrible symptoms had gone away so quick and I had felt normal again, but I was also disappointed. I was really hopeful and confident that I had outgrown my sunflower allergy, and I really wanted my sunflower allergy to be “crossed off the list” of my allergies. I knew not being allergic to sunflower seeds would greatly reduce my anxiety when ordering things like multigrain bread at restaurants or being around sunflower seeds at my softball games.
However, I have learned today how to easily and confidently avoid sunflower seeds, and dealing with my sunflower allergy is very manageable when I properly advocate for myself. It has been 3 years since I did this challenge, and I am actually going to re-test if I’m allergic to sunflower in hopefully a few months!