Well, I meant to make this post before the end of May, but that didn't happen! May is Food Allergy Awareness Action Month, and there is a week in May designated as Food Allergy Awareness Week - this year it was May 14-20. As a dietitian, food allergies have always been on my radar, but about 10 years ago food allergies became near and dear to my heart. My oldest son was diagnosed with life-threatening allergies at the age of 14 months after having an anaphylactic reaction to scrambled eggs. We then discovered he is also deathly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Over the years, we have noticed other various allergies including seasonal pollen allergies, latex allergy, reactions to caramel color in foods, allergies to cats and dogs, and terrible skin reactions to first aid ointments. So this year I wanted to write a blog article about my experiences being both a Registered Dietitian and a mom of a child with life-threatening food allergies. Here are 10 things I would like to share. Some food allergy websites are at the bottom for your reference as well.
1. When a parent tells you their child is deathly allergic, take it literally. I know, I know, there are some parents out there who exaggerate their child's condition. But you can't know, and when it's a child with truly life-threatening allergies you shouldn't want to risk it.
2. When a parent asks you to do something to help keep their child with food allergies safe, do it (if at all possible). First, it means so much to me as a parent that other parents have helped us. Second, my son would miss out on activities if people weren't willing to accommodate his needs. Third, it feels completely awful to have people refuse to make necessary accommodations. These children and parents deal with these allergies every day, and you can likely make an adjustment for one occasion or classroom situation.
3. If you are a parent, please talk with your kids about food allergies. Start by learning yourself and then discuss it with your kids. Statistics now state that 1 in 13 children have food allergies, so your kid knows someone with an allergy! I can't tell you how many kids just have no clue about food allergies. Comments made to my son this past year as a 5th grader show how little kids and people know about food allergies in general. Don't think they are too young to learn. My two-year-olds know what foods cause my son to have reactions. Knowledge is power - and kindness.
4. Anyone can develop an allergy to any food at any time. I myself noticed an allergy to mango only as an adult. Know about food allergies and how to recognize symptoms. Symptoms can range from a rash to widespread hives to nausea to trouble breathing. Any uncomfortable symptom shortly after eating requires quick medical attention.
5. If you, someone in your family, or someone who is often in your house have a food allergy, keep epinephrine auto-injectors available at all times as well as antihistamines. Epinephrine saves lives. My son wears an auto-injector on a belt even at school. He has read enough about teens who didn't have epinephrine and died because of it. Don't think you are going to be fine, you know how to avoid your allergen, you haven't had that bad of a reaction, etc, etc, etc.
6. Parents and kids with food allergies in the home can develop anxiety about foods. I personally do not struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, but it is completely terrifying when I am with my son and I see someone eating food near him that he could react to just by touching it. Understand this when you are interacting with families who have allergies.
7. Every person's reaction is different. Anaphylaxis only happens when an allergen is eaten or somehow enters the mouth or nose. But some, like my son, can break out into widespread hives just by coming into contact with a small amount of allergen. Don't assume that what you know about one person's allergy is true for another person's allergy.
8. You can do everything "right" and still have a child with food allergies. As a dietitian, and a pediatric dietitian at that, I knew how to feed my baby. I breastfed, I introduced solids at the right time, I introduced as much as possible as early as possible... Although because nuts are a choking concern, I did not introduce those early as is now recommended (Do introduce peanuts early but dilute as a sauce or use a powder. See guidelines for more info at https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/guidelines-clinicians-and-patients-food-allergy.). But for my son, it likely would not have made a difference. We fed all of our children the same way and none of the other three have food allergies. God ordained for him to have food allergies, and we have been able to bless many others because of his allergies, so we know there is a purpose.
9. See medical professionals for help with food allergies. A general practitioner can help, but seeing a board certified allergist is best for accurate diagnosis and recommendations. Do NOT see a naturopathic doctor or try to find your own solutions for diagnosis or treatment of a food allergy! You are risking your life. Seeing a Registered Dietitian can also help, especially with nutritional balance for those with multiple food allergies.
10. Understanding what is in foods is difficult for those who do not deal with allergies or do not have nutrition education. Take time to learn about it if you know someone with a food allergy. Being a dietitian has been a great blessing in dealing with my son's food allergies. I have been able to alter recipes (some over a period of multiple trials) so that he has tasted almost every food without having his allergens.
In summary, we have learned A LOT over the past 10 years but we also are so thankful. We have had the opportunity to share with others about allergies as well as help other parents and children with food allergies. It's not easy but we are managing it, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.