Living in Canada with Allergies and Eczema

As Canada celebrates it’s 150th birthday, I’ve been reflecting on life here with my two kids (the one I gave birth to and the one I married), and all the benefits and compromises compared to the many other places I’ve lived in terms of eczema and allergies.

I moved around quite a bit before permanently moving back to Canada a few years ago, with hubby in tow and a bun in the oven.

Canada has a great healthcare system which is quite unique. Technically it is all private healthcare but every resident has health insurance through their province that covers doctors visits and some (but not all) other healthcare costs. This means you still need a referral to see a specialist, like an allergist or dermatologist, but you can expect access to them if you need it.

Our coverage by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, aka OHIP, means I was looked after (also read hounded) by an endocrinologist, diabetes nurse and dietician, while I was pregnant because I was borderline gestational diabetic. My baby was delivered by an obstetrician and looked after by a paediatrician from the start. With her many health concerns, we get to see highly specialised doctors, who are trained in paediatrics as well as their specialty. If my child is sick, there are walk-in children’s clinics run by paediatricians. To me, this is huge.

In the UK, we were primarily looked after by GPs, who need much stronger criteria to write a referral letter to colleagues higher up in the food chain. If we lived in the UK with Baby, I imagine it would be much harder for us to get the level of care we get here on a day-to-day basis. And although some of the world’s latest allergy research is being done at London’s Guys and St Thomas Hospital at the moment, if we were on endless waitlists it would be of little use. Benefits and compromises…

:: If you’re interested in how healthcare systems across the world compare, I’d recommend a fantastic book called The Healing of America which you can get at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.ca.

Prescriptions are not covered, or even subsidized, by government health plans like OHIP. With the price of one Epipen Jr at $150 – and remember they have a shelf-life of one year and you need at least three at all times – medications can be expensive in Canada. Add in topical steroids and special moisturizing creams for eczema and you’ve got a pretty pricey concoction. In the UK, Baby’s medications would most likely be free under the NHS

Specialty allergy ingredients, like gluten-free flour and dairy alternatives, are easier to find in Canada than anywhere else I’ve ever lived – Europe, Asia, Middle East – but often carry a higher premium for the exact same item. However regular ‘good’ foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds – are both plentiful and less expensive here.

There is also a plethora of eczema care products available to the Canadian consumer and although shopping online is easier from the UK, you can find more at Shoppers Drug Mart, including the best European moisturisers, than at Boots.

Canada is ahead of the curve in a lot of aspects – just look at JT our PM – but there are definitely some areas where we need to catch up with other places.

Although most restaurants have disabled toilets and menus in multiple languages, food allergies are not taken seriously enough even though they can cause fatalities. The UK authorities recognised this problem and made their first food allergy related conviction in May 2016. The message was loud and clear – take allergies seriously or go to jail. I’ve travelled to Britain twice since then and somehow knowing that they could end up in jail, makes food servers’ hearing work better.

Here in Canada, my baby has ended up in the hospital more than once after eating something a waitress assured us did not contain the list of allergens we specified. And from the conversations I’ve had, this is common among allergy families. Canada needs a food allergy law that protects people and if the carrot isn’t working, let’s bring out the stick.

Nonetheless, we live in Canada because we choose to do so. Our quality of life – with excellent infrastructure, sunshine nearly every day, and most importantly, family nearby – is phenomenal. The glass of maple syrup is most definitely half full.

 

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