May is “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.” During the month, sufferers experience many flair ups and increased symptoms such as runny nose, wheezing, itchy eyes and throat.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler, Jerome Bettis, aka “The Bus,” continues to educate people about allergies and the importance of preventative measures. He has teamed up with Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and Sanofi US, the makers of Auvi-Q (epinephrine injection, USP) to introduce an informative quiz called, ‘What’s Your AQ?’ which stands for Anaphylaxis Quotient. The quiz helps educate America about severe and life-threatening allergies.
“The idea is that this quiz will educate people about food allergies and anaphylaxis. Well, all kinds of allergies because it deals with all other allergies besides food, [i.e. insect stings]. It will teach you the signs and symptoms of an anaphylaxis reaction, and how to deal with the reaction,” according to Laurel Francoeur, patient advocate and spokesperson at the oldest and largest asthma and allergy patient organization in the U.S., Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and can cause repeated episodes associated with breathing and coughing. In the U.S., there are approximately 25.5 million people living with asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Often there is a correlation between food allergies and asthma. “[Research] talks about children and the ‘allergic march,’ where they start off with having asthma type symptoms and it then develops into nasal symptoms, and then eczema, and sometimes into the full blown food allergy. There’s a correlation and a pattern,” said Francoeur.
Allergy and asthma affect 1 out of 5 Americans. When an allergy is present, the immune system develops an overreaction to the allergen that is eaten, inhaled or touched (AAFA). The reaction often triggers severe symptoms that can result in anaphylaxis or even death. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that increases swelling in the throat and sometimes lowers blood pressure.
Food is one of the most common anaphylaxis triggers, and approximately 30 percent of all anaphylaxis fatalities are triggered by food.
Francoeur states that, not only is the quiz helpful for sufferers, but it’s also an educational aide for caregivers, family, and friends who know someone experiencing an allergic reaction.
Bettis was diagnosed with a severe allergy to shellfish more than 27 years ago.
In a phone interview, he introduces ‘What’s your AQ?’ talks about the importance of understanding and managing your symptoms, if he’d ever do a reality show, and what he thinks about the controversy surrounding Ram’s draft pick Michael Sam.
Examiner: You’ve been a big advocate in allergy testing and anaphylaxis, how much has having an allergy changed your life?
Jerome: It changed my life significantly because once I was diagnosed I realized that I needed to do everything that I possibly could to avoid [Shellfish]. Everything that went into my mouth had to be checked. It changed what I did when I went to the restaurants. I had to be really [careful], looking at the menus, talking to the [restaurant workers]. Everything about my eating experience had changed.
Examiner: That had to be difficult playing in the NFL and not always knowing where you would eat.
Jerome: Absolutely! I had to be very diligent in my approach, [and] a lot of times passing up on something that I may have been in question about because I couldn’t afford to put myself in that position. My goal was to avoid my allergen at all cost!
Examiner: That’s a good point that you bring up about “avoiding it all cost;” how can people be more careful about exposing themselves to an allergy?
Jerome: I think it’s about inclusion. [People] need to include the waiters, bartender, chefs… Once you go into the restaurant from the person who seats you, to the person who helps you – everyone needs to know that you have an allergic reaction and they need to take the necessary precautions to make sure that your food is prepared separately.
The most important thing is to carry your Auvi-Q epinephrine auto-injector with you. I have mine with me at all times. You want to make sure to have it because as diligent as you are, there’s still that possibility that you have an allergic reaction, and if you have to give yourself an injection, you want to make sure that you have that device with you.
Examiner: Is it true that you also suffer from asthma?
Jerome: Absolutely! This month is very near and dear to my heart because I deal with [allergies and asthma], and both are life threatening. [Most] people don’t recognize that. It’s important that I come forward, talk about it, and introduce ‘What’s your AQ?’ quiz.
Examiner: Now that you’re not playing football, are you better able to manage your symptoms?
Jerome: Absolutely! One of my triggers was athletically induced, the asthma as well. The humidity was another problem, but for the most part… I had to manage every single game. Before every game, I took a nebulizer treatment that would open my airwaves. It was a day by day process of managing it.
Examiner: I know that you have your restaurant Jerome Bettis Grille 36, would you ever consider doing a reality show based on your restaurant?
Jerome: [Laughter]. Probably not, I would consider my restaurant possibly being in a reality show, but as far as me being [on] that show, probably not! I’m not that big of a chef, so it would probably be more of a managerial standpoint, but no, never really thought about it.
Examiner: How did you feel the draft pick went?
Jerome: It was pretty self explanatory, but a couple of surprises. Johnny Manziel going 22nd to Brown… I thought he would have gone a lot earlier in the draft. Although, I understand and really believe that was probably where he was going to be drafted all the time. In terms of that mid 20, I still thought that initially with the hype he would have gone a lot earlier to a different team.
Examiner: There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Michael Sam; do you think that he will receive discrimination from players?
Jerome: He’s been accepted in by his Rams family. They’ve all been great in terms of his teammates receiving him, and I think that’s the first step. I think when he gets on the field, the other teams [might] do things to get in his head and say negative things to try and get him stirred up, [but] I don’t think it’ll be a social negative. I think it’s more of trying to get an advantage personally with him. There’s going to be some things [in] the NFL that has to change, and I think the NFL is doing a great job of getting in front of him.
Jerome wants sufferers to know that having an allergy or asthma doesn’t prevent you from success, but the key is managing your symptoms.
In January, The Schools Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act was signed and passed into law by President Obama. The act creates a preference for states to stock epinephrine in schools, and the accessibility for the auto injector to be available for undiagnosed sufferers.
To take the 'What's Your AQ'? quiz.
To find out if your child’s school has an epinephrine stocking law, visit AAFA’s website and learn how to get involved.
©Salatha Helton All Rights Reserved. This was an exclusive interview with Jerome Bettis. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.