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Monday, August 8, 2016

Allergies and Health Issues / Character ER



I’d never suggest giving a character an allergy or health problem just for the sake of giving your character an allergy or health problem or to add to the plot. An allergy or health problem is not supposed to be an easy way to create an in-depth, well-rounded, realistic character. If done right, researched well, and written with careful thought, it could help your character to be relatable, especially for people who have that health issue.


- In 2012, 4.1 million children were reported with food-related allergies.

- Peanuts is the number one food allergy among children followed by milk and shellfish.

- Approximately 50 million people in the US are affected by nasal allergies.

- About 15 million Americans have food allergies.

- Approximately 3 million people in the US are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Image from Pixabay

If your character has a food allergy, make him/her conscious of the ingredients in foods and drinks, especially desserts. You can even have him/her accidentally ingest what he/she is allergic to and have a reaction.


Signs of an allergic reaction:

- Hives (especially around face and neck)
- Itching
- Nasal congestion
- Rashes
- Watery, red eyes
- Swelling of the tongue
- Wheezing
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Cough
- Redness of the face
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea
- Chest tightness
- Unconsciousness

TIP: Research how someone would treat a mild and severe allergic reaction to know what your character would need to do.
Image from Pixabay


10 common health problems a character could have (that could impact a story):

- Asthma
- Diabetes
- Chronic headaches
- Anemia
- Arthritis
- Ulcers
- Hypotension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Multiple Sclerosis (rare and would need to be mentioned more often in your story)


- Approximately 29 million people in the US have diabetes.

- 1 in 12 people suffer from asthma.

- People with chronic headaches can experience attacks once or twice a month, but 14 million people have daily headaches.



With so many of us suffering from allergies and health issues, it makes sense to consider these statistics for our characters and even include them in it. Sure, our characters can all be healthy. In. Every. Single. Book. But how many people in real life do you know who are 100% healthy?

While readers read to escape life, many like to read about characters like them, with their same problems, and going through the same things they are. With millions of people with these issues, you could potentially target and attract a lot of readers.



QUESTION: Do you have an allergy or health issue like one I listed above?


50 comments:

  1. Oh, let's see. My asthma flared up this winter and it has been so long since I had a problem with it, I did not even realize I was having an attack. I've had two migraines this month as compared to maybe three in a year. I have osteoarthritis, though I manage that very well (thanks a lot to yoga) and high cholesterol. Don't even get me started on the seasonal allergies. Spring tree blooming is a disaster for me. Guess I am pretty typical though when I think of my friends who have the same issues.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Asthma and allergies isn't a very good mix. But you're right that those issues are common for so many.

      Delete
  2. My son found out he had an allergy to Aspirin a few years ago. He had a cold so when he arrived at work he took two Aspirins, he then suffered a sollen tongue and face and was extremely ill. As he reisdes in Spain I knew nothing until he was out of hospital and was asked "Why didn't you inform me I was allergic to Aspirin?" I didn't know as I never gave him the drung as a child.
    Excellent post Chrys and most informative.
    Yvonne.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I don't take Aspirin anymore because it causes my heart rate to speed up. I only take Ibuprofen now.

      Delete
  3. Seasonal allegeries and type 1 diabetes (which means I give myself 4-5 shots a day). The dangers of low blood sugar with my activity level is constant and I have to test myself regularly.

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    1. Wow. 4-5 shots a day. I couldn't imagine having to be so cautious and take shots daily for diabetes.

      Delete
  4. I like to get lost in the story and characters, but I also want to be able to relate to them, so in the right situations, an illness is definitely appropriate.
    sherry @ fundinmental

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    1. Having both in a story is a plus. :)

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  5. Depending on what's blooming, I have nasal allergies.
    That's a scary amount of people with diabetes.

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    1. It is a scary amount. I never knew so many suffered from it.

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  6. I used to have a neck issue and get migraines, but since it was adjusted by my wonderful chiropractor I haven't had one in many, many years. Shell allergies run in my family, my mother and her mother were allergic and I have some young cousins who've inherited the problem.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That's great! I had gone to a chiropractor a few months ago but then my insurance stopped covering it, so I couldn't go as much as I needed to. And my neck does bother me a lot every day.

      Delete
  7. Wow, that is a lot of diabetics. I've used MS once for a character. Allergies I have in real life and the cats do too, so know all about them.

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    1. I think it's great that you had a character with MS.

      Delete
  8. I think diabetes is on the rise because of the poor eating habits of people. There are more fast food joints that pop up everywhere along with everything fried. Just look at the mall-every mall has a food court with a McRaunchy's right across the street never mind all the crap one can buy at the grocery store, convenience store, gas stations and coin machines. When was the last time you saw girls skipping rope?? So many families now eat "on the run" and no longer make meals from scratch...this all adds up. In fact, I would look in your cupboard and fridge and look at all the bottles/boxes you bought from salad dressing to tomato sauce and see how many contain sugar. I will tell you that all do which makes it scary. Now, as you know, i mentioned this before, I have Ehlers-Danlos which is hard to diagnose, there is no DNA for this yet and many dr's do not have a great idea about this disease. It is genetic and there is nothing for it. All I can take is tylenol 3 which is what i live on otherwise I could not function. Sad but true. I am hypoglycemic and cheat often which is bad. I am trying to be better now which is hard since I have a sweet tooth. basically I am to stay away from Sugar, starch and caffeine. I produce too much insulin so eat the good bad stuff and i can have my sugar level rise and then crash. I have to eat every couple of hours as well. I do have allergies but not sure to what. It is not severe but I start to cough and sniffle and suddenly realize i need to take some reactin. I also have a low tolerance to milk and eggs. I feel nauseous after.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think you're right about many people developing diabetes due to poor eating habits. I know so many do get it at a very young age, though. Sometimes, it can't be helped, but certainly there are a lot of people who get it older and it is due to not eating healthy. I am personally a vegetarian so I eat healthy, but I know that there are sugars in a quite a few things I buy. Staying away from sugar entirely is tough. However, I do stay away from caffeine.

      Delete
  9. I'm allergic to dust, dust mites, cockroaches, oak pollen, birch pollen (so much so the allergists didn't bother patch-testing the other arm as well!), and mold. I also suffer from regular headaches, stomach aches, motion sickness, nausea, and dysmenorrhea. It's a wonder how I have all those health issues and yet avoided chickenpox till age fourteen, one year before the vaccine came out. With my crummy luck, it seems more logical I would've been one of those folks who got the disease several times.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Wow. Those are a lot of allergies and health issues. It's funny that you said that because I never had chicken pox either.

      Delete
  10. I know I have some allergies, but they were never bothersome enough for me to go see a doctor and pinpoint them. In one of my current WIPs, I have a character who was born with a cleft lip and palate. It's not really important to the plot, but I wanted a character with that because of my nephew and this character was the one that stood up and said "it's me." I did my best to weave it in naturally.

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    1. Having a character with a cleft lip and palate is awesome. This isn't a character we usually see in books.

      Delete
  11. I'm really fortunate that I'm not allergic to anything. My nephew is allergic to peanuts and he's about done himself in a few times because he got careless.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yikes. Your nephew needs to be careful.

      Delete
  12. The heroine in my debut novel (Spiral of Hooves) has Type 1 diabetes, but also rode horses competitively. So I had to talk to equestrians who competed despite diabetes - very interesting. (And there are Olympians with diabetes, like Sir Steve Redgrave).

    One of the stories in my post-apocalyptic saga, is about a guy with multiple sclerosis. It was difficult to write mainly because it was very personal, as I have MS and I'm in a wheelchair. Perhaps that makes me aware of character's health.

    WIP has a girl who has an eating disorder, which masks a potentially terminal health issue.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That was excellent research, Roland. Talking to diabetic equestrians was a smart move.

      Writing about your own illness can be difficult. I'm working on a story about a woman who had scoliosis (as I did) and it's tough.

      Delete
  13. Using an allergy for a character could be a great plot point. Imagine a sneeze at the critical moment when all hinges on that character accomplishing X to survive, succeed, escape whatever. Good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Allergies can be a big problem, depending on how severe they are.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I don't, and I'm extremely grateful about that. I had a friend in high school who was allergic to corn, and it was staggering how many things he couldn't eat. It was shocking to me how many products add corn to their ingredients--things you'd never think of.

    I feel for people who have potentially fatal nut allergies...or who have children who do. It must be terrifying.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I have noticed that corn is added to so many things, but I'm sure I'd be shocked to learn there's corn in other things that I didn't know about.

      It has to be scary. I'd be nervous all the time.

      Delete
  16. I can't seem to go a week without a headache. More often than I'd like it can go on and off for days at a time sometimes. Migraines also suck. Food Allergies can be an awful thing and I feel for those who have to watch every morsel they eat. But Chrys, how come Chronic headaches is on the list twice?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I've gone through periods where I would be a headache everyday for a week. It's tough.

      That was just a mistake. I deleted it.

      Delete
  17. Hi Chrys - essentially I'm extremely fortunate and don't suffer. I bless my parentage ... but it's good to understand how things affect others ... so this is a good read to help us understand. You've got some interesting and informative comments ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Informing others on health issues is important. :)

      Delete
  18. I don't have health/allergy issues, unless you are referring to my not-getting-any-younger issue. ;-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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  19. As a PE teacher, I'm very aware of the number of allergies and find it alarming. Only a few students had severe ones but there was always at least one student I had to carry an epi-pen for.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Having to be responsible for other childrens' health would be difficult.

      Delete
  20. It would seem I'm allergic to aging ;-)
    I like the use of flaws in characters as I've never met a single soul without one. One of my characters has allergies revealed in teeny tiny sneezes. Another, called Lefty, walks with a limp. Yet another speaks with a whistling S. Dimples, scars, freckles and eye twitches are also good for helping your characters walk off the page.
    Great post, good points, Chrys!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think we're all allergic to aging. ;)

      Those teeny, tiny sneezes are so funny. And can really make a character. I love all of the flaws you've given your characters.

      Delete
  21. These are great suggestions! I have no allergies, but I do have high blood pressure and take medication for it.

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    1. High blood pressure can be tricky to get under control.

      Delete
  22. I don't have allergies but my husband and friend does. Great post. I've yet to create a character with allergies but might one day. And these suggestion are a good resource for the future. Thanks.

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    1. I'm glad you liked this post. Allergies are so common that any character could have them.

      Delete
  23. Interesting. I've never written about a character with allergies or health issues. It would certainly make them feel more realistic. Thanks for the idea.

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    1. It would. None of my characters have had allergies, but I'v written about characters with various health issues.

      Delete
  24. Very interesting! I too have allergies, from just being outside, or to milk. I read about the person who commented to you about being allergic to aspirin. I have never heard of that before.
    One that that really bothers me is eating sweets. If the food is really sweet, I get a headache. Don't know why?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. My sister-in-law is allergic to Aspirin.

      I don't like sweets that are too sweet. They make me cringe.

      Delete
  25. I have had asthma since childhood. It's pretty mild now that I'm an adult but it still acts up whenever I catch a cold.

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    1. I'm glad it's mild. Doctors once thought I had asthma when I was a kid, but I didn't.

      Delete

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