I never thought I was going to be that parent. You know the parent I’m talking about.
The parent who tells everyone for the thousandth time that their child has allergies and can’t eat certain foods.
The parent who snatches an “unapproved” treat handed to your child by a well-meaning relative or friend. The parent who double, triple, quadruple checks the school’s emergency medical procedures.
But everything has changed.
I am now the parent of a child with a severe food allergy.
I think in the back of my mind I had always suspected that D2 might have food allergies. He had eczema as a baby (still has it today) and I had read that children with eczema were more likely to be diagnosed with food allergies. Up until earlier this year, D2 had never experienced any allergic reactions – that is until February when he ate a piece of Mr. Goodbar chocolate.
Right away his nose became runny, his eyes swelled up and teared and he began sneezing violently. I knew enough to know he was having an allergic reaction and immediately gave him Benadryl, which thankfully worked instantly.
That moment scared the crap out of me. But I’m embarrassed to admit that it would be almost two months before I took him to the pediatrician to have him formally tested for food allergies.
When the results came back I nearly fell out of my chair.
Our pediatrician told me that not only did D2 have an “off the chart” peanut allergy but his blood test also indicated he was allergic to fish and eggs. She had called me at work to deliver the news and I remember how hard my hands shook as I hung up.
I was stunned.
I blamed myself.
Were the allergies a result of my delivering D2 by C-section?
Maybe I didn’t breastfeed him long enough though with 13 months of breastfeeding, I’m not sure I could have gone any longer.
Maybe all of that use of anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizer were finally catching up with us.
The pediatric allergist we were referred to reassured me that it wasn’t anything Dr. D or I had done. As a matter of fact, he told us, severe food allergy diagnoses are on the rise among children and no one was really sure why. Our primary responsibility was to educate ourselves about D2’s allergies to keep him as safe as possible.
It’s been a few months since D2’s diagnosis and while I am no means an expert on childhood allergies, there have been a number of resources that have been hugely helpful to us as we travel this new territory.
Our allergist referred us to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) site, one of the most respected resources for parents who have children with food allergies. I also found AllergyKids Foundation and Kids With Food Allergies to be helpful websites. All three sites have great information on day to day management of your child’s food allergies, tips for cooking, the latest scientific news on allergy treatment as well as community forums where parents can ask questions and trade advice.
As someone who likes to do a lot of background research, two books have been especially helpful to me.
Understanding Your Child’s Food Allergies by Dr. Scott H. Sicherer is a great primer on the diagnosis, treatment and implications of a food allergy diagnosis. I found this book after reading numerous Amazon reviews on books about food allergies. It explains complex medical terminology in layman’s terms and discusses treatment options in detail. Dr. Sicherer never talks down to parents but instead helps them understand how they can partner with their medical provider to ensure their child with food allergies has the most accurate diagnosis ensuring optimal treatment.
How to Manage Your Child’s Life-Threatening Food Allergies was written by a mom, Linda Marienhoff Coss, who’s son was diagnosed with a severe food allergy. Coss covers practical advice like how to travel abroad with your food allergic child, handling birthday parties and playdates and eating out. I love this book because I had so many questions about the day to day aspects of managing the life of a food allergic child.
We’ve also had to make some changes to our daily routine to accommodate D2’s allergies.
He’s just started wearing a medical alert bracelet to let adults know that he has food allergies. Allermates makes really cute medical alert jewelry that your child can wear for school, playdates and other social outings. It’s been a struggle to get D2 to wear his bracelets but I’m hoping he’ll eventually get used to them.
We now carry a medicine pack that contains, Benadryl, Epi-Pen Jr. epinephrine injections, medical emergency information and a copy of our health insurance card. We keep a medicine pack at school,at home and always make sure we carry one with us when we go out.
D2’s preschool has been incredibly accommodating to our family. We are fortunate that he was already in a egg and nut free classroom so that he didn’t have to change classes.
I also feel lucky that I love to cook and so learning to cook allergy-free meals hasn’t been much of a transition for me. The biggest change I’ve had to make is learning to read food labels and look for ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction. I am now particularly careful when I am introducing new foods to D2 to do it at home where I can monitor his response to any new ingredients.
We weren’t big packaged food eaters to begin with but with the exception of Raisin Bran – D2’s favorite cereal we’ve eliminated all pre-packaged foods from our diet since so many contain allergens or risk of cross-contamination.
We’ve also had to educate D2 about keeping himself safe. At just 3 1/2 years I worry so much about helping him to understand his allergies without making him overly fearful. He understands that there are foods he can’t eat and not to take food from anyone but mommy, daddy or his nanny.
I was so proud at the pediatrician’s office the other day when D2 was able to recite for the doctor the foods that “make my tummy hurt and my eyes itchy”.
He’s already learned that when he is unfamiliar with a food to ask if it contains nuts, eggs or fish. Still, it’s my job and the adults around him to make sure he stays safe and every day I wonder if I am doing a good enough job.
One thing I know for sure, everyday is a learning process and there is still so much more I have to learn.
We’ve been lucky to not have had any allergic reactions since that one incident in February, but I still worry so much that we’ll accidentally give him something that will make him sick or that a well-meaning adult will give him a food that will cause a reaction.
Tell me, do you or someone you know have a child with food allergies? What resources have been especially helpful for you? What words of advice would you give parents like me who are learning about how to manage their child’s food allergies?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.